Differences between the midwest and the eastcoast?
September 15, 2008 12:57 AM   Subscribe

My mother says I'm "too midwestern" to move to Boston. What does this mean?

I'm thinking about moving to Boston (there's a particular grad school/job I'm very interested in located there) and I've lived all my life in fairly diverse suburbs of Chicago and spent my college career in Wisconsin. When I told my mother this, she expressed that I'm "too midwestern" and would probably be unhappy. She started talking about how different my ideology/outlook on life is than your typical East Coaster.
Now, I'm aware that there are some differences between the Midwest and the East Coast (I'm also aware of the fact that I'm asking a question on mefi in regards to something my mother said...maybe it IS time to move to the East Coast...) but I don't have a clear idea of how Midwesterners and East coasters differ ideologically or what cultural differences there are that would really put a damper on my spirits. Any insights?
posted by bobdylanforever to Society & Culture (47 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
As a midwesterner who also loves New York, I know very little about Boston, except this (and it's heresay*): if you don't move your car quickly enough when the light turns green, you'll probably get a bump from behind in lieu of a honk or a few seconds of patience. Assuming that's true, I can't imagine something that would piss me off more, and I'd probably end up getting arrested for assault. I hope that helps.

*an article in a car magazine, written by a Bostonian, about how f'd up it was to drive in another state; if memory serves, in the article, he gave a "well-meaning bump" to the person in front of him who didn't go right when the light turned green, and that person got out of their car and punched him in the face. He went on to relay his surprise at such a hostile response to such a normal, everyday thing. So there you go.
posted by davejay at 1:06 AM on September 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

People from Boston come into my work all the time (Bar Harbor, rural area, tourist town) and they make me want to come over the counter with a knife.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:19 AM on September 15, 2008

It's not as bad as your mom makes out. There are some cultural differences, but not as many as she seems to think.

I lived there for several years, and there were a lot of ways in which I felt like I didn't really fit, but not really all that much.

I think for me the single biggest problem was that Boston drivers are insane, and the road organization is terrible. There's a reason why car insurance rates there are the highest in the nation. I got to where I never drove into the city; I'd always leave my car somewhere like Alewife (last stop at the north end of the Red Line) and take the train in.
posted by Class Goat at 1:21 AM on September 15, 2008

(as an addition: On more than one occasion, i've seen cars with Mass. plates pushing other cars out of the way so they can get into a parking spot.)
posted by dunkadunc at 1:23 AM on September 15, 2008

In terms of government, one of the shocks was the effect of "home rule". The division of responsibility between state and township is much different than most places. Townships have power of veto over a lot of kinds of public works.

Which is why state route 2 is so strange. The highway system is laid out sort of hub-and-spoke, with the I-95/128 loop being the inner ring and I-495 being the outer ring. Spokes are things like I-93, US 1, State route 3, and State route 2.

As it crosses 128, route 2 is 6 lanes. As it goes inwards, it expands to 8 lanes. Then, about a mile from the Cambridge border, it abruptly shrinks to 4 lanes, and right at the Cambridge line the freeway ends. All the traffic from this major commuter route then runs through two rotaries, and goes the rest of the way to the river on city streets.

Why? Because Cambridge didn't want a freeway running through their lovely town, and vetoed it, and under the Massachusetts constitution the state couldn't do a thing about it.

Boston is the only city I've ever been in where the main commuter routes got narrower the closer you got to the center of the city. (I've heard that the worst of that was fixed with the "Central Artery Project", which ran something like 20 years over schedule and cost something like 4 times the original projection. It was the last barrel of pork that Tip O'Neil (sp?) brought home, and they were still working on it fifteen years after he died.)

The roads and the drivers will be your biggest shock. Everything else is minor by comparison.
posted by Class Goat at 1:36 AM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Midwesterner who lived in Boston area for 7 years says: Boston's a lot of fun. What does your mother know about which places you're going to like.

(That's not rhetorical; why not ask her instead of asking us?)
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:43 AM on September 15, 2008

What about the possibility that you mother is having some latent separation anxiety coming up, and is grasping at it with a quasi-meaningless circumstantial expression of geographical incompatibility?
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 1:49 AM on September 15, 2008

What does this mean?

That she doesn't want you to move away from home.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 1:55 AM on September 15, 2008 [18 favorites]

As someone who lived in Boston for several years, I think the posts above -- particularly those about driving in the city -- are enormous exaggerations. Of course, everybody in Boston is proud of their reputation and tries to play it up, when, in fact, it's really not that bad. So let's get driving out of the way:

Yes there's a lot of traffic, and getting around is a little confusing, and parking can be more than a minor headache, but basically people are reasonable. You might get honked at because you take to long at a light, sure, but more often than not people are actually really courteous. And things really have improved since the Big Dig was finished. And on the subject of highways, also sort of confusing, but people are much much friendlier (and, in my opinion, safer) than the drivers in mid-Atlantic (NYC, Philly, DC), where there's twice as much traffic (on highways) and thus highway driving is a real nightmare.

But what about life in general? Boston is smaller than you think, and, as a result, it's an incredibly livable city. It's very walkable. It's full of great bars and restaurants and cool neighborhoods and has a good music and arts scene. It's a little less diverse than some other cities, but there's certainly no shortage of interesting culture nonetheless.

I think many people coming from the midwest feel like Bostonians -- and New Englanders in general -- are less friendly. But it's not really that they're less friendly, they're just more reserved. The northeast is much more crowded than the midwest, so on a day-to-day basis, people are probably less likely to just randomly say hi to you on the street or whatever. To maintain some degree of privacy, people are just sort of naturally inward-looking. But, once you get to know someone: your neighbors or the guy who runs the bakery down the street or whatever people are just as friendly and open as anybody anywhere.

So, will it be different than what you're used to in the midwest? Probably, a little. Will those differences make you unhappy? Probably not. If you like Chicago or Madison or St. Paul or Kansas City or any other midwest city, you'd probably be just fine in Boston. (On the other hand, I can easily imagine major culture shock for someone moving from small town midwest to Boston, but that has much more to do with city life in general, not anything east vs. midwest cultural differences.)

On preview: NNDP and Flying Squirrel are probably correct.
posted by dseaton at 2:05 AM on September 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

She started talking about how different my ideology/outlook on life is than your typical East Coaster.

She's talking out her butt. I've lived in Boston on an adjoining city all of my post-college life, and I've known plenty of people who came here from the upper Midwest and not only got along fine but LOVED it. There are some differences in lifestyle, many are superficial:
  • in Boston, sidewalks are crowded, and you are expected to walk quickly. Midwesterners often don't. And we swear at them in our heads, but if they live here a few months they get used to it
  • The bumper tapping mentioned above is hyperbole. We're very aggressive drivers, but no one has ever bumped me, even when the light is green and I've spaced out. Ever. I have softball equipment in my trunk and if someone tried that I would grab my aluminum bat and go all Walter Sobchak on their car. But yes, particularly in Boston, people are assholes in their cars because the roads are very crowded.
  • We're not friendly like you are. Strangers will be happy to give you directions, but they generally dislike small talk with people they don't know (exception: people in quiet bars who have had a few). If someone tries to chat with us on the subway or on the street, we either assume they're from out of town or up to something and every response will be loaded with signals that the conversation should end. But I reiterate, if you need directions, any local will be delighted to give them because knowing your way around this huge maze is a source of pride.
  • topics that make us uncomfortable even after you know us:
    • money, except for bitching about real estate prices and taxes or where to find bargains
    • Republicans

  • The cost of living might seem insane to you, especially rent and food. This will probably be less true to you than most midwesterners because you're from the Chicago area.

  • baseball is going to be a big source of conversation amongst your peers and new friends during the season. It's acceptable to be a White Sox fan, just fine to be a Cubs fan. But if you don't care at all, you may get tired of all the talk.
So don't let your mom scare you. I know a big handful of people from the Midwest (particularly the Chicago area) who live here and love it. Boston's not for everyone (even some people who were born here), but lots of people love it passionately (many of whom were not from here originally).
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:10 AM on September 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

People from Boston come into my work all the time (Bar Harbor, rural area, tourist town) and they make me want to come over the counter with a knife.

I grew up in the Midcoast, and it was a common stereotype that people from Massachusetts are rude and impatient. Here in Massachusetts, it's commonly believed that people from Maine are provincial and slow. The truth is somewhere in between. But I'm a lot more comfortable dealing with people from Boston when I visit my hometown than I am dealing with people from Maine when they come down here.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:17 AM on September 15, 2008

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and moved out to Boston for college. I think a lot of the cultural stereotypes are ones you can anticipate - y'know how Chicagoans are (stereotypically) aggressive (especially on the streets), impatient, liberal etc. than folks from other parts of the midwest? Boston feels just a bit further than that. You'll also find a lot more diversity, I think, in the suburbs of Boston than in the suburbs of Chicago. Not necessarily in terms of race, but in terms of subculture and lifestyle and mindset - at least, that was my experience, though admittedly I grew up in a fairly homogeneous suburb. (Which is probably the single biggest thing I love about Boston!)

Parking (and driving in general) is significantly more expensive, though my experience may be skewed a bit by the college-student thing. But that's okay, because Boston's public transit, for all of its flaws, is far better than what Chicago has, and extends out to many of the nearer suburbs. None of this "oh, there's a bus that comes twice a day" crap. The city is far more walkable.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 2:24 AM on September 15, 2008

Here's some anecdotal evidence. I've grown up in New England my whole life, my mom's family is entirely from Minnesota. I currently live in Boston.

When I fly out to visit my grandparents in Minnesota, I am SHOCKED and taken aback by how polite everyone is. People are friendly! This is a sort of culture shock that it takes about a day for my brain to wrap around, every single time that it happens. I feel odd and out of place with everyone being NICE.

When I get back to Boston, the second I'm in the airport and service people are scowling at me and people are cold, rude, and snappy - I feel, "Ahhhhh. Home again."

My mom had a rough time moving from the Midwest to the East Coast because she had no idea how standoffish New Englanders are. We're a good bunch once you get to know us, but that just takes longer since we're not all "Howdy, neighbor!" and all up in your grill. It is a tough move, culturally.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:29 AM on September 15, 2008

I'm from Ohio. I adore Boston and would never move back to the Midwest. That said, the first two years I was here (for college) I was swearing to myself there was no way I'd live here permanently, because driving sucked and people were mean. (Not that I wanted to move back to the Midwest then. I was thinking more west coast.)

That said, driving sucks and people are mean. I just became one of them. Life moves fast, people move fast, no time for small talk, and the fact that I still do the Midwestern thing of smiling at everyone I pass in the hall at work means I'm taken as an example of "high morale" in my office (I was just taught it's a nice thing to do, even when I am in a foul mood). Same thing happened to the guy from California -- who, by the way, moved back after 1.5 years here, because he found life here too stressful. In his new job, he's not working any fewer hours, but the attitude behind it is (reportedly) very different.

I suppose the answer is, YMMV. But I really love it here. It's different, but sometimes different is good.
posted by olinerd at 4:05 AM on September 15, 2008

Oh, and three words: Puritan Work Ethic. It may just be because we're all in the high-tech sector, but I don't think I know a single one of my friends who works a 40 hour work week. It's kind of expected that if you're young and kidless, you're putting in (unpaid) overtime.
posted by olinerd at 4:07 AM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I grew up in western New York State (Midwest Lite), but have lived in Connecticut for over 10 years. When I go home, I have to remember not to use my car horn to converse with other drivers, to move my car before I pay for my gas, and that a lot fewer people in line with me care about how fast it's moving.

And my mom didn't want me to leave, either.
posted by gnomeloaf at 5:28 AM on September 15, 2008

Wow, dunkadunc, guess I'm glad I didn't run into you when I was up there last week!

It sounds like your mom just isn't ready for you to leave home. Did she actually have any examples of what she was talking about?

People already covered the big ones - New England reserve, crazy driving, and a certain fast pace.

olinerd, I think that's a high-tech sector yougin' thing not specific to Boston.
posted by canine epigram at 5:33 AM on September 15, 2008

What everyone above said. I moved to Boston from the midwest, stayed two years, and while I didn't dislike it, I definitely wouldn't live there again. I moved to New York, and love it.

For me, the drawbacks were as follows: 1) the coldness (in both the people and the weather); 2) the "everything on the east coast is better" mentality; and 3) the odd Puritanism, both in work expectations and the ability to buy a bottle of wine with the ease with which I was accustomed. Oh, and the T closing down so early sucks.

The biggest drawback, however, was the lack of social-economic diversity. In the midwest, I had friends who were bartenders, college professors, and blue collar workers. In Boston, the different groups seemed openly hostile to each other at times; as an educated professional, I worked amongst people who clearly did not value the intelligence and economic contributions of those who worked with their hands for a living. As someone whose parents worked damn hard on the automotive line to get her her fancy college degree, that pissed me off to no end. On the other had, drunk southies lined up outside Fenway harassing me because I was walking by in a suit made me want to punch their ignorant mouths as well.

Your mileage may vary, and it's very possible that I just didn't approach meeting people/developing my social circle the right way. I did make some very good friends, but I finally left because I felt that life really shouldn't be that hard, and the cost/benefit ratio just wasn't there.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:38 AM on September 15, 2008

Midwesterners are like "bla bla bla" and New English are like "blar blar blar". Your mom is like "whaaaa". People in New England wear lots of black clothes with buckles on them and people in the midwest wear denim. Also, women be shoppin.
posted by billtron at 5:40 AM on September 15, 2008 [5 favorites]

I'm an Australian who lived in Boston for about eight years. Only spent about a week total in Chicago, but people did seem much friendlier there. I was there with my Mum, and we went to see the thanksgiving parade. She was able to strike up conversations with random people in the crowd, something she does a lot in Australia, but doesn't really seem to be able to do in Boston. This is a superficial thing, though. I think people in Boston are pretty kind for the most part, in spite of their taciturnity and vehicular aggression. And being around a different culture certainly hasn't done me any direct harm, as far as I can tell.
posted by Coventry at 5:55 AM on September 15, 2008

I'll agree with the characterizations of New Englanders* as standoffish, rude, unfriendly and hard to get to know, I'll shake my head in wonderment at those who think that's a minor quibble, and I'll stand up for NYC & Philly in saying emphatically this is NOT just an East Coast thing because there's so little personal space, you know(?). It's a Boston thing. Living there about 10 years I never got used to being grunted at by cashiers or being intentionally put at risk on my bike by psychopathic drivers. I never was able to shrug off the insularity of the neighborhoods and the casual antipathy towards those who are not like you.

There are many, many good things about Boston, making it a delightful place to visit. But NYers are much easier to get to know and Philadelphians have a lot of the Midwestern friendliness you know and love (as well as being much more affordable than Boston/NY).

*Sweeping generalizations of human behavior ahead. Stipulated that you know many people who are not like that.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:29 AM on September 15, 2008

The three Bostonian women I work with all insist (sometimes rather vehemently) that I not refer to them as "ma'am," which is difficult for a Southern boy like myself.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 6:51 AM on September 15, 2008

One (hypergeneralization on my part) difference is that people rely on sarcasm as part of a natural conversational element on the east coast in a way that is less natural in some places in the midwest.

In Boston, if someone comes in from miserable weather, they are more likely to say "beautiful day out there" whereas in the midwest they might give you a more direct report about the actual weather.

Not to say midwesterners don't get sarcasm, because they do if it's in a more expected context, but sometimes they don't expect it as part of an everyday conversation.

I've started to wonder if this is part of why midwesterners may generalize eastcoasters as rude and why eastcoasters generalize midwesterners as mild.

Now that I've offended everybody... really, your mom doesn't want you to be so far away.
posted by quarterframer at 6:54 AM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

...she had no idea how standoffish New Englanders...

New England reserve...

As New Englander Robert Frost wrote:
"Good fences make good neighbors."
posted by ericb at 7:28 AM on September 15, 2008

ericb: Good fences make good neighbors.

To be fair, Frost is critical of that sentiment in Mending Wall. It's the narrator's neighbor, in the poem, who makes that remark.

So, given that it was written by a New Englander, you can read that both as an observation of the prevailing New England disposition and as evidence that not all New Englanders share that sentiment.
posted by dseaton at 7:41 AM on September 15, 2008

you'll probably get a bump from behind in lieu of a honk...

Personally, I've never had it happen to me. I have not seen it nor have I heard of it happening. As said above, that'd invite the bumpee to put the car in "park," grab the baseball bat and put a huge dent in the hood of your car, yelling "Howdya like them bats!" The policeman called to the scene would empathize with the batter: "Sorry, I gotta write up this ticket. Let your insurance companies work it out. By the way, wicked good job on the hit." And the crowd of pedestrians and other motorists would stand and cheer the batter. A few "Yankees suck" refrains would also likely emanate from the crowd -- even though there was no idication of the bumpers' baseball preference.
posted by ericb at 7:50 AM on September 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

I find many Bostoners (not including my lovely girlfriend! or come to think of it my father) to be obnoxious and overly-aggressive both on and off the road - and I'm from Manhattan.
posted by nicwolff at 8:07 AM on September 15, 2008

I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I went to college and worked for a few years in Boston. I LOVED it. I would move back in a heartbeat, except that I could never actually afford a home there.

People have covered the basics. Yes, traffic sucks. You'll get used to it. Yes, parallel parking by touch is fairly common. Yes, the people are not nearly as friendly as you're used to (I spent three months in Chicago and was frankly weirded out by how people GREETED you on the street. Strangers. That you have never seen before or will see again. Saying hello. ODD.) Yes, very long work hours are the norm. Yes, social stratification is endemic. So is East Coast snobbery. There's also a very very definite hierarchy according to where you went to school; Harvard and MIT at the top, and then there's everyone else. Some people WILL look down on you if you didn't go there. (Hell with them, says I. I could see my IQ plummet in people's eyes when I told them I went to a smaller college.) Real estate prices - don't make me laugh. You will be stunned when you are going apartment hunting. Winters can be brutal and interminable (but the first snowfall is magic).

And it is an absolutely beautiful city, full of great food and culture. Intellectual salons are rampant. There's great music and art on every corner. The architecture - man, I MISS the tiny cobblestone streets and old colonial buildings. Public transit can get you pretty much anywhere you need to go. It's an incredibly walkable city; you can walk from Cambridge to downtown to Brookline. You'll find your niche if you live there. There's a great medical system, lots of smart smart people around, and some crazy amazing off-the-wall cultural stuff.

Nthing that your mom doesn't want you to leave home. You know what? If you go and end up hating Boston, you can always move somewhere else. Do it!

(And if you do go, sell your car. Seriously. You will save yourself huge amounts of money and stress and the T is great.)
posted by fuzzbean at 8:18 AM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm from Minneapolis, and I went to college in Boston. When I told one of my high school teachers I was considering it, he told me basically the same thing your mom said to you, and I was really offended. How dare he make sweeping generalizations about the east coast? How dare he assume I couldn't hack it? What am I, too provincial or something?

Then I got to Boston.

My classmates, when they had 8am class and had to walk 3/4 mile through sleet to get there, would still wear gucci skirts and heels. Everyone I know at midwestern schools would have been in jeans and sneakers, if not pajama pants at that time of day.

When I would say, "Thanks, have a nice day" to the cashier at the grocery store, they would either move on to the next customer without looking at me, or do a double-take of surprise.

I thank my lucky stars that I lived near the T and didn't have a car. Everyone I know who had a car paid through the nose for parking, the inevitable tows, and all the scratches and dents. I, too, have watched cars literally push their way out of a parallel parking situation.

The situation had its positives and negatives. On the bright side, everyone I knew thought I was the nicest person they had ever met, even on my grumpy days. The city is incredibly walkable, and I miss that a lot. There are tons of amazing restaurants and cafes, and there's a decent amount of green space within the city. On the dark side, I ended up struggling a lot with feeling inferior, because I wasn't willing to play the "who has nicer clothes and a more expensive hairstyle" game. Though I strongly believe that there are many things more important to appearances, it was tough to stay true to myself in the face of such different attitudes.

In the end, I understood what my teacher had meant when he said, "You don't want to go to Boston, people are different there." That's not to say it's a bad city, or that some midwesterners wouldn't like it, but I think the people who really end up loving it are the ones that assimilate into the Boston way of thinking. Those of us who want to stay true to our "midwestern values" tend to feel like outsiders, and move back west eventually.
posted by vytae at 8:25 AM on September 15, 2008

We are all Bostonians. It is a great place to live. Especially if you are young. There are more colleges in the area than in any other place in the U.S.--and that means youth, beauty, excitement, fun, dates and on and on.

I prefer NY myself...but then I like the Yankees. My son lives 7 mil.es outside Boston and loves it...he does not like the noise, crowds, etc of Manhattan...Boston has just the right scale.
posted by Postroad at 8:29 AM on September 15, 2008

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the single appellation that sums it up: masshole.
posted by jdfan at 10:04 AM on September 15, 2008

Cambridge/Boston is not friendly. I've only been in the midwest twice (Chicago and Minneapolis) and those folks are the exact opposite of Bostonians/Cambridge people.
posted by Zambrano at 10:18 AM on September 15, 2008

Then I got to Boston.

My classmates, when they had 8am class and had to walk 3/4 mile through sleet to get there, would still wear gucci skirts and heels.

Going to school in the Boston area, I have to say I've never seen this. Clearly I went to the wrong school!
posted by canine epigram at 10:30 AM on September 15, 2008

As a former Bostonian, I can say that all the comments above are true to a certain degree (in my experiance, the insularity is much worse in Maine). The standoffishness, the offhand sarcasm, the aggressive driving, and I'll add one more: taking the piss out of your friends. All of these things have caused me problems to one degree or another living in California and Winnipeg (Canada's midwest). I feel like people just don't get me, and I feel guilty that I'm not as friendly and outgoing as everyone else. People in New England really are very different, but you can get used to it if you don't take it personally. And a salty exterior often hides a heart of gold.

But yeah, your mom just doesn't want you to move.
posted by Koko at 10:30 AM on September 15, 2008

Also, I never, ever experienced the "bump" thing when driving. Boston drivers drive with speed, skill and confidence. They expect the same of everyone who use their roads. But I've never seen any more assholishness in Boston than anywhere else.
posted by Koko at 10:32 AM on September 15, 2008

I was born in Boston, but was quite young when our family moved away (to the Washington DC area). I recently moved back a little over a year and a half ago for grad school, and haven't noticed the unfriendliness that many have mentioned. Compared to DC, I've found people to be more full of substance, more open to having a conversation with a total stranger, and partake in many, many acts of random kindness. From an old Pakistani couple helping to carry my groceries to the Central Square T station after a snowstorm, to the middle-aged lady actually get out of her car to see if I was ok after falling in my face from some clumsy tripping, to the sudden banding together of a few strangers stepping in to help me out when my bag suddenly breaking and snapping, dropping everything to the sidewalk, including voluntarily going to the nearest gas station to get a plastic bag for me to drop all my gunk in, to T employees who actually listen if you have a question or need help. Subway employees in DC are amazingly adept in tuning out all passenger inquiries, every single time.

I haven't spent too much time in Chicago, so I can't tell you much about what to expect with that transition. But compared to living in the Washington DC area for 20-something years, both in the city and in the suburbs, I've found Bostonians to be FAR FAR nicer, more friendly, and helpful.

Also, I don't drive here, so I can't comment on the driving issue.

And I second the mentioning that your mom just means she doesn't want you to go, because she'll miss you.
posted by raztaj at 11:18 AM on September 15, 2008

Just to add, as others have mentioned, Bostonians mean serious business when they're walking on the sidewalks. Keep right, merge quickly, don't make people mad by walking at the slow speed of "nice afternoon stroll." And when you're lost, pull over (to a store, by a wall/building/out of the way of sidewalk traffic) to get your bearings. Many people don't own vehicles and the sidewalks are pedestrian roadways. It'll take some time to learn the rhythm, but you'll be fine - and if you move, you will probably be enforcing them as well :-)
posted by raztaj at 11:23 AM on September 15, 2008

Moved from suburbs of Cincinnati to Boston for 7 months and have been to Chicago enough times to have a fair measure of what the city is like.

As long as you are an adaptable kind of person then you have nothing to worry about. People who think "hey, I want to move here" probably have nothing to worry about. It's the "I can't see ever leaving my suburb in (random city)" are the ones who are "too midwest"
posted by comatose at 11:37 AM on September 15, 2008

Bostonians mean serious business when they're walking on the sidewalks.

BTW in various studies (such as The Type A city: Coronary heart disease and the pace of life) Boston ranks highest/fastest in "pace of life" (e.g. walking speed, speed of bank lines, etc.) -- faster than New York City, etc.
posted by ericb at 12:01 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I grew up in St. Paul and now live in Rhode Island -- and I wish I could go back. I lived in & around Boston for most of a decade, and the people there are the pits. That said, many of the people around Boston are, like you, actually from somewhere else! Hah! Hah! So, you know, look within, grasshopper: when you're displaced and friendless and semi-broke, you'll fight for a seat on the T, too.

Many New Englanders assume a superiority (unwarranted, BTW) towards the rest of the world, and that gets old quickly. Also, at least in Rhode Island, the political corruption is often so venal that you wish the people would either straighten out or steal something GOO. (E.g., selling your law books to the town for five grand after you were mayor, and then getting caught, is pretty lame.)

And the beaches are weak: give me a clear, cold lake any day over a sewage-choked state beach.

But your mom is just going to miss you, and you shouldn't accommodate her at the expense of living in one of the great cities in America. Try it out for a year or two, and then go back to Chicago [my favorite city of all time] richer for the experience.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:17 PM on September 15, 2008

In addition to all the above, we are also skeptical of outsiders. In other east coast centers like NYC and DC, everyone seems to be from someplace else, and discussing where you are from is just an ice-breaker. In Boston, it's more of a test. This doesn't stop people from moving to Boston, but it is probably the phenomenon to which your mother was referring.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 1:25 PM on September 15, 2008

I grew up near Boston and went to college in a Chicago suburb so I kind of had the reverse experience to what you are asking about but I'll offer up a couple thoughts.

Regarding the driving: Tom Vanderbilt, the author of a new-ish book on driving and traffic (a surprisingly interesting read) was recently in Boston and took a spin with a Boston Globe reporter in order to see if the horrific reputation of Boston drivers, roads, etc. was accurate. Vanderbilt didn't have a problem at all with any of it. In my experience driving in many cities and foreign countries, I can say that Boston drivers are certainly more impatient than other drivers but they are just better drivers. This broad, sweeping, generalised statement is supported by the fact that Mass has the lowest rate of traffic fatalities in the nation -- 7.7 per 100,000 which is about half the national rate. I've always said -- only half-jokingly -- that Boston drivers might be assholes, but at least they're not morons. (YMMV) (And I echo other posters' call of shenanigans on the reports of people getting bumped at stoplights for not pulling away quickly enough. Nonsense.)

Regarding people's friendliness, I can certainly agree that people aren't friendly in a superficial way (and I promise I'm not using "superficial" to describe people from other locales' friendliness in a pejorative way); you're unlikely to have a friendly conversation with the girl at Dunkin Donuts. Strike that -- it's unlikely that she'll start up a conversation with you. So start a conversation with her . . . I'm generally a polite and friendly person and I've had loads of short, pleasurable conversations with randoms in Boston and they haven't recoiled in horror at how weird I was for being amiable. Quickly showing outward signs of friendliness is just not the default operating mode for people there but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be friendly yourself.

A final thought: New England is also a very "community-based" um, community. "Community" not meaning the people who happen to live nearby you in your town or city, but rather the group or groups of people you *choose* to surround yourself with, e.g., church groups, fraternal organisations, school parent groups, etc. Joining organisations like these -- or any group of similarly-minded people: a study group, a sports team, a drinking gang -- will change your experience in Boston / New England. Don't think that just because you're a grad student you'll automatically be in a community of like-minded people; there are just too many of you guys running around Boston and Our Fair City.

Boston's a great city in spite of -- and because of -- its quirks. Good luck with whatever you decide!
posted by lazywhinerkid at 1:47 PM on September 15, 2008

Eh, I say go for it. If you don't like it, you can move back. Your awshucks midwest charm will have amazing powers to disarm uptight New Englanders when deployed properly.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 6:24 PM on September 15, 2008

It's a great time of life for you, a time to explore and experience other geographical areas and cultures. I say, cut the apron strings, head for Boston, have the experience of your life (so far), just be ready for culture shock when you arrive, and if you're sick of it after grad school, you can move somewhere else. Bon voyage!
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:01 PM on September 15, 2008

I moved from Ohio to Boston for grad school and stayed (many years now). I'm now thinking of leaving. The drivers are relentlessly nasty and aggressive, but once you learn how to deal with them, you feel like you can take on driving ANYWHERE. Driving in Manhattan (which I do fairly often) is nothing compared to here, so it's good training for driving...pretty much anywhere else. People here don't use turn signals (which they call "directionals" here) much, and you'll have to get used to merging into rotaries.

I do find that the people are colder and more distant than in the midwest (though natives get VERY angry when you mention this), and every time I go back, I'm surprised once again at how friendly people are. Here, if you get acknowledged by the person checking you out at a grocery store, it's an anomaly. But oddly, people can be very kind if you're asking for directions or have a one-on-one encounter. I find that coldness most prevalent in places like restaurants and stores, where the concept of "customer service" doesn't really exist.

And, as some people have said, you'll find the cost of living to be MUCH more than you're used to. But there are ways of living relatively inexpensively here.

If you can hold onto your midwest sensibilities but become east coast savvy, you'll be fine.
posted by FlyByDay at 8:08 PM on September 16, 2008

Oh, and the accent is, I find, horrendous and grating. Some people find it "charming", but I'm not one of them.
posted by FlyByDay at 8:12 PM on September 16, 2008

If you're the sort of Midwesterner who is relentless with the questions when you first meet someone: PLEASE HOLD OFF.

I'm a native Angelena who did her undergaraduate mostly in or near Boston. One of the things I liked most was the culture of minding one's own business.

It was my two years at the Iowa writers workshop that gave me nothing but loathing for hyperpseudofriendliness and the sugary complacent simper of the fundemetalist Christian.

Bobbydylanforever, I'm not implying that these apply to you, I am relating my experiernce .
posted by brujita at 11:54 PM on September 18, 2008

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