Thing You Don’t Expect to Hear in Boston

Overhead last weekend at a Boston coffeshop from someone who definitely was not a local*:

Hi. We’re in Boston. The people here are really polite.

Lady, you don’t know the fucking half of it….
*Hard to place the accent precisely but definitely not West or East Coast.

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12 Responses to Thing You Don’t Expect to Hear in Boston

  1. I visited Boston for the first time a few years ago and I was stunned by how nice everyone was. Not just polite, but warm and friendly and welcoming. I’m from Texas, supposedly the “Friendship” state, but our friendliness to strangers isn’t nearly this genuine. I’ve been back a few times since and it’s always the same. And I had the same experience on my several trips to Providence. I’ve heard the stories about crusty New Englanders, but I’ve certainly never met any.

  2. microbiologychick says:

    Good. I’ll have an enjoyable time at ASM then.

  3. clear as mud says:

    Hmmm… I’d think people would be more likely to say “they’re all so standoffish”. Though I suppose it depends on where you go.

  4. drdrA says:

    We lived in Boston for a long time, and when we moved away to the friendship state (as it happens)- I nearly fainted the first time the grocery store checkout person started chatting with me about my day. Not to mention that no one knows how to use the horn in their car in the friendship state…. that’s the kind of quiet you would NEVER hear in Boston…

  5. clear as mud says:

    Heh! drdrA, yes, that’s FAR more accurate. The person Mike quotes must have really lucked out and bumped into another non-Bostonian.

  6. Mary says:

    My theory about us New Englanders is this: we respect your privacy (at the checkout counter, in the restaurant, etc) until you indicate that it is ok to chatter. Then we are fine, and we know how to banter. My dad loves to go to Durgin Park just to get bantered by the waitresses there đŸ™‚
    I think this is misinterpreted as coldness. It isn’t. Is is respecting your space.

  7. Camilla says:

    The space bubble thing means you can go to the grocery store with a newborn baby, and strangers don’t try to touch you or him, in Boston. (This really is a problem in many other places.)
    Bostonians seem to have a moderate willingness to interact with someone, given an obvious prop or excuse (such as dithering over a map, or changing a bicycle tire), coupled with being happy to back off, if you indicate that all is well. In Toronto (by comparison), there’s more reluctance to initiate contact, but if someone has decided that helping you is their good deed of the week, it’ll be much harder to brush them away gracefully.
    (So I can see how low-key stranger to stranger contact could seem refreshingly polite, because it seemed that way to me when I came here.)

  8. drdrA says:

    I don’t want anyone to think that I am down on New Englanders- we LOVED living there and cried when we left. sniff.. It’s just a whole different mindset than other places…

  9. Interrobang says:

    As a Canadian, I’m seeing the exact same split between people’s opinions of Bostonians as people’s opinions of Canadians. Some Americans think we’re really standoffish and cold, and other Americans think we’re nice and polite to a fault. (I’m not from Toronto; Toronto has its own particular culture.)
    It definitely has to do with keeping space, keeping yourself to yourself, and respecting other people’s privacy up until the point where they’ve indicated they’re willing to interact. Some behaviours some Americans engage in regularly that I know they see as “friendly” strike me as incredibly rude: talking to random strangers, talking to people’s small children in public, using someone’s first name when you’ve barely been introduced, that sort of thing. (I am never going shopping with an acquaintance of mine from Detroit again; he insisted on talking to everyone in the place who had a small child, and you just don’t do that. It’s rude and creepy. Not only that, but I don’t like children.)
    I suspect there’s enough of an overlap between the cultural extraction of the Boston colonists and the people who settled in my area for some cultural aspects to have persisted and/or developed in the same way.

  10. fcc says:

    I really appreciate the comments I’ve read here. Since moving to Boston (and now burbs) some 38 years ago what has endeared me to the New England sensibility is a respect for privacy, a unlimited willingness to help IF ASKED, and that greatest rarity of all, to tell you honestly and without rancor exactly what they/we think.
    I can imagine few places in America where so many of such disparate views co-exist so easily.
    And best of all, as Interrobang alludes, you can tell a mom to curb her little horror and nobody gets mad.

  11. Unsympathetic reader says:

    “…and that greatest rarity of all, to tell you honestly and without rancor exactly what they/we think.”
    Yeah, normally that’s a trait reserved for Quakers. The difference is that sometimes you want to punch a Quaker for seeming so smug and righteous about it. Bostonians can just lay it out, plain as day, sans smugness.

  12. Unsympathetic reader says:

    And those guys on Car Talk really act that way in person…

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