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Molnar: Epitome of Exotic

02/10/12 5:55PM By Martha Molnar
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(Host) As unlikely as it may sound, commentator Martha Molnar has discovered that in some parts of the world Vermonters are seen as downright exotic.

(Molnar) On a recent trip to Ecuador, we found that we were very interesting to the other tourists and to the locals. Actually, we were more than merely interesting. We were positively exotic. Although our color was common enough - pasty white arriving from Vermont in December - we were as amazing as the shimmering blue morpho butterflies or the blue fig leaves that shocked us in the rainforest. We fit the look, the language and probably whatever behavior was expected of North Americans, but we came from a virtually unknown place.

Vermont? The other American tourists we met had never been here, nor had any of them ever met a Vermonter. Vermont? The Europeans had heard of it, vaguely, but had likewise never met anyone from this remote state. Near Canada, isn't it, they asked. And cold, they guessed, following that with a vague recollection of our famous foliage. Vermont? Was it near California or New York, the Ecuadorians asked. They'd met plenty of people from those states.

It was strange to be cast in the role of representing a state, especially one to which my husband and I are relative newcomers. Not to indulge in stereotypes, but everyone knows that Californians are flaky and obsessed with body image, while New Yorkers are abrupt and driven. At least that was the general perception among the people we met. But I had no idea what the expected behavior for Vermonters might be. Perhaps it would be cold and aloof, matching the climate they imagined; or courteous, private, non-judgmental, and fair minded, but also singularly individual, to match my own perceptions. I knew there is no way to paint 600,000 people with one brush or even with several, and having spent many years in New York City, I knew just how wrong the perception of my former neighbors, colleagues and still dear friends could be.

So, instead of trying to fit the entire population of our small but diverse state into a couple of narrow adjectives, we told them about Tropical Storm Irene because we knew everyone would understand, maybe even have first-hand experience with the destruction nature can wreak. We described the devastating power of the rivers and of the inches of rain pouring down the mountains and how they swept away bridges and roads and houses, leaving people homeless and communities isolated. Mostly, though, we talked about how people throughout the state did not sit idly by, how they pulled together and manning shovels, tractors and trucks pitched in to rescue the stranded, salvage what they could, and begin rebuilding.

We thought that might be the best way to convey the Vermont character and identity to the people we met - so they would come to understand something fundamental about who we are. And I think it worked. In fact, I know it did.
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