Living in New York City in my twenties, I was told it took 10 years to become a New Yorker — before no one would blink when you claimed that title or question whether you really belonged. “That’s it?’’ I remember thinking. “Easy.’’
After all, in Maine — where I was born and raised and where I have since returned — they say it takes three generations. Even then, if your roots are in the Greater Portland area, folks living in the vast part of the state that’s north of there might still question your bona fides.
In recent years, there’s been a record number of folks moving to Maine, attracted to a real estate market that may seem affordable compared with major metropolitan areas, the increasingly cool vibes of the Portland area, and maybe even our affiliation with L.L.Bean — not just as home to the store’s flagship, but our adoption of the brand as a general lifestyle.
In 2020, Atlas Van Lines reported that 62.4 percent of its Maine moves were coming from out of state, a higher percentage than any state other than Idaho and North Carolina. The same year, the city of South Portland — just over the bridge from Portland — was the only East Coast city to make Redfin’s list of the 10 most competitive communities to buy a home in the United States.
If you’re among the throngs of people looking to relocate to the state, certain things that can help — or hurt — how well you fit in. I may not have that third-generation credibility, but I married into a family that passes the test. So circle round the campfire, lather on the DEET, and lean in close. Let this Mainer be your guide.
All these people moving to Maine? We like to say they’re “from away.’’ That branding is a stink that doesn’t easily wash out and should be avoided at all costs. Because Maine is essentially one big small town, the arrival of a new car will be noticed. So, step one: Get a new Maine license plate. And if you want to really fit in, make it a vanity plate. Maine has among the nation’s highest adoption levels of vanity plates. So if you’re a “Gud2Go’’ “Mainah’’ in search of “Lobstah’’ — well, go ahead and register for one of those plates (as long as they are still available).
While you’re at it, a new cellphone number wouldn’t hurt, one with a 207 area code, the one for the entire state.
As you drive around town, don’t forget that the Subaru Outback ahead of you traveling frustratingly below the speed limit may also be your new neighbor or your kid’s principal. Take a breath — you’re a Mainer now. We drive slowly and with so much caution and courtesy that we sometimes introduce new driving hazards. Get used to it.
When it comes to food in Maine, plenty has been written about how the state punches above its weight class when it comes to restaurants. I’ll leave that to the critics. But if all goes well, you’ll find yourself at a backyard cookout before too long. If someone offers you a red snapper, do not be alarmed when, instead of a nice fillet of fish, you’re handed an unnaturally neon red hotdog. Close your eyes, and it’s almost the same as what you are used to, now with an exciting “snap’’ that comes from the thick casing. Pairs well with a whoopie pie — another Maine favorite. If this gathering involves lobster, for crying out loud do your homework ahead of time and know how to take apart a whole one.
You may think that, as a guest at this shindig, it would be a nice gesture to bring a six pack of Moxie soda, named Maine’s official soft drink in 2005, as a gift. You would be wrong. Moxie, with its distinctively retro orange can, tastes like root beer, Robitussin, and motor oil mixed together — but worse. Thankfully, most Mainers recognize this.
Instead, may I recommend a four-pack of locally brewed craft beer? Maine has been in the midst of a craft brewing boom for several years, jumping from 73 active breweries in 2015 to 165 as of February of this year, according to the Maine Brewers’ Guild. For what it’s worth, my go-to is Bissell Brothers Substance Ale IPA.
When it comes to attire, remember that Mainers are not a fancy bunch: Go with what’s practical, except for in the winter, when men should continue wearing shorts and teens will alternate between flip flops and winter boots. Everyone else should master the art of layering, and when in doubt, shop at L.L.Bean (or Bean’s, as we call it).
A short glossary of other things that we say:
■ Ayuh Sometimes it means yes, sometimes it’s just an acknowledgment of something having been said. Often followed by a series of deep inhales.
■ Camp A second home, often a cabin, usually pretty rustic. Used for skiing, snowmobiling, fishing, or lake life. Internet and cell service are likely spotty. If you watch “Maine Cabin Masters,’’ it’s a lot of “befores’’ and almost never an “after.’’
■ The County There are 16 counties in Maine, but only one that’s called “The County’’ — that’s Aroostook, located along the northern border with Canada.
■ Dirigo The motto of Maine, means “I lead’’ in Latin.
■ Dooryard That little bit of yard that’s right by the door you use the most.
■ Upta Refers to travel in any direction, as in “I’m going upta Grandma’s later today,’’ but her home could be geographically to the south.
■ Mainiac Just kidding. That was a test. We don’t call ourselves this.
While politically Maine is purple — with a more conservative Second District and a liberal First District — the most apt color to describe the mind-set in the state is green. Mainers’ relationship with our winding coastline, rivers and lakes, and mountainous interior is what makes us who we are. So wherever you’re headed, get acquainted with the outdoors.
We will complain about every kind of weather except a rare, sunny 70-degree day with no humidity. But we also won’t let it hold us back. We like to say there’s no bad weather, just bad gear. This is true whether we are swimming in our — OK, let’s be honest — shockingly cold ocean or skiing at 20 below zero. It’s not that we’re tougher than other people; we just might be more stubborn.
In the end, I lived in New York City for about 12 years — long enough to speak fluently about where the good bars used to be, to get priced out of more than a few neighborhoods, and certainly to call myself a New Yorker. But even after all those years, I still called myself a Mainer (even if it’s not, ahem, technically true).