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What Do I Need To Know About Moving To Vermont?

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Katherine Welles
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From snow tires and the art of the car wave to befriending neighbors and keeping an open mind, Brave Little State collected your advice for soon-to-be Vermonters.

This one goes out to our future neighbors. To answer a question from Samantha Spano, of South Florida, Brave Little State collected your advice.

Our show is made for the ear! We recommend listening if you're able. 

A woman and man stand in front of a lake surrounded by fall foliage.
Credit Samantha Spano / Courtesy
BLS question-asker Samantha Spano and her boyfriend Tyler Smith, in Ludlow during a trip to Vermont in 2019.

Question-asker Samantha Spano set us on this course; she and her boyfriend Tyler are planning to move here from Port St. Lucie, Florida.

“We’re so excited to be Vermonters,” Samantha says. “We’ve done research, we’ve read all the forums, did every possible thing online we can. We visited Vermont ourselves. But we would like to know from true Vermonters: What do we need to know to move to Vermont?”

So what do they need to know? You had some thoughts.

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Samantha kept her question pretty broad. She told us she wants to know "basically anything, really."

"Anything from what the snow season is like, because being from south Florida, we don’t know what snow is, to the little things like pronouncing Montpelier correctly," she said.

That comment about our state's capital inspired us to spin off and produce a pronunciation guide for other Vermont towns and cities, and we crowdsourced your local expertise.

More from Brave Little State: An Interactive Guide To Pronouncing Vermont & Abenaki Place Names

As for the rest of Samantha's question, it turns out some new Vermonters right here in the VPR newsroom had some thoughts: Emily Aiken moved here from Missouri last March, to work on our show Vermont Edition, and Brittany Patterson joined us in December, as an afternoon news editor.

"I was living in West Virginia, but I’m originally from California," Brittany says. "I actually put out a lot of feelers...to figure out, like, what I could expect moving to Vermont. The first thing that stood out to me and really kind of sold me on Vermont, is just how forthcoming everyone I reached out to was with offering help.

"The internet told me Vermont has a reputation maybe for being a little stand-offish, but that has not been my experience at all so far."

Emily, meanwhile, flew in a little blind.

"I didn’t do probably enough research before I moved here, but I knew that I wanted to move out of the Midwest," she says. "I think the biggest thing that I learned was that everyone here seems to be very outdoorsy, and I am not an outdoorsy person ... It would’ve been nice to know, just to prepare myself, that everyone I met was gonna want to do something outside, which is not how we do things in Missouri."

Emily also recalls a series of encounters she had upon arriving here:

"I'll start by saying, in Missouri, in the Midwest in general, the attitude that most people have is very passive aggressive — but it’s also overly nice. Everyone’s always apologizing there, and I’m used to that, because that’s where I was raised. And when I got here, the first maybe day that I was here I was in Target just picking up some stuff for my new apartment. And I said, "Excuse me," and then, "Sorry," right after [that], because I was walking past someone. And it was an older man and he goes, ‘Don’t apologize to me! You don’t owe me an apology!’ And that happened, maybe three or four times, just in the first week that I was here. And that really threw me for a loop."

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So what else does a soon-to-be Vermonter need to know? Not surprisingly, our audience had a lot of thoughts.

Molly Hakopian, Montpelier: "There is a lot to know, but I would say the biggest thing is: Get on Front Porch Forum. That is the place for hot town gossip, and also friendly neighbors. And it’s hooked us up with all kinds of wonderful things when we first moved in — like new plants, random furniture we might need, and it’s a great place just to get a better understanding of the locale." 

Graham Sinclair, Woodstock: "In five years, someone will invite you to a barbecue. Until then, tend your fences, pay your bills promptly and don’t be too chatty. Also, show up for market day and the street parades. Offer someone a ride to the airport."

Sage Ruth, Brattleboro: "First of all, this is the ancestral land of the Abenaki. Also important to know, there is no spring here in Vermont. There is summer, fall, winter and mud season."

Michele, Pittsford: "My first thought was to explain the phrase 'Jeezum Crow.' Any non-Vermonter will eventually hear it from one of us born and raised here. The definition of 'Jeezum Crow' is a polite euphemism for 'Jesus Christ' that’s typically associated with crusty old Vermonters. And my advice if someone, non-Vermonter, is thinking about wanting to use the phrase: You may want to just listen for a while and understand the context of how it’s used."

Judy MacIssac Robertson: "Have proper footwear. Don’t worry about hat-head. Four-way stops take a very long time because everyone wants the other to go first. Town Meeting Day isn’t only important; it’s fun. Smile at strangers; it’s the way it’s done. Maple syrup goes in all recipes. Welcome!"

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'Do not skimp out and not get snow tires'

To collect more advice for Samantha, I made some phone calls — including to Wylene Branton Wood, of Westminster, who’s had a second home here since 2011, and moved here full-time in 2017.

Westminster had just had a big dump of snow when I called Wylene. But she seemed relaxed about it.

"I suspect it’s about the eight inches that they predicted, and it’s not snowing right now," she said while her two dogs, Porgy and Bess, barked at the plow. "But I think we did much better than so many areas further south."

Adjusting to winter is actually a centerpiece of Wylene’s advice to new Vermonters. Winter, or as Samantha calls it (and I like this): “the snow season.”

"It can be really overwhelming for people who come here and are not really expecting what those who lived here know to be the reality," she says. "You might say, 'OK, snow, we know there’s gonna be snow in Vermont.' But sometimes it can last for days. And sometimes the amounts can be overwhelming. And it’s not a problem if you’re prepared for it ... You learn to make sure that you have a full tank of gas, you make sure you have snow tires."

Snow tires. Not all-seasons, but nice, grippy snow tires. Of all the advice we collected for Samantha, this was the message.

Molly Hakopian: "Winter tires are a must. Yes, you do need two different sets, and it makes a big difference."

Tul Niroula: "People advise me, it's better to have snow tires, than all-season. So I just took the advice, and all my cars, they have snow tires."

Sage Ruth: "You do need snow tires for the winter. Do not skimp out and not get snow tires."

A woman stands in front of a painting.
Credit Wylene Wood / Courtesy
Wylene Branton Wood, of Westminster, has a wealth of wisdom to share with future Vermonters.

"And then for your personal care," Wylene continues, "I have had to learn this along the way. I have a 97-year-old neighbor who walks faithfully up the road every day in all kinds of weather. And she says 'Wylene, be sure and get yourself a ski pole.' So I went out and got a ski pole. And then another neighbor, when I was saying, 'Oh gosh, I fell on the ice, I was walking the dogs out back,' she sent me a link and she said 'Get yourself some cleats.' Or, I think some people call them crampons."

Also called microspikes, these are very useful contraptions that you can affix to the bottom of your boots to give yourself extra traction on icy days. Which are often the same days that the power is liable to go out.

The fun stuff: Ice, power loss and humidity

"You want to just make sure that you have the tools that will help you to get through a power outage," Wylene advises. "The first thing iI would think of is heat. A lot of people who can afford it have generators. We haven’t gotten one of those yet, but we’re thinking about it. But if you have a woodstove, that can certainly provide warmth for you."

We could do a whole episode about how to keep your house warm. In fact, we have.

Anna Morris, West Windsor: "[This] might not be Vermont specific, but it was something that blew my mind, which is that if there are icicles on your house, it means your roof is not well insulated. So seeing those pretty icicles around — they’re not just pretty, they’re a sign of poor insulation. So get your roof insulated."

But as Wylene knows, it’s not just winter that gets extreme.

"Summers for me were unexpectedly warm. And it wasn’t just the heat; it was also very humid. And it reminded me of being down South, where I’m from. I’m from Arkansas."

Wylene continues: "I think the overriding thing with power outages, with weather conditions, everything, is really to sort of have a relationship with people in your area, with your neighbors especially. I’ve been charmed by — well, we love our neighbors. I remember the first winter that we were here, a neighbor up the road, whom we really had only just met, came by with his snowplow to plow us out. I had a neighbor the other day who — all the rescue equipment, the fire trucks, were running to her house. And I called her ... She couldn’t turn her burner off, or something like that. But she really appreciated my calling to make sure she was OK and see if she needed anything.

"It’s a different thing to experience for me, because when we lived in New York, I knew my neighbors, basically. There was really not that calling and checking in on everybody. But that seems to be the way it is. I can’t speak for every part of this area, but certainly where I live and from what I hear, it’s seems like folks in Vermont are very neighborly."

Wave to thy neighbor

It might seem sentimental. But there is something to it: Your neighbors are super important.

Phil Stetson: "I would encourage anyone moving to Vermont, or currently living in the state, to do a good deed for a neighbor, as it’s likely that you may rely on them down the road."

Though befriending your neighbor can require patience.

A man wearing winter clothing stands in a snowy yard.
Credit Tul Niroula / Courtesy
'Anyone wanting to come to Vermont, or move to Vermont, you are all welcome!' says Tul Niroula, of Burlington.

"My own experience when I came here, I found that people nearby, they really don’t go and speak to each other," says Tul Niroula of Burlington.

"I came from Nepal, and this is my eighth year in Vermont and I love this place," Tul says.

But, he admits it took him a while to get to know his neighbors. He says having kids in school helped with that.

"I found the medium of speaking with the people is through school [activities]," Tul says. "I [had an] experience [where] I hadn’t talked to my neighbor after seeing them, just 'Hi' and 'Hello,' but once we came together at the school, then my neighbor said, 'Hey, you are my neighbor!' And then we had a lot of conversation after that."

I asked Tul: If Samantha doesn’t have kids, how can she meet people outside of the school system? He suggested, maybe get a dog?

"I know there are dog parks, there are other parks ... just start talking to people," he encourages. "And neighbors, especially when they see us, starting with hello and hi, and slowly, slowly, we can start the conversation. People are really friendly and they want to talk.

Julia Carlisle, formerly of Woodstock: "You definitely need to wave at everybody, you need to acknowledge everybody on the road. Maybe not so much on the interstate or in Burlington, but everywhere else. There are different degrees of wave. There’s the two-hands on the steering wheel with the one-finger, 'I see you at Town Meeting we’re not really friends but I’m acknowledging you.' There’s the really enthusiastic, 'You’re my best friend,' two hands off the wheel, double-wave as you’re driving by. And then there are variations in between: a couple fingers waved, or one hand, or the open-the-hand-and-shut-the-hand. This is part of life."

"And I think the most interesting thing was that when we invite people for dinner, and we did that a lot before COVID, and even after COVID we’d do outside ... But, people always want to bring something. I mean, I think a lot of people say, 'OK if I'm going to dinner I’ll take a bottle of wine,' or something like that. But people in my experience here: 'Oh, let me do the appetizers.' 'Oh, please let me do the dessert.' Normally, frankly, we like to do the meal ourselves so that we can plan the overall appearance and taste and texture, sort of a design. But we’ve really learned to welcome people, because people feel like they want to reciprocate in some way."

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It's not all sunshine and maple syrup

Sage Ruth: "I’m a native Vermonter who moved out of the state for about 15 years, and is recently back, and here’s what struck me about living elsewhere and moving back here that’s important for you to know:

"Vermont has a reputation nationally as a really liberal place, but there are strong conservative pockets and beliefs here; they just don’t always align with the national Republican platform — so don’t assume everyone here is progressive just because that’s the perspective on Vermont nationally.

"We’re really proud of our state here in Vermont, and we know it isn’t perfect, but we’re also kind of defensive and we don’t love it when new folks arrive and start immediately critiquing things. So do take a little time to settle in and also realize that some of the things that feel inconvenient, like, we don’t have as many big box stores, are things that make Vermont really special, and hopefully part of what’s attracting you to move here.

"We are not big fans of New Hampshire in Vermont — or, at least I grew up in central Vermont, and that is very much the case.

More from Brave Little State: How Has The Geology Of Vermont Affected Its Character?

"Really important: do not ever ever consume fake maple syrup around a Vermonter. And also would advise you not to consume maple syrup from Canada or New Hampshire. Vermont maple syrup only, please.

"It is really hard to go east-west or west-east in Vermont because you have to cross the mountains. And lastly, there are large parts of Vermont where there is zero cell service, so keep that in mind as you’re settling down."

Going back to Vermont’s conservatism, here’s Wylene Wood again:

"That was something that was surprising to me. I do think of Vermont overall as a very liberal state. But then, moving up here, I found out that really there are pockets of people who don’t have such liberal opinions, and who are racist, and who just don’t view people who are different in any way as being valuable human beings. So that’s been disheartening."

More from Brave Little State: Why Is Vermont So Overwhelmingly White? | Why Do Some Vermonters Display The Confederate Flag?

"But I think a lot of groups in the area, and certainly nationally now, a lot of people are working to change things. And we work with organizations here to change things. I myself am African-American ... Because I’m a fair-skinned African-American, I really haven’t experienced those things directly myself. But historically there’s kind of a racial consciousness that makes me really alert to things like that. And so it’s a sad commentary — but it’s not just Vermont, it’s national, as we have seen in recent months. So we just have to hope things get better."

More from Brave Little State: How To Support Vermonters Of Color: 'Listen To Us'

So what can a newcomer do to improve some of Vermont's racial dynamics?

"People come here with all kinds of perspectives," Wylene says. "So I would just suggest to anybody, whether they’re conservative or liberal or Black or white or whatever ... Come here with an open mind, and appreciate the beauty of the state, and appreciate the other people who live in the state. Don’t just have an open mind, but be able to listen, be able to share, and just come willing to experience something perhaps they had not experienced before."

Tul Niroula, of Burlington, also wants to warn would-be Vermonters about our state's cost of living:

"The rent is a little high in Vermont. The market rates are a little high. And especially for me, there is no place to pray and worship. And I personally found the utility bills are higher, and also the property tax is also higher, I believe, than other states."

More from Brave Little State: Why Does Vermont Have Such A Housing Crunch? | Is Vermont Really 'So Expensive'?

'The New Englander now has many faces'

Did anything surprise Wylene as she made Vermont her home? 

"I would say, you know, so many people here are transplants from other parts of the country, that there’s not any one sort of profile," she reflects. "I’ve heard people say that 'the New Englander is this way or that way.' But the New Englander now, I mean, here I am with a Southern accent. The New Englander now has many faces. So that goes back to being open to the people that you meet, because they come from all over.

"Did I mention how beautiful it is? Just, in every season, it’s really gorgeous. Even if it’s humid, it’s beautiful in the summer. Even if you have allergies, it’s beautiful in the spring. And even if you can’t get out of your house because of 15 inches of snow, it’s beautiful in the winter."

"A lot of forests, and mountains, clean air and clean water," Tul Niroula waxes.

"I’ve lived in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Maryland, but this is the place that has really beckoned me for many years," Wylene concludes. And I'm really fortunate because my husband also likes it. And we really feel like we belong in Vermont, and I hope Vermont feels the same about us!"

Tul Niroula adds this, in closing:

"For people wanting to move to Vermont, I always like people to welcome them to Vermont. Vermont is a very beautiful place. So yeah, anyone wanting to come to Vermont, or move to Vermont, you all are welcome! Just come to Vermont! [That's] what I want to say at the end."

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Thanks to Samantha Spano for the great question, and to everyone who shared their advice:
Wylene Branton Wood, Tul Niroula, Molly Hakopian, Graham Sinclair, Sage Ruth, Judy MacIsaac Robertson, Anna Morris, Phil Stetson, Michele, Julia, Emily Aiken and Brittany Patterson.

Special thanks to Ruby Smith and Abagael Giles.

This episode was edited by Lynne McCrea, with engineering support from Peter Engisch. Our theme music is by Ty Gibbons, other music by Blue Dot Sessions.

Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public Radio. We have support from VPR sustaining members. If you’re a fan of the show, you can make a gift at bravelittlestate.org/donate. We really can’t do this work without you.

Keep in touch! Sign up for the BLS newsletter here, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter at @bravestatevt.

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