Yankee “friendliness”



“During Rikers Upheaval, the ‘Prettiest Village in Maine’ Beckoned”

The New York Times,

April 30, 2017


The story is based a visit that a Times reporter, Rick Rojas, made over the weekend to the town of Wiscasset, Maine.

According to the Times: “Investigators found that Joseph Ponte, the correction commissioner in New York City, had repeatedly taken his city-issued sport-utility vehicle on trips that ended around here [Wiscasset], a small town near the Maine coast.”

The story goes on to say:

Some around Wiscasset said they had recognized Mr. Ponte or had encountered him or his wife around town. But many said people here tended to place a premium on independence, treasuring a kind of live-and-let-live attitude in which neighbors are friendly but also allow for a bit of space. [italics added]

“Everyone just leaves you alone,” said Deb Schaffer, who owns a boutique downtown and remembers seeing Mr. Ponte and exchanging greetings on the street. “But if you need something, they’re there to help.”

Yes, indeed, I thought. That’s Yankee behavior. Yankee conduct, deportment, manners. Just what is the right word?

Perhaps I should say Yankee ways.

I was born and bred and a Yankee. Grew up in Massachusetts. A descendant of Yankees who go back to colonial times.

Wikipedia entry


In the United States, Yankee largely refers to people from the Northeast, but especially those with New England cultural ties, such as descendants from colonial New England settlers, wherever they live. Its sense is more cultural than literally geographical, sometimes emphasizing the Calvinist Puritan Christian beliefs and traditions of the Congregationalists and Presbyterians, who brought their culture when they settled outside of New England. The speech dialect of Eastern New England is called “Yankee” or “Yankee dialect.” Within New England itself, the term “Yankee” refers specifically to old-stock New Englanders of English descent.

I never recognized the Massachusetts dialect when growing up there. It’s quite pronounced. I have been told that I have lost my New England accent. I can certainly hear it now when I go back to New England or hear New Englanders on television or radio.

But the behavior patterns, that’s what struck me about the characterization of the townspeople in the article. Darn right. I remember it well. Our neighbors tended to always maintain a sort of formal politeness. Never got that close. Rarely visited one’s house. Respected the privacy of others, which was considered of paramount importance.

Unfailing, unvarying politeness.

And, a certain reserve.

Block parties? No such thing. Men outside in summertime with no shirt on? Not usually, except at the beach.

But, say your car got stuck in the snow during the winter; that you needed to borrow a book, a needle and thread, or a tool; that you needed a ride; or some such thing. Your New England neighbor would help you without a moment’s hesitation. Would never ask you why you needed or were asking for help, or inquire directly or indirectly about your trustworthiness. And, they would go the extra mile to ensure that they had fulfilled their duties as a good neighbor and helping hand.

Never would ask for thanks in any shape or form. Not only would they be constitutionally disinclined to do such a thing (it would never occur to them in the first place), but they also would consider it (should it be somehow suggested to them that they deserved some sort of recompense) to be a violation of good manners and codes of proper behavior, as well as an embarrassment to themselves, to do so.


— Roger W. Smith

   May 2017

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