Sharing Cultural Differences in Maine

“Maine – The way life should be” is a slogan developed by the Office of Tourism. I think it means that people here in Maine take time to help others. They allow time to sit, tell stories, and laugh with friends and neighbors. But lots of people in other states do the same. So, I think the true meaning of the slogan may be, in Maine, it is acceptable to wear our “duck boots” with any outfit at any occasion.

Connie Smith exemplifies these Maine values, though I have never seen her wear duck boots to a formal dinner. Or maybe I just never noticed.

Connie hosts a monthly gathering of five women who write stories. We sit around her kitchen table, sip tea, talk, and read whatever we’ve had time to write.

Connie is the mother of four, grandmother of 3.5 (expecitng a new one this year), teacher, masseuse, and author of the children’s book, PEA SOUP FOG (Down East Books, 2004, illustrated by Jen Cart). She has a wonderful sense of the young child.

Several years ago, Connie announced that her two sons had arrived home from school that afternoon asking if a foreign exchange student could live with them for the remainder of the semester. Burim (pronounced ber-im’), age 16, had been staying with a family who could no longer act as hosts and he may have to return to his home in Kosovo, then in a state of civil war. He would surely be drafted into the military by one side or the other. Her sons reminded her, “You’ve always said how you would like to host an exchange student!” Our eyebrows raised and jaws dropped, understanding what it means to have teenagers and to suddenly add another to the mix.

At our next meeting, Connie said she and her family had agreed to be hosts. We looked for signs of stress in her face and voice, but her only worry was what to do if he got sick. We followed the progression of stories like a soap opera. Connie and her husband attended his wrestling matches, helped him attain a driver’s license, and allowed him to drive the family car. Burim didn’t eat many vegetables but loved pizza and McDonalds.

Her sons joked and laughed with him as they accompanied him to school and included him in their social activities. Occasionally they would teach him a “new” (swear) word and roar at the reaction of others when he innocently used it. They still laugh over his confusion of the two meanings of the word “trunk.” He didn’t have a clue how to respond to their request to bring a trunk into the house from the car.

At the end of his junior year, Burim missed his family and wanted to return home. But the risk was still present. In August, Connie announced that they had agreed to host another year.
Connie and her husband have since hosted two more exchange students. Our eyebrows rise again as we listen to Connie’s stories of trying to feed a finicky eater and keep her from too much computer time. Burim graduated from high school and went on to college in the US. Now, with the war over, he has returned home to be with family, work, and marry – the way life should be.

Betsy Hanscom is the author of SNIPPETS – stories about Maine people – published in Maine Warmers’ e-Newsletter. Subscribers’ receive specials and a chance to win a free warmer once a month. Please visit the Maine Warmers Web site to sign up. Maine Warmers heating pads and ice packs help relieve sore muscles and provide comfort from the chill of winter. Their Cozy Sheep make the perfect getwell gift for someone recovering from surgery.