As the self-proclaimed leading expert on Flatlander/Native relations in New Hampshire, it always gives me great pleasure to see the progress that has been made in this area over the years.
I feel I have a lot to do with that and I would give myself a well deserved pat on the back if I could only reach that far. (Of course, as I approach sixty, even attempting it can be a morning’s work.)
Back in 1995, I wrote my first column on the subject. I used the term “Flatlander” for one of the first times as the subject of an article. This was a social slur that had, for generations, always existed but rarely uttered in public.
It drew a lot of heat. I was condemned by some Flatlanders and threatened with physical harm by others. They felt that by me writing it I was giving it an unwelcome validation.
Many natives weren’t happy either. Here I was, a Flatlander who had only lived here for a few years and I was using the word to stir up trouble in their peaceful oasis.
Still, I stuck to my guns and my principles and kept writing about the subject with no regard for my own safety. I came to recognize this as my calling and I never backed down. Someone had to keep the uncomfortable conversation going. It wasn’t an easy struggle, but I persevered.
Today, twenty years later, Flatlander/Native relations have improved tremendously and the term “Flatlander”, though still used with great contempt by some old-time natives in the privacy of their own homes has, for the most part, lost its negative connotations.
My work has made it easier for more and more Flatlanders to move to Central New Hampshire and assimilate more easily. In fact, the ratio of Flatlander to Native has increased dramatically with all living together in peace for the most part.
Yet, as is the way of human nature, things can never be that easy. As the permanent Flatlander population has increased, a new dynamic has taken it root. It is called the Native Flatlander/Visiting Flatlander problem and people are turning to me for the solution.
This is never more apparent than this summer season.
For years here in Central New Hampshire, the short nine hot weeks in July and August have always been when any significant Native Flatlander/Visiting Flatlander confrontations occur.
In the summer it is the rush of the Visiting Flatlander to “hurry up and relax” that causes them to irritate the Native Flatlanders and real natives alike.
Though they are merely acting as they do the rest of the year, actions that are prompted by the simple instinct of human survival that have become ingrained by their city and suburban lives, in their minds they are doing nothing wrong.
Taking up two spots with their cars in the supermarket and restaurant parking lots, elbowing through the crowd with nary an “excuse me” to get that last few ears of corn, their guilt-free look when taking thirty items to the less crowded fourteen items or less checkout and, of course, the leaving of the empty shopping cart at the spot it was emptied.
There are way too many scenarios and space prohibits me from listing them all here, but I’m sure you get the picture.
The new problem lies not so much with the Visiting Flatlanders but with the Native Flatlanders, of which I am one.
We were them once and we forget. As we have graciously (and gratefully) assimilated we have forgotten our own roots and how we at one time acted the same. Time and watching some natives helped us overcome our angst.
So, as the voice of “all” Flatlanders, I don’t think we Native Flatlanders should get angry at the Visiting Flatlander’s actions, but to use them as reminders to ourselves.
So, the next time you are tempted to try and squeeze your car into that tiny spot next to the two-space parked car making sure they don’t have enough room to open their door, take a breath.
If you get the urge throw a body block into the oncoming figure, dressed all in pink, who is trying to beat you to the corn section or if you want to loudly count the dozens of items in the basket in front of you at the fourteen items or less checkout, take a step back and count to ten in your head instead.
Remember, that was us not so long ago. We had to learn and we should be gracious enough to allow for their assimilation as well.
As native Flatlanders, we have to try and respect those who we were once like. Even that loudmouth jerk yesterday who left his shopping cart right in the middle of the parking lot.
I hope this helps.
Visit Brendan’s website for information on his books and speaking engagements at brendantsmith.com or follow his blog at FoolinNH.com