by Erin Moreau
Flatlander is used as a negative slander on non-native Vermonters or visitors. In it’s basic concept, the term implies a person who visits the state or lives here that brings negative qualities from their home to our state. It is a person who is unfamiliar with traditional Vermont ways. Nathan Mansfield, a native Vermonter, defines the term as “Thinking they [a flatlander] can meld their beliefs of what Vermont is into our reality.” Unfortunately for the flatlander, even if they assimilate to Vermont culture and reside here for 50 years, they can never rid themselves of this label.
|Opinions on this term run from strong to mild. Hal Goldman, a local lawyer, is passionate about flatlanders, and blames significant problems plaguing Vermont upon this group of people.
Hundreds of thousands of highly educated, well-off people invaded a state [Vermont] with a unique culture and history. They seized control of its resources and institutions, demeaned and destroyed the indigenous values of its people, altered the landscape, and drove many of the natives from their homes as a result of their activities. If this happened in Africa, the same people would call it colonialism. In Vermont, it’s called liberal chic.
Goldman is just one of many angry Vermonters, who have seen businesses close up and land destroyed by the out-of-staters.
The continuous fight of Vermonters trying to hold onto their state and heritage has reached beyond the borders of the small state. Pamela Ferdinand published in article in The Washington Post in March 1998 about this very topic. Her article, “In a Manner of Speaking, State Mourns Its Past,” interviews natives about their dwindling unique way of speaking. Ferdinand comments that, "But few people outside the Green Mountain State realize that Vermont is struggling to preserve its own subtle linguistic charm against an onslaught of outsiders. Locals believe more is at stake than their manner of speaking. Vermont expressions, like all dialects, are significant because they enshrine a way of life in a region known for its independent streak, dry wit and lean syntax."
Locals fear that their language will be one of the things robbed if too many flatlanders come to stay within the borders of Vermont. Sonny Davis, one of the Vermonters interviewed for the piece, expressed his fears about flatlanders to Ferdinand by saying, “I kinda feel like a strang-uh in mah own town, I guess. It’s pretty sad, because we’re goin’ to sound like New Jersey.”
Vermont made national headlines in 1998 when a flatlander tried to run for Senate under the Republican Party, and lost. Jack McMullen, a one-year resident of Vermont, tried to win the Republican nomination to run against Senator Leahy for Senate. McMullen, the millionaire, lost to Fred Tuttle, then a 79 year old retired farmer. The farmer, with a 10th grade education and a spending budget of $201, beat the Harvard educated McMullen, who spent $475,000 on his campaign. In the often comical debates, McMullen was exposed as an outsider, a person who didn’t know the state he was trying to win very well. Tuttle asked him in one debate how to pronounce the Vermont town of Calais. McMullen answered it by pronouncing it in the French way (cah-lay) instead of how Vermonters say it, (cah-las). It was clear McMullen didn’t know the state. For what reason did Tuttle win? The simple fact that Tuttle is a native Vermonter, and McMullen a flatlander. McMullen tried to buy his way through the campaign, but Vermonters saw through his ideas. When voting time came, Tuttle won 55% of the primary vote, and putting the farmer into a Senatorial race. Tuttle’s win sent a message nationwide, Vermonters would not be bought over by a flatlander, and would much rather have a retired farmer in the senate. Surprised by the win, Tuttle laughed and lamented he would never want to move to Washington, D.C. so he urged Vermonters to vote for Leahy. Tuttle’s job was done, and he could go back to his farm.