Boston metro's REAL personality for newcomers (Worcester, Needham: rental car, transplants, rental)
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I've vacationed in Boston once. It was a very nice city. From seeing photos, it was exactly what I expected. Because of the cost, I stayed a couple of nights in Concord and a couple of nights in Danvers, using a rental car to get to town. It was October, so some fall colors were starting to appear.
On City vs. City threads, Boston is characterized as aloof and unwelcoming to newcomers. I couldn't form an opinion in 4 days. I would venture to say that the NJ suburbs of NY are friendlier, as seen in short time frames. However, the "crown" seems to go to Seattle, and the arguing gets so bad they have to shut down or mod cut the threads. I know Seattle all too well, and I think that assessment is correct.
Is Boston really aloof and unwelcoming? I have conflicting bits of info on this. I know three Bostonians - 1 from work (Danvers) and 2 from grad school (Needham, Raynham). The guy from Needham is singularly one of the most uptight jerks I've met in all of my schooling. The girl from Danvers was pleasant, though a little reserved, and we socialized outside work. (Both of them were very touchy if someone talked about how much things cost...a casual topic of conversation out West...is that rude in Boston?). The person from Raynham was very relaxed, but also reserved. Ok, this says that people are different everywhere. The part that puzzles me is how a place with Boston's ethnic base can be considered aloof. With such a high percentage of Irish and Italians, and some Portuguese, Puerto Ricans and Greeks, it's hard to believe. In no other metro areas are these groups considered frosty. If anything, they are typically among the more animated. The settling ethnic group in Seattle was largely Scandinavian and articles on the "Seattle Freeze" often cite their more restrictive social code as the reason for that area's stoicism.
So, what's the deal with Boston for newcomers? Is the unfriendliness a myth? If it's real, what's the probable cause? Is is the stress coming from the high cost of living? Is it the intellectualism that comes from having so many great schools in such a compact area? Please discuss.
One difficulty with getting an answer to this question at this forum is that people who have lived here most or all of their lives are going to have a tough time really knowing how Boston feels to newcomers. Maybe some members here who are transplants themselves will spot this thread and be able to give you some thoughts from that perspective.
As one who has lived here the majority of his years since middle childhood, but has also had contact with some other areas and regions, I have the sense that no one part of Boston or its metro area will perfectly represent the area as a whole. The more suburban suburbs have enough transplants so that any regional feel will be diluted to a significant extent, some blue-collar towns and old city neighborhoods will be insular as a result of the close ties formed among families who have lived there for generations, and the college students and professionals in the central city parts of Boston in and near downtown bring a mix of attitudes and a friendliness that extends in particular to others who belong to those crowds. Those ethnic groups you mentioned are often concentrated in very local areas, so that any cultural tendencies toward liveliness may largely be confined to those neighborhoods.
Despite the variety of demeanor found among the populace in different local areas, it may be that there is a general attitude that you could encounter often enough for it to stand out. Qualifying this with the difficulty of being an insider/longtime resident and trying to get a feel for how the locals seem to come across to newcomers, I'd say that maybe the girl you knew from Danvers might come the closest to being typical of the area. A lot of people are pleasant enough but also on the reserved side. People here in general can be friendly after they get to know you really well, or in more relaxed, intimate settings, such as more social kinds of situations, than they may be out in public. Spend your time downtown where busy white-collar types are scurrying around with their minds on business, and you're likely to get an aloof response to attempts at causal conversation. Hang out in a local-yokel bar in a blue-collar town where the same families have lived for generations, and you're likely to get the cold shoulder, maybe even have trouble getting service as the bartender spends time hanging with his local pals who have stopped in for a few. Become a regular customer in a small restaurant or a local store in an area with more of a mix of backgrounds in the populace, and you're more likely to find a low-key friendliness that develops once the staff or other regular customers get to know you.
I was born and raised in Montreal. It's a true melting pot and I spoke to strangers all the time. I'm not shy and I love talking to people.
Then I moved to Connecticut. I was told *everyone* in CT is reserved, aloof, and won't give you the time of day. Well, it was difficult to undo my way of talking to strangers all the time, so I didn't undo it. I talked to people. And? They talked back! And were friendly! And I made some wonderful friends.
Just this past summer, we moved to MA. Granted, we live in Worcester, but we go into Boston for day trips all the time. Again, I talk to everyone. This past weekend, we went for dinner in the North End and I wanted to know what some people's favorite restaurant was because I wanted to go to a good one. So... I ASKED! I stopped people in the street and asked them. And? They answered! And were friendly! And then, a while later, when we saw the first person that I'd asked on another street, he was all, "Hey! Did you find the place????"
I think it's what you make of it. Friendliness begets friendliness. Do I think some people are just hardcore reserved or rude? Absolutely! But it doesn't matter where they live -- they'll be like that anywhere. But I think that, in general, most people like interaction. I think, in many cases, they won't be the one to initiate it, but I think that many (most?) people are genuinely receptive to it, no matter where they live.
Dandj, you have it exactly right! Bostonians, when approached and asked questions will be happy to answer. It's people who come here expecting us to make eye contact with them and grin from ear to ear at their existence who find Boston people aloof. OP, I've been to Seattle and had some nice chats with waitstaff and felt very well received there.
I can't speak for all Bostonians, just myself, but I have an attitude of, "God gave you a brain so use it," and when approached with goofiness or insincerity, I'm put off and I keep walking. When approached by strangers with legitimate questions, I'm always helpful. I'm also receptive to meaningful smalltalk with strangers but empty-headed banter, nope, no thanks.
I moved to Boston from the mid-Atlantic in October, and I have not experienced much, if any, aloofness or unfriendliness. I live in the city and work on the South Shore. My coworkers, neighbors, people I've met in restaurants and bars, etc., have all been quite friendly. When I walk my dog in the neighborhood, I say hello to people I pass on the sidewalk. Most say hello back, but some do not. In general, customer service has been very good. I've encountered some very friendly and funny cashiers and servers since I've been here. In general, I've found this city to be a very pleasant place to live. There is a lot of pride in the city, and in the area in general, and that makes for a general positive attitude.
I agree with DandJ that friendliness begets friendliness.
It has to do with British culture, that is the one Boston's still matches to this day. These others simply assimilate or are marginalized beyond belief.
I'm a Brit living near Boston and I disagree with this completely. MA culture doesn't resemble the UK at all. It is still "American" (proudly so, it seems), while the UK has far more in common with its northen European neighbours. Trust me, before I moved to the US, I thought the opposite were true, but you have to live in both countries to understand it. The UK itself has even changed so much even in my lifetime, in terms of racial demographics.
Boston does have a certain Britishness about it, Washington Street looks much like a major British High Street, but aside from the historical ties, Boston is still a quintessentially American city, albeit one that isn't as car centric and is more walkable than most.
New Englanders are reserved, so are the British, but it's a different kind of reserved. In the UK, people are often simply shy, whereas here the reservedness seems more selective, if that makes sense? People also tend to be very brash here, while manners are more important in the UK.
Besides, Americans of English ancestry aren't even the largest group here. There seem to be far more of Irish, Italian, French or Portuguese ancestry, most of whom have been here for a while and have largely assimilated into mainstream American culture.
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