Do We Have A Staring Problem In Maine?
On my third day living at the University of Southern Maine Gorham campus back in 2000, I started a conversation with another student named Adam who had come to the school from Cleveland, Ohio. Because he was from out of state, Adam had spent more than a week on campus already, getting to know the lay of the land and understanding how the split campuses at USM would work. I asked him what he thought of Maine so far and his response was one that I have never forgotten. He said to me, "place is gorgeous, quiet, peaceful. But what's with all the staring?" Excuse me?
At first I was confused and followed up with "what do you mean?" He said to me, "when I'm driving, any time I pass someone, they stare at me. When I went to the mall, people were staring at me when I walked by them. Here on campus, it's the same thing." I suddenly felt very self-conscious for myself and my fellow Mainers. Do we have a staring problem? As I got to know Adam better, I came to realize that simple eye contact was something he considered to be staring. That in Cleveland, a simple lock of the eyes can be bad news. But here in Maine? Nothing of the sorts.
I bring this up because just a few days ago on Reddit, someone posted this. A simple, non-accusatorial question wondering if people in Maine tend to take longer looks at other people than you'd find in other states. If you've lived your entire life in Maine, or have been here long enough, you know this to be absolutely true. We've always been an eye contact state, and people here are friendly enough to still say hello with their eyes.
So for someone who's new to Maine, all that eye contact can begin to feel a lot like staring. "Why are all these strangers fixated on looking at me?" is a fair thought for anyone unaccustomed to it. Even writing it, it does seem strange.
Do we have a staring problem? Probably. But it's kind of just a Maine thing.