You may remember the $27,000 advertising campaign of  TV ads urging us to be nicer to tourists. At the time, I suggested that no one should in a rush to sell “I love tourists” T-shirts. It would take more than $27,000 of TV ads to get Mainers to wear those!

Tourists provide lots of laughs, but I do understand that they are no joke. About 28 million of them will visit Maine this year, and they drive our economy. In fact, tourism is one of the few industries that has been growing and adding jobs in recent years.

Tourist tee shirt (2)

Some of the best tourist jokes are found in Jim Brunelle’s book, Over to Home & from Away, published by Guy Gannett Publishing Company in 1980. You probably know some of the jokes.

“Excuse me,” says the tourist to the farmer, coming to a fork in the road marked with signs pointing both ways to Portland. “Does it matter which road I take to Portland?” The farmer gives the unfortunate wretch a long look, removes the straw from his mouth, spits and says, “Not to me it don’t.”

Or how about this one? Fellow from Boston was driving through Orient on his way to a cabin he’d rented at East Grand Lake when he spotted an unusual sight. An elderly man on the front porch of a country store was holding a fishing pole with the line trailing into a bucket of water. Remembering that he had some supplies to buy, the Bostonian stopped and as he entered the store, decided to have a little fun with the obviously addled native.

“Hey oldtimer,” he said. “Catch any big ones?”

“Ayuh,” replied the fisherman. “You’re the third one I got today.”

Recounted in Brunelle’s anthology is a story by Edmund Ware Smith titled, “How to Go Native in Maine.” Smith recounts a series of steps one can go through to achieve the trust and affection of native Mainers.

According to Smith, the first step is marked, “Tourist,” where you remain under scrutiny for years, before advancing to “Summer Person.” When you move to Maine, you graduate to “Year-Round Summer Person” after toughing out a few winters. Finally, you may qualify for the highest attainable accolade. You are now “From Away.”

“Strive for nothing beyond this,” writes Smith. “You’ve had it.”

For the record, to be a Mainer, you must have been born in Maine. Some very good folks have been here for 50 years or more and still lament the fact that they are not considered Mainers.

To alleviate their pain, Maine comedian Gary Crocker and I have been talking about creating a Community College course that would certify these people as Mainers. As we talked, we realized that some Mainers are not very good Mainers, so we are also working on a rehabilitation course for them. My KJ/Sentinel editorial page column on June 3 presented some of the course requirements, if you’d like to read it.

Poking fun at tourists is really only our second most popular pastime. Making fun of ourselves is No. 1. Consider this, also from Smith’s pen, about the retired university professor from away and the native plumber, age 80.

Said the professor to the plumber: “Do you know this new guy, Smith, that just moved into the old Hopkins place?”

“Ed Smith,” said the plumber? “Why sure, I know him.”

“What’s he like.”

“He’s just like one of us natives.”

“That’s no compliment.”

“I didn’t intend it should be.”

I love this story because I’m a Smith who moved into a house built in the 1790s by the Hopkins family. For a short period the house was held by “Year-Round Summer People.” But we natives now have it back.

Perhaps we need to set up a Maine Council on Natives to sponsor TV ads encouraging us to be nicer to ourselves. Then again, if we can’t make fun of ourselves or our summer visitors, who will bear the brunt of our uniquely Maine humor. State politicians? They’re not that funny!

Our laid-back less-than-enthusiastic welcome for tourists is inbred and innate, a part of our heritage. This short story from Brunelle’s book sums up the attitude of many Mainers.

Cap Stover was Maine guide from Oxbow, noted for his taciturnity. Although he didn’t say much, he was a fine guide and always knew just where the fish were biting best. A pair of New Yorkers once found his services so satisfactory that they returned the following summer.

“Hello, Cap,” said one of the sports. Cap said hello.

“I’m Bob Blackstone, remember me?”

“Ayuh.”

“And this is Lenny Poole.”

“Ayuh.”

There was a pause while the guide kept rocking. Then Blackstone said, “Well, Cap, you don’t seem very glad to see us.”

“Ain’t glad. Ain’t sorry. Just don’t give a dang.”

Truly, we ought to – and do – give a dang about our tourists. We especially appreciate all the money they leave here!

And that’s no joke.