Bostonians have a reputation of being unfriendly to outsiders, and as an adopted Bostonian, I can’t deny it. They are.
But this attitude sort of makes sense, even if it is unjustified. (Stay with me here). For hundreds of years, Boston has been home to the best universities, exclusive social clubs and some of the nation’s most powerful citizens. So, with a 400-year practice of dutifully maintaining one’s social prosperity, it almost seems plausible that many Bostonians are genetically predisposed to look at you like, “What do you want?”
Thankfully, a Bostonian’s bark is usually worse than its bite. His or her uninviting look (if they even notice you at all), proclivity for cliques, and aggressive driving habits are just superficial armor to protect them from the constant hum of unpredictability that exists in a major city. Underneath this armor are some of the most interesting, intelligent, funny and kind people you will ever meet. You just have to know how to crack the code.
That being said, Bostonians are so diverse that there is not a single code. There are the hospital chiefs in Beacon Hill, the wannabe beatniks in Harvard Square, the upwardly mobiles in the Financial District, the hipsters in Jamaica Plain, the students on the T passing around cans of Natty Light, the quasi-religious Bruins fans spilling out of TD Garden, the runners who always seem to be logging five minute miles, the middle-aged women in ankle-length pea coats on their way to work, the Southie boys with backwards caps and Celtics jerseys, the Indian women in brightly-colored saris and everyone in between.
However, there are—for better or worse—several categories that many Bostonians fall into:
With more than 50 colleges and universities in the Boston area, the city crawls with students from fall to spring. On the one hand, this influx of beings with affinities for keg stands and 90s cover bands makes for a vibrant nightlife, but on the other, it makes commuting on the T a claustrophobic’s nightmare. (Pro tip: wear your backpack in the front—it opens up an entire person worth of room, and everyone will silently respect you). But if you want to mix and mingle with coeds, just about any watering hole in downtown Boston, particularly in Faneuil Hall, will do.
One of the defining features of Boston is the notorious accent, made popular by those born and raised in Boston. Don’t insult them by pronouncing it “Baahston.” Nobody says that. It is just “Boston.” Also, don’t call Boston “Beantown.” Nobody says that either. The natives will tell you that you can drive to “Hahvid” Yard but that you can’t “pahk ya cah” there. Harvard Yard is a courtyard surrounded by dorms, so you can’t park your car there. If you want to imitate the accent—and everyone tries, much to the chagrin of the locals—use short O’s (think Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter when he exclaims, “Not you, not you, not you!”) and the missing R’s, e.g. Hahvid/Harvard, cah/car, connah/corner (but note that the missing R’s can be found at the end of words that end in A, e.g. Idear, Honder Accord).
How do you know if someone in Boston has advanced degrees or a high-paying job? They tell you. Just kidding, not everyone does that. But because of its prestigious schools, hospitals and other institutions, Boston attracts a lot of young people looking to make a name for themselves. To fit in with this crowd, bring your resume and the desire to impress. I’m only kidding about the desire to impress.
Boston’s hipsters are not on par with those of Portland or Seattle, but they do exude a fair amount of calculated indifference and sport expensive, bargain-looking duds. But again, looks can be deceiving. Most of them are pretty cool—they just really like Urban Outfitters. Many hipster areas are really cool and laid back, too, like Davis Square and Centre Street in Jamaica Plain.
Bostonians take their fitness Chuck-Norris seriously, and the Esplanade, a three-mile park that stretches along the bank of the Charles River, is the runner’s mecca. If you go for a run here, be sure to observe the rules of the road. But if you simply want to admire chiseled and toned runners, you can do that on just about every street in Boston.
In short, it is difficult to summarize the people of Boston. They are as diverse as they are passionate, which is perhaps the most common trait among them. They are passionate, intense and loyal to their city. Comedy star Adam Sandler—a Boston area native—said it best when he tweeted during the April 2013 manhunt for the suspect responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and left more than 260 injured: “Boston is the only major city that if you f*** with them, they will shut down the whole city, stop everything, an[d] find you.”
So, Bostonians might be a little rough around the edges, but those edges border really big hearts.