As summer approaches, residents of New England's beach towns breathe deep in preparation. Traffic starts to build, out-of-state cars multiply, and beach chairs clank and scrape along sidewalks and paths. A local scans the unrecognizable faces, hears the whirring of a moped in the distance, and observes, "They're here."
And so begins the annual clash of townies versus tourists. I've witnessed it my whole life, growing up in the coastal neighborhood of Green Harbor in Marshfield. My town's population of 25,000 nearly doubles in the summer.
Visitors bring their enthusiasm and their dollars — but often leave their manners at home. It doesn't have to be that way. With the help of locals up and down the New England coast, I've assembled the following tips for tourists. Please take note, vacationers, so we can coexist peacefully.
1. Don’t park in front of our houses without permission.
While parking on a residential road near the beach is not illegal, it sure grinds the gears of locals all over New England. We get that you don't have a beach sticker and want to avoid a ticket. But it's rude. And often your car is blocking us from coming and going. If you happen to see us in the yard, ask nicely and we may say it's OK to use our space. Otherwise, leave your car in town or at your rental house, or investigate whether the town you're visiting sells temporary beach parking passes. Visit the website for your destination, and find out how to buy a sticker of your own.
2. Treat the locals the way you’d like to be treated.
It's not uncommon to see fuming tourists yelling at the beach parking attendant because the lot is full. Aside from yelling, vacationers show disrespect to those serving them. One sweaty day in Green Harbor, while waiting in line at the old-timey general store, I watched as a shirtless beachgoer, clearly in a rush, hurled his change onto the counter at a kindly longtime cashier. Even vacationers who wouldn't dream of pelting a service worker with coins sometimes seem to forget the golden rule. Kayla Kurgun, who's worked as a waitress and bartender around Gloucester for 17 years, recalls one slow shift on a rainy night in May when a middle-aged couple from Ohio came in for dinner. Kurgun shared stories of her own wanderlust and recommended nearby museums. Then, she says, "I was shocked to see they left a 15 percent tip." She expects closer to 20 percent. Is she right? Peter Post of the Emily Post Institute has said that 20 percent is now the standard. If your servers are working hard, and especially if they dispense tourism advice, consider tipping generously.
3. Drive and walk like a local.
Some locals would prefer that you drive as though you have small children running around in the area, below 20 miles per hour. Others say that tourists drive too slowly and interrupt their commutes by stopping to look at the views. Observe speed limits, and if you must take a quick peek at the scenery, pull over. And when you get out from behind the wheel, put safety first. You wouldn't wander out into traffic at home, so don't do it on vacation. "Jaywalking is as bad as everyone says, probably worse," says Chuck Ruffin, who has lived near Mystic, Connecticut, since 1957. "People today, mostly those younger than 50, believe local rules don't apply to them, that because they are tourists and bringing money into town, they are exempt from local rules and customs."
4. Be wise with fireworks.
Admit it: You don't really know what you're doing with those flaming objects. Private citizens are banned from using fireworks in Massachusetts; restrictions vary elsewhere in New England. Even if fireworks are allowed where you're visiting, use caution. And think of our dogs before lighting scary noisemakers near homes. Do you want to cause incessant barking?
5. Rent a moped (or scooter) only if you know what you’re doing.
In beach towns where businesses offer moped rentals, inexperienced, obnoxious, and even drunk drivers make the two-wheelers a menace. "The summer arrives and you're overtaken by people on mopeds who have no right to be on a moped anywhere," says Leah Robinson, an artist who's spent the past eight summers as well as a few offseasons on Block Island, Rhode Island. "I could cite numerous accounts of stupidity on a moped that I have seen, but your article isn't long enough."
6. Do not feed the seagulls.
Coddling the birds only makes them more aggressive. "They are just getting more daring. They come out of nowhere," says Donna Green, who's lived near Long Sands Beach in York, Maine, for 15 years. She says a seagull once flew away with her Labradoodle's tennis ball mid-fetch, and she saw a bird scratch a young girl's face while wrestling for a french fry. Every day Green sees tourists leave their food unattended on the beach, and she covers it to protect it from the scavengers.
7. Be kind at the beach — and beyond.
No one enjoys feeling like a packaged sardine, especially as high tide compresses beachgoers. Leave a little room between your towel and your neighbor's, and be careful about throwing Frisbees or kicking sand. If your sand gets in my meatball sub because you decided to shake out your towel, heads will roll. And remember to "pack out" your trash when you leave. Burying your leftover beer cans in the sand does not cut it. Stacey Pomella, a teacher and 10-year resident of Marshfield, says she recently filled three-quarters of a large trash bag with candy wrappers, Gatorade bottles, soda cans, nips, and plastic bags, all picked up while walking in her neighborhood. "My husband's motto has always been 'Leave places cleaner than you found them,' and I think it's a great lesson to teach our children," she says.