I need some NH knowledge.
December 13, 2010 4:00 PM   Subscribe

How do I get a jumpstart on "knowing" New Hampshire?

I've lived about 94% of my life in and around the Portland, OR area. I feel as though i have a very firm grasp on it's politics, it's quirks, it's history and the major and minor social and political issues surrounding the area...I take an enormous amount of solace in this to the point of feeling very anxious and nervous while traveling outside the Northwest.

Sometime within the next two years or so, my wife and I will be moving to the Portsmouth, NH area and I'd really like to get a leg up on familiarizing myself with the area beforehand. I know this may seem extreme to people that moved a bunch in their lives, but even in the times I've visited New England, it's felt like another country to me (a foreign country that i quite enjoy and am excited to live in!).

That said I'm very invested in moving, and I really want to grok NH. I know this won't happen until i've lived in NH for a couple decades, but i'd really like to get a jumpstart on it. Any suggestions?

*I have already started tuning into NH Pubic Radio on a regular basis, but i know this doesn't really give the whole picture of the state, especially marginalized populations, and other facets of the region not normally covered by traditional media.
posted by furnace.heart to Travel & Transportation around New Hampshire (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Granite State of Mind is probably the best music video about New Hampshire.
posted by ChrisHartley at 4:08 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

a very common joke about New Hampshire, both by New Hampsherites & non-, is a twist on the state motto: live, freeze, and die

take from this what you will
posted by jammy at 4:08 PM on December 13, 2010

Hmm... well if I were you I think I would focus on the town you are planning to move to and the towns very close to it. Portsmouth and towns within an hour of it can be very, very different from each other.
Also New England is very small. Within a few minutes you could be in Maine or Massachusetts. A couple hours ad you could be in Vermont or Rhode Island.
If you are feeling overwhelmed maybe get to know a few towns (that seem are up your alley) in the area.

And watch this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bX7nQrCgALM

Oh .. and New England is awesome.
posted by beccaj at 4:14 PM on December 13, 2010

Best answer: Granite State of Mind is probably the best music video about New Hampshire.

So true. I sort of love getting to watch that video and laughing saying "hey I know that stuff!" New Hampshire seems to have the least aggressive identity of the Northern New England states, not in a bad way. I've lived within about 40 minutes of New Hampshire for most of my life though I took a side trip to Seattle for about ten years so I think I know where you're coming from. There are two things

- getting used to New England generally, there's much more of a regional identity and each state has its own little role to play in it [think: Pac NW but with a lot of smaller states that you could visit in a day]
- getting used to New Hampshire

So as far as Portsmouth, it's sort of weird because it's nearly in Maine but also pretty close to MA so it has some cultural identities from those places. You'll get ocean culture [go read and enjoy The Salt Book] and also colonial times early settlers which were a big deal in MA and NH. My oldest ancestors in this country were from New Hampshire and it's somewhat startling to realize that there were colonial settlers, people living in houses and doing their thing in New England in the mid 1600s. Prior to this there was a lot of indigenous history including people from the Abenaki and the Pennacook nations.

People may dispute this, but my feeling is that NH and Vermont are basically the same sorts of places geographically, except that VT had a marketing campaign to be the ski/hippie/farmer state and NH went the other way with lower taxes and more industry building off of its mill history. Accordingly, now Vermont has a lot of growth ordinances and New Hampshire has low taxes and both states have money challenges because they have small populations, a lot of infrastructure requirements [due to tough weather and tough terrain] and not much of a tax base.

So, history is sort of a big deal in New England and people can sometimes take this [in my opinion] too far and start getting nosey about pedigrees and whatever. When I was in the Pac NW, no one cared where I went to high school and barely cared where I went to college. In New England sometimes people care which church in town you go to and draw a lot of conclusions [many people also don't and I don't notice a problem not being a church goer]. There are a lot of terrific schools in New England, including Dartmouth in New Hampshire, and that's a local point of pride. Winters are long and reading books is one thing people do to pass the time. If you have any relatives that were from this part of the country originally, it can be fun to dip into some of the local history stuff and poke around some.
posted by jessamyn at 4:53 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

New England is a crazy place-all those little states are mushed together, and then within each one, there are several really distinct cultures and accents.

Portsmouth is really not like the rest of NH at all. It's not unlike Portland in that it's been culturally revitalized in the last 20-30 years or so, is filled with hipsters, coffee shops, brick buildings, good food, and higher housing costs than in the "old days". But unlike Portland, it's not especially bike friendly, it's tiny, and it's not culturally diverse (it has those things in common with the rest of NH). For a lot of its residents, it's a Boston suburb (only an hour away). The proximity to a lot of places is great: a day's drive to NYC, Montreal, the White Mountains, Lake Champlain, Portland ME and the Maine coast... And if you are into history, it is full of it.

You won't have much culture shock. In fact, I predict you will quickly meet many people there who have also lived in the NW.
posted by quarterframer at 5:00 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm from Seattle but have been the Boston area awhile. New England is kinda like a big diverse state, almost by accident when a sister visited we took a drive one day and visited five states without hardly trying. In Portsmouth you're much closer to Ma and Maine than most of the rest of the state, it's a bit of a drive up to the white mountains, but worth it. But most of the state will be like east of the Cascades, great to visit but not where you'll hang day to day.

The northern White mountain part of the state but it's a really odd mix of historic rural with odd east coast tourist traps like StoryLand or an old style roadside attraction. I remember my first drive up 93 then across Kancamagus starting to feel like really getting away from things... until we rolled through North Conway's outlet city.
posted by sammyo at 5:36 PM on December 13, 2010

In New England, people are often interested in knowing your ethnicity. It's not a status thing; many New Englanders care a lot that they themselves are Irish, French, Jewish, etc., and cultural identity is often a lot stronger than it is for people elsewhere. When I lived in Oregon, I don't remember anybody remarking on my Italian surname, but in Massachusetts, it was a common thing.

You'd best start following the Patriots and the Red Sox, because New England sports fans are avid.
posted by wryly at 5:39 PM on December 13, 2010

I'm from Portsmouth. I'm also pretty homesick. I agree that Portsmouth is not quite like the rest of the state and is more like the NW or other parts of the NE, from what I know of it. It's a nice place, although a little less diverse than I prefer. Are you moving to Portsmouth proper or a town nearby (oh, maybe you don't know yet)? In the little towns, if you want to learn history, attend a church (or temple or similar) and join the Historical Society. I went to a few meetings of the Historical Society and all the people who were born in this town (where I live now in MA) and know more than is necessary about all the families and geography were there -- fascinating!

I know other users still live in Portsmouth but if you want to MeMail me with any questions, I'd be glad to answer them (or ask my mom!).

So I find New Englanders generally welcoming of those from away and in fact many of my past workplaces had only one or two natives. However, P.J. O'Rourke has some great short stories about moving to NH, one of which involves how they don't call your house "the O'Rourke place" until you've lived in it for several centuries. So true. I've lived in my "new" town 12 years and he's so right.

Good luck! Enjoy the move! I'd love to hear how it goes and where you end up. Did I mention I'm homesick?
posted by theredpen at 5:46 PM on December 13, 2010

Best answer: Whoa whoa whoa, New Hampshire does not have low taxes... Property taxes in NH are some of the highest in the country.. Like, crazy high.. So get ready for that...

As someone who's lived in Portsmouth, I'll agree with quarterframer when he says it isn't a lot like the rest of the state. It's been yuppified. It's a great town! I lived there for a couple years, and my ancestors have a deep history in Portsmouth and the rest of the coast in that region.. I have a lot of love for the place. That being said, you sometimes need to dig through the tourists and yuppies to get to the New Hampshire "essence" that you seem to be looking for. One thing that's going to be great for you is that you're 45 minutes from Portland, ME, which is another great city, and maybe an hour and 15 from Boston, MA. And you can get to Vermont in 2-2.5 hours..

I grew up in NH, and have lived in VT, MA and ME, and I'll tell you that the people in each state truly are different. You might not notice it at first, or maybe not ever, because New Englanders as a whole have a lot of similar qualities (especially the four northern states..) -- but the subtleties might reveal themselves over time to you. The more time I spend bouncing around New England, the better I feel about New Hampshire and the folks and their attitudes. You'll be hard pressed to find anywhere that hosts more die-hard and solid people.

It seems to me -- and this is after a lot of thought on the subject -- that a part of what makes New Englanders as they are is the history in this area. It's the oldest part of the country, and so many of the people that live here have deep family histories going back hundreds of years. There's something about that that really connects people. And not in any kind of an exclusive way... Some other comments make it sound like people are nosy and judgmental, but I would completely disagree. I think there's a solidarity here, and that if someone's asking you which school or church you go to, they're probably trying to find a way to bring you deeper into their fold.

Anyways, I could go on and on, and I'm not sure that I'm hitting on anything you were actually asking for! A couple places you should definitely check out right in and around Portsmouth are:

The Press Room -- cozy pub, on Daniel St
Loco Coco's -- amazing burritos, actually in Kittery ME
Colby's -- best breakfast place in town, on Daniel St
Star Island which can be accessed via the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company

Just remember, that each little pocket in New Hampshire, or in any of the New England states, for that matter, is going to be different. You're going to have a lot of fun getting to know the area :)
posted by Glendale at 5:51 PM on December 13, 2010

You do know that the "Old Man of the Mountain" fell in 2003, right? Because, really, that's pretty symbolic of a state in which change (geographical, political, and social) is ongoing, if sometimes publically regretted and mourned...
posted by paulsc at 6:11 PM on December 13, 2010

Best answer: Yeah, the Celtics and Patriots are as big here as the Trail Blazers and the Ducks/Beavers are in Oregon. But there's nothing to compare with the fervor people have for the Red Sox. This isn't to say that you need to care about them, but they can be a topic of conversation.

People here tend to have a fairly strong sense of history, because much of the region has been settled for 3 centuries or more, and lots of history happened here. The economy started off with farming, fishing, merchants doing business in Boston, and whaling based on Cape Cod. Then the industrial revolution hit. Old mill towns are a common sight throughout northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. The most recognizable thing in those towns are the factories themselves, typically a very long, 3 or 4 story high brick building with a smokestack. These days some of them have been turned into condos or office space. A while back I visited the Boott Cotton Mills Museum in Lowell, MA, which taught me a lot more about the region. One thing I hadn't realized was that a lot of immigrants during the 19th century were actually from Quebec. You see a fair number of French surnames around here.

I've visited Portsmouth once and my sense is that it's much more liberal than the rest of the state, and I really enjoyed being there. A lot of New Hampshire, especially the north and west, is still rural and conservative, more so than the rest of New England except, er, a lot of Maine. There's a NASCAR racetrack north of Concord. While interning at a tech company in Merrimack, I accepted a coworker's invitation to go to his Baptist church's Christmas pageant. Coming from a moderate Presbyterian family, it was weird for me, with the preacher taking over the stage to rail against Satan.

The region has really cleaned itself up over the past century. The Charles River in Boston used to be an environmental disaster zone, and now people swim in it. The Merrimack River (where some of the biggest factory towns were situated) sometimes ran blue, red, and yellow from the clothing dyes used. Over the past few decades, tech companies (many from MIT) have come to dominate the economy.

I lived in Eugene, Oregon for several years. You know how Seattle is sort of the biggest city in the region, and sometimes you hear news about San Francisco or Los Angeles? Here, Boston dominates the news, and you hear a fair amount about NYC too. The cities have come to dominate the countryside as farming waned and rich city folks have bought up land. Southern New Hampshire is mostly a suburb of Boston now, for people who don't want to pay state income tax. I know of a property east of Concord that used to be a farm but is now a bed and breakfast--tourism has been one replacement for farming.

One difference between New Hampshire and Oregon is just that the population is denser and covers more of the land. In Oregon, you have a swathe of population along the Willamette River, and then random towns along the coast and east of the Cascades, and along the Columbia. In New Hampshire if you travel 5 miles in any direction you're going to hit another town. It'll typically be a small farming town, but it might surprise you. You might get a Concord or a Hanover or a Brattleboro, Vermont. Enjoy!
posted by A dead Quaker at 6:30 PM on December 13, 2010

Must agree with those who've said Portsmouth is yuppified! but in a nice way, with great pubs and shops and coffee and music etc. It's become a Boston bedroom-community. I've got a brother there and go often - it's wonderful. There's also Hampton Beach, Exeter, Portland Maine and lots of other neat towns in the area. Check out seacoastnh.com for some history and seacoastonline.com for a local newspaper.
posted by henry scobie at 6:58 PM on December 13, 2010

Best answer: I'm a transplant from the PNW too. Be prepared that the winter will fucking suck.

When you get here, why not put out a call for a MeFi meetup of expat northwesterners? We can all drink some really good coffee and feel completely at home showing up to impress, dressed in our nicest sweaters and jeans....
posted by Sublimity at 7:00 PM on December 13, 2010

Best answer: I have been living in New England for 17 years, after leaving New Jersey. I'm in Connecticut now, which is probably not as "New England" in identity as the rest of the area (notice it wasn't mentioned once in any of the posts), but I travel around the area as much as possible. My husband and I are considering moving to New Hampshire as well. While I do find it easy to identify New England as one big area as others have mentioned, I do find that there are big differences between the states. I still remember what stuck out to me about the area quite clearly, so here are some of my impressions:

Jessamyn hit it pretty well with the VT/NH differences. When it comes to skiing/leaf-peeping, the VT regional tourists tend to come from NY/NJ, while the NH tourists tend to come from the Boston area. If you ski, there is a noticeable difference between the ski areas in the two states - VT is more corporate/resort-y and NH is a little more "classic".

One thing that strikes me every time I go up to Maine/VT/NH is how much of it is so NOT ethnically diverse. I mean, yeah, you get people wanting to know if you are Irish/French/Italian, but that's it. I really love the area, but one of the reasons we have been hesitant to move to NH is because we would prefer to raise our kids in a more diverse area. On a similar note, you might notice that there are quite a few towns in New England that are heavily French Canadian. Manchester, NH is one of those towns. I remember being thrown by last names like Levesque and Thibodeaux when I arrived here at the tender age of 17.

The accents around New England are pretty distinct and after awhile you will be able to tell a Mainer from a Bostonian from a Providence resident.

Maritime culture is pretty strong here along the shoreline, from CT all the way up through Maine. This is not just modern day working fishing/lobster operations, but there is a lot of historical/cultural identity tied to it as well. This is pretty special and unique... and quite different from the Jersey Shore references of my home turf.
posted by smalls at 7:52 PM on December 13, 2010

I grew up in New Hampshire. (I live in SF now.) I love Portsmouth -- beautiful and just-enough-yuppified. As a (Unitarian) kid I went to youth conferences on Star Island, which is part of the Isles of Shoals -- you take a ferry from Portsmouth.

If I were moving to Portsmouth now, I would probably do a bunch of community-based activities for a while to meet people. For me, these would include: UU church; contra dance; storytelling; farmer's market; arts and crafts fair; potlucks. Once I met people I might drop out of some of the activities, but in my experience those are the places where the progressive-y people are in New Hampshire. (For me, you might be into other scenes.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:10 PM on December 13, 2010

Reading about early American history, the Colonial period, the Revolutionary War, up through the lead up to the Civil War, would be a good way to start familiarizing yourself with New England. I think a lot of those values are still idolized (and idealized) here, in both positive and negative ways.

And yeah, learn enough baseball to be able to follow it on the radio. Your important years: 1918, 1967, 1975, 1986, 2003, 2004. Oh god, 2004. 2007 was a bonus. Even if you aren't interested in the actual sport, you may actual find some of the history and gossip and statistics interesting.

One other thing I'll mention - people often interpret New Englanders as cold, which I find a bit unfair. You'll find people here are more...withdrawn? It isn't uncaring. But my first impulse is still to address friends' parents, good friends whose families I have known for 15 years, as Mr. and Mrs. Smith. I am 30. Personal space bubbles are bigger here. If strangers don't make eye contact - that's considered *more* polite. These are things that my friends from the West Coast (mostly Bay Area) found odd.

As for people asking where you go to church - not going to church generally garners fewer assumptions than going to church.

(At least these are my experiences from growing up in one corner of Vermont and living in Boston since college).
posted by maryr at 11:20 PM on December 13, 2010

« Older Best PMP with a voice recorder?   |   Save me from this mess Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.