Drive into the parking lot of The Lodge At Kennebunk in Kennebunk, Maine, and walk over to the office with a sheet of paper containing ostensible directions, and the general manager, Charles Haeberle, can take one look at you and tell that you’re not there to rent a room at the lodge.
You’re there, he knows, because you’re lost. You’re headed somewhere else and, confounded by Maine’s relaxed attitude toward highway signs, you’ve wandered about and finally decided to stop at this roadside motel and ask for help.
You’re in luck. Mr. Haeberle does not take offense that you don’t plan to spend any money with him. He does not toss off a few cryptic comments and then turn to other tasks awaiting him. He does not refer you to a chamber of commerce office 12 miles away.
No, in a friendly, relaxed, humorous manner, Mr. Haeberle takes the time to tell you where to turn and how long to stay on that stretch of road and what to look for after you travel across that intersection.
Or swing by the Maine Visitor Information Center in Fryerburg, just this side of the New Hampshire state line, and speak with Judith Reilly. The walls of the center are chockablock with brochures and tourism guides, but Ms. Reilly doesn’t hand you a few of them and wish you luck.
No, she takes the time to answer your detailed questions and even looks up the number of a lobster place so popular among locals that it doesn’t bother advertising at all.
Or stay at the Percy Inn, a small bed & breakfast in downtown Portland, Maine’s largest city. The breakfast room the next morning is essentially self-serve, but the innkeeper’s assistant, Cindy MacPhee, doesn’t disappear after setting out the continental breakfast.
No, she engages you and your fellow guests in an amiable, wide-ranging conversation, sharing her brimming knowledge of the Portland environs, including how to get yourself back out now that you’ve gotten yourself in.
In retrospect, what was striking about these people in appreciably different parts of Maine—urban Portland, coastal Kennebunk, inland Fryeburg—was that each of them, in addition to being friendly (a salve for a traveler’s often-jangled nerves and moods) was that they went over and above when they didn’t have to, when no one was watching.
There’s no arguing that tourism is a major industry for Maine, in the same way that steel once was for Pittsburgh or software still is for Silicon Valley.
There’s also no arguing that Maine gets it. You can see the evidence right in the state’s standard license plate, with its “Vacationland” motto and its red lobster crawling underneath the plate numbers.
But aside from the ulterior motive of reaping material gain by influencing tourists to keep coming back, there’s also no arguing that Maine generally is a friendly place.
A good deal of that likely stems from the interaction of people’s personalities and psychology with the state’s natural environment.
In the cold months of the year, the environment of Maine is relentlessly cold and unforgiving, conditions that tend to foster a “we’re in this together” mentality.
Add to that the relatively huge size of the state, especially when compared to its New England sisters, and residents can get hankering for a little human contact, even if it’s with someone from Massachusetts or New York.
Things are spread out even in Maine’s more civilized parts. A general rule of thumb outside the villages is that a store is at least four or more miles away from wherever you are.
And to top it off, there just aren’t very many people in Maine: the current estimate is about 1.3 million.
In contrast, Massachusetts has a far larger population—currently estimated at just under 7 million—occupying a far smaller area. In fact, Massachusetts is the third-most-densely populated state in the nation, according to worldpopulationreview.com, a website that analyzes census information.
Human nature being what it is, people tend to get irritable and more defensive if they feel crowded. And people definitely have more reason to feel more crowded in Massachusetts rather than Maine.
Beyond that, though, communities and the states they’re in tend to develop collective personalities through a variety of influences, including history as well as geography.
For the record, there are friendly people in Massachusetts (though, as in New York City, many of them moved here from somewhere else.) Some of them even are friendly to tourists, even on Cape Cod, even in the waning weeks of summer.
But the mood is more welcoming in Maine. Cross the state line and you can feel it, much as you’d feel a pleasantly warm sun on an otherwise cool fall day.
The people of Maine—including the likes of Charles Haeberle, Judith Reilly and Cindy MacPhee—offer a model worthy of emulating.
Tourism is important to Cape Cod and to Massachusetts as a whole. It can take just one interaction to turn off a visitor for life—or conversely, to win their longtime loyalty.
Consider that, whether working in the local tourism industry or not, the next time someone from out of state comes walking toward you, hoping for directions, or even a bit of friendly advice.