From the City of Big Shoulders to The Home of the Bean and the Cod
February 24, 2018 8:45 PM   Subscribe

My company is consolidating the US R&D jobs to the home office in Boston a year from now. They are offering positions in Boston, which means moving from Chicago. If any MeFites have made a Chicago to Boston transition, do you have any guidance/advice about local differences to keep in mind?

Telecommuting will not be an option. The home office is providing resources toward the actual move and home-finding.
I've been living in Chicago for twenty-two years; my wife has lived here for twenty. (We're both originally from two other US states, so we aren't complete novices at moving to new places.)

The two differences of which I am already aware:
1) Boston is more expensive than Chicago.
2) Boston's streets are not a square grid.

Any other knowledge that we'd need about day-to-day living in Boston, no matter how basic, we would appreciate. Thanks in advance.
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead to Travel & Transportation around Boston, MA (19 answers total)
Best answer: Ha! I did the opposite and moved from Boston to Chicago for work. Let’s see what I can remember.

1) Boston is way more racist. They just had an 8-part exposé on wtf is wrong with Boston and why they’re still so racist.
2) Chicago is still a city in the Midwest, so people are nicer. New Englanders all view strangers as someone who want something from them, and so distrust them. You’re not going to start many friendly convos with strangers. I remember shortly after I had moved to Chicago, I was waiting for the el on a Sunday, And as a train went by in the opposite direction someone yelled from the train, “this stop is closed on Sunday!!” I remember thinking that no one in Boston would have ever bothered to tell me that. I could’ve waited there all day.
3) The weather in Chicago seems to hit Boston 2 days later. No big difference in weather. Boston has a windier street than Chicago :-D
4) All navigation is done by proximity to Dunkin Donuts. Learn where they all are. You will have no idea why people love DD. Just say you love it too so that you don’t have to argue with anyone.
5) Not only is Boston not a grid, the roads were originally cowpaths. Finding your way is awful. Thank goodness for gps now, I guess. Plus, there’s cobblestone. Great with high heels. :eye roll :
6) I hope you like sports. They’re pretty intolerant of those who don’t.
7) Rubber band are elastics. Water fountains are bubblers. Traffic circles are rotaries. Milkshakes are frappes.
8) The T (train system) is good. But good luck figuring out “inbound” vs “outbound” when you’re actually IN Boston proper.
9) When I was in Chicago for New Year’s Eve, it was like a war zone. Cars were being lit on fire and smashed with baseball bats. First night in Boston was like a magical fairy land. Ice sculptures and choral concerts and beautiful art. This was 20 years ago so I don’t know if it is the same, but the few years I went to New Year’s eve/First Night in Boston were the most wonderful I’ve ever spent.

That’s all I got at the mo. Have fun with those accents! I’m so glad I managed to rid myself of mine at age 18. Now that I live in California, everybody asks me if I’m from Canada. o.O
posted by greermahoney at 11:02 PM on February 24, 2018 [7 favorites]

Best answer: The above is an extremely thorough overview. Excellent job, greermahoney. I have only three things to add:

-"Intolerant of people who don't like sports" is kind of understating it. Boston sports fans are the most insecure people I've ever met, and they will take personal offense if you don't don't agree that the Pats/Sox/Celtics/Bruins are unquestionably the best team, and that the Boston team's best player is unquestionably the best player in the league. There is no agreeing to disagree. They will not allow a conversation to end, or to change subjects, unless you say "yeah, I guess you're right". I'm not normally a trollish person, but the trolling possibilities are endless. There is nothing funnier than watching a Bostonian's reaction to being told Tom Brady isn't the best QB in the NFL.

-Equal temperatures will feel a little colder in Boston because of the ocean breeze. It won't be as bad coming from Chicago as from the inland Midwest, but it's still something to prepare for.

-The big one: Unless you're in the city of Boston itself or a handful of inner-ring suburbs, the food scene is pretty limited, especially fast food that you'd grab on a lunch break. By the time you get out around the 495, your only options are literally McDonalds and Burger King. You might find a Wendy's or a Taco Bell occasionally, but not often. And when you do find a fast food place, it's expensive. The difference in price between fast food and table service restaurants is minimal, so I'll usually just eat some appetizers at an Applebee's-level place.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:51 AM on February 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I live in Maine, but my entire family is from the Boston area, so my generalizations are a little jaded, but affectionate.

Massachusetts drivers, especially in Boston, are extremely aggressive. They pass on the right, tailgate a lot, and don't like to let other cars merge into traffic. I once had a Boston driver tell me that using turn signals was a sign of weakness. Also, signage all over MA is terrible - I think the assumption is that if you don't know where you are, you shouldn't be there in the first place.

OTOH, it's true that public transportation is pretty good, and Logan Airport is about a zillion times better to fly from than O'Hare, in my experience.

In general, the East coast is culturally retrograde compared to the Midwest: more racist, more sexist, more classist. Maybe it's because history is so close to the surface. Everything is older and closer together.

Boston, specifically, always seems to have a chip on its shoulder. For a big city, it's not a very big city. There seems to be a need to prove Boston's significance, which is why the sports stuff is so important there.
posted by mneekadon at 5:59 AM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In general, the East coast is culturally retrograde compared to the Midwest: more racist, more sexist, more classist.

I just want to say this is not a universal experience of things. My feeling after four years in Chicago (and ten in the northeast) was that Midwesterners had a deep streak of conservatism and xenophobia but were in deep denial about it.

I’ll add:

-If someone in the northeast asks you how you’re doing, it’s fine to answer honestly with something other than “super, thanks!” and people won’t act like you’ve said something socially unacceptable.

-The winters are comparably cold but Boston has less relentless grey and less of the thing where the wind is whipping ice sharply into your face at 30 mph.

-You can easily get to nice/interesting places by train from Boston: NYC, Portland, Providence, and you can take a ferry to Provincetown.

-Partly because of the lack of grid, Boston has more interesting looking neighborhoods.

-Also because of the street layout, drivers are kind of nuts. It’s not a fun place to drive though frankly the Dan Ryan is not a picnic.

Fun unexpected thing about Boston: lots of great ice cream places.
posted by Smearcase at 7:14 AM on February 25, 2018 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I live in the Boston area (and love it) and have family in Chicago. Boston isn’t small, but it’s smaller than Chicago and feels like it. But that means it’s easier to get out of Boston for a day or weekend - if you like ocean, mountains, or other cities, there are plenty of nearby options, with or without a car.

A lot of the specifics of what it’s like depend on where you’re working/living/commuting. Overall, yes, harder to navigate driving, and I don’t think public transit is quite as good - the T hasn’t been doing great the past few winters; and it mostly stops running around 12:30, and the bars close by 2am.
posted by songs about trains at 7:45 AM on February 25, 2018

Best answer: (I don’t live in Boston anymore, but I was born and raised and visit all the time)

Boston proper is very small and the cities/towns around it tend to get lumped in with Boston as well. So you could very well end up living in Cambridge, or Somerville, or Jamaica Plain, which are all pretty arty and educated. I think the idea that Boston is filled with meatheads obsesssed with the Patriots is “true” to an extent, but you will mostly find this in people from the suburbs to the north and south. Boston is a big sports town, but it is also an exceptionally nerdy place.

Milkshakes and frappes are two different things.
posted by cakelite at 8:51 AM on February 25, 2018 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Inbound within the city means towards the square of Park st/government center/downtown crossing/state (no concourse between gov
center and state).

On the east coast I usually don't need a balaclava to breathe in the winter the way I more often had to in the midwest.
posted by brujita at 9:34 AM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I moved Chicago-to-Boston, lived there for 7 years, and moved back to Chicago a few years ago :)

The overviews above are all good! I would add:
- as songs about trains points out, the T closes at 12:30am and all the bars close at 2, so if you like to go out at night, perpare for earlier nights and/or taking cabs.
- but, because Boston is geographically way smaller than Chicago, cab fare is generally a lot cheaper. For the same reason, biking or walking from one end of town to the other doesn't require super endurance. OTOH: hills.
- driving-wise: watch out for rotaries; New Englanders can tell non-local drivers bc they don't yield correctly in the rotaries. Here is a guide to doing this right.
- One trick to navigating the totally-non-grid streets is that many of the larger streets go from one neighborhood to another, so if you start building a picture of that in your mind it seems less random.
- Boston drivers tend to be less good at following the technical rules of the road, but better at paying attention to their surroundings. Traffic there is actually pretty safe despite appearances to the contrary.
- As mentioned above, Boston is great for day trips outside the city - small towns in Vermont, beaches in Maine, islands off the coast, hiking trails, etc - this is one of the biggest things I miss about Boston vs Chicago.
- In Chicago, it's polite to nod/wave/say hi to strangers on the street/train. In Boston, it's polite to ignore people.
posted by anotherthink at 1:14 PM on February 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: the T hasn’t been doing great the past few winters; and it mostly stops running around 12:30, and the bars close by 2am.

Boston really rolls up the sidewalks by 2 am even on weekends and you really have to keep an eye on how late the T is running to make sure you can catch your last train if you're out late and public transporting it (which is advised, because driving is often a pain). Public transpo signage isn't great in Chicago but it's appaling in Boston especially at the busy stations like Park Street. You'll figure it out, but it takes time. Similar to Chicago, there are two airports but Manchester/Boston is flat out in another STATE and you're often better off going to another other stat (Rhode Island) for cheaper flights sometimes. You can get commuter rail from Boston to Providence. Which is the other main thing... all the New England states are close and very very regionally proud of their own thing which is different from the other state's thing. So be mindful. When I was there, it seemed like a lot of the CHicago suburbs were interchangeable but none of the Boston suburb places in other states (Nashua, Providence, etc) are. Also the ocean is amazing and there are a lot of people who spend a lot of time there (Cape Cod esp) and it's a great option for holidays. I drove through Boston yesterday and had to pull off to use a bathroom and I drove through a town that was basically entirely populated with firefighters. Suggest starting to read Wicked Local ("wicked" is an intensifier) to get a feel for things.

Also, similar to Chicago there's a regular group of MeFites that do things, particularly bar trivia, so feel free to reach out.
posted by jessamyn at 1:24 PM on February 25, 2018

In Chicago, it's polite to nod/wave/say hi to strangers on the street/train. In Boston, it's polite to ignore people.

Omg, I’ve never seen it said that way, but it’s perfectly true. Speaking to a stranger is rude, because what if they don’t want to speak with you? You’ve just forced some poor person into conversation, awkwardly. So perfectly New England.

And how could I have forgotten to mention the crazy drivers? Of course, I didn’t think they were crazy when I lived there. But after a decade of living in California, I go back to Boston and fear for my life. But it is nice to open up on the highways.
posted by greermahoney at 1:47 PM on February 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Bostonian born and bred here. Just a few additions:

I've never heard anyone use the term "elastics" before. My husband (also Bostonian) and I disagree on the term "bubblers" - so it may depend where you live. Milkshakes are not frappes. Frappes are thicker and larger than milk shakes. You should try one - they are way better. Dunkin' Donuts coffee is terrible unless you order it iced and "regular" which is with insane amounts of cream and sugar. Ice cream is everywhere, served in giant scoops and amazing.

Traffic circles are "rotaries" or "circles of death". Driving is incredibly aggressive and fun - ever played "Crazy Taxi" before? It's sort of like that. Feel free to use your horn liberally, gesturing is welcome and take advantage of your full vocabulary when driving. Expect that if you do not drive aggressively people will honk and gesture at you.

You can walk from one side of Boston to the other - and on a nice day you should. Don't bother driving if you can avoid it, the T and/or bus will take you most places and honestly, more directly and faster in many cases because the streets are so indirect.

As for cultural differences between Chicago and Boston? My sense from going to Chicago was that there was a bit of "midwestern nice" even though it was a large city. Bostonians are not nice - but they are refreshingly direct and honest. They are also competitive and live their work - but as a result, you will always be surrounded by people who are doing interesting things and are willing to talk about it. They also have a strong moral/ethical code and social contract to others that basically amounts to "what am I, an a-hole??" As a result, you will never be stranded anywhere, ever.

Also access to beaches, open ocean, lakes, mountains etc. all within 1-2 hours is delightful. Take advantage.
posted by Toddles at 2:47 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Two small pushbacks on sports, and driving:

-Bostonians certainly take their sports seriously, but I don't think they'd expect you to start rooting for the local teams if you're from elsewhere. Almost everyone follows sports to some degree, but amongst the more well-educated locals avoiding it shouldn't be too hard. People can talk about other stuff, too.

-MA drivers are aggressive in a very specific way. People are really aggressive at intersections, but there's this weird thing where everyone kind of expects it so it actually works well once you get used to it. It's almost like a European style of driving. There's a certain level of fudging the rules that's expected.
posted by breakin' the law at 3:16 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I heard "elastic" instead of "rubber band" a lot, but I think it's an older generation thing. My mom still calls soda "tonic" but most people don't. I can't train myself out of calling the water cooler at work a "bubbler," because that's what it is.
posted by cakelite at 3:34 PM on February 25, 2018

Best answer: I am a Bostonian, born and bred. Never thought I would end up living here as an adult, but returned over a decade ago after living in London, and I am happy to live here- but I own my home and have kids who are in their late teens- not sure I would recommend moving into Boston without some thought. I would say that "Boston" is relative- is your company really located in Boston? And would you really choose to live in the city? The city of Boston is quite small, and many of the residential areas are quite costly compared to what you would get if you choose to live outside of the city. The commuter rail makes it so many people live outside of the city and commute in (though the whole MBTA has had infrastructure issues in recent years). My ex-husband choose to move to Plymouth a few years ago because of the wide variety of affordable housing options and the direct commuter rail to South Station. There is also what you want in terms of a home. There is a construction boom that has built a huge number of "luxury" condos all over the city- if you are looking to live in an apartment, you might be surprised at the number of modern ones available to you. If you want a whole house with a yard, you can find those in Boston, but you will be living further out from the city center. Finally, if you have school aged children, Boston Public Schools can be difficult to navigate (and I speak as a graduate, parent of BPS students, and an employee.) Happy to answer questions via dm.
posted by momochan at 4:35 PM on February 25, 2018

Ok, I feel I need to clarify my milkshakes=frappes comment.
What the rest of the country calls a milkshake, Massachusetts calls a frappe. A frappe includes ice cream. For most of the country a milkshake includes ice cream. in Massachusetts a milkshake will literally be milk and syrup, shaken.

+1 that elastic maybe an older generation thing. I'm sure I got it from my mother, who is 83, and she for sure calls all soda tonic. I was recently having a conversation with my adult niece, and she saw I was drinking a gin and tonic. She said "oh I don't like tonic. I never understood why your mother offered it all the time, it's gross." She thought my mom was offering her tonic water, when my mom was just offering her a Coke. I found that very amusing.

That's a very good point about Dunkin Donuts iced coffee being ordered regular. I kind of do miss someone putting the milk and sugar in for me.
posted by greermahoney at 7:38 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

btw, frappe is one syllable.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:37 PM on February 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

"In general, the East coast is culturally retrograde compared to the Midwest: more racist, more sexist, more classist.

I just want to say this is not a universal experience of things. My feeling after four years in Chicago (and ten in the northeast) was that Midwesterners had a deep streak of conservatism and xenophobia but were in deep denial about it."

This is related to the general disposition of midwesterners and New Englanders. Both are racist, sexist, classist, etc. In the midwest, though, there's a sense of shame about it; hence, "midwestern nice" to cover it up. In New England, nobody ever feels any obligation to be nice, so they're more open about it. Which way is better is a personal preference, but I think the underlying attitudes are probably about the same in both places.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:13 AM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for the viewpoints. I learned something from every one of those posts that I marked as best answer.

In my original post, I tried to cut to the chase, so I didn't explain that I'm originally from the suburbs east of NYC (and my very smart wife is from the high desert just over the mountains from LA). Dunkin Donuts will not seem foreign to me, and I avoid small talk with strangers, too. And when sports conversations have come up for me in Chicago, my standard answer has been "Last time I cared deeply was August 1987, when the Yankees plummeted out of first place, and broke my teenage heart."* Although I may add that I rooted for the Red Sox over the Mets.

The driving will annoy my wife, who perceives Chicago drivers as aggressive (and Long Island drivers, too, when we went back to see some of my family) so the various quantitative analyses of Boston driving aggression help very much.

momochan: The job itself is in Boston's Financial District, but yes, my very smart wife is looking at all the commutable suburbs. We are childless, and plan to remain that way, which does allow some more flexibility in neighborhoods. I can live without a yard. My wife prioritizes enough space for getting indoor cats. But all of that information was great.

songs about trains, anotherthink, jessamyn: we tend to be homebodies now, so the "rolling the sidewalks up" aspect won't affect us too much. But if I have to be social with cow-orkers, I would have to keep the last run time limits in mind.

Thanks again to all of you who responded, for your time and your knowledge!

*unwittingly paralleling my father's "The last time I cared about baseball was when O'Malley moved the Dodgers to LA."
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 12:48 PM on March 3, 2018

Response by poster: One last follow-up, as my wife and I were in Boston this weekend to meet cow-orkers and pester realtors..
"Public transpo signage isn't great in Chicago, but it's appalling in Boston: especially at the busy stations like Park Street" - Jessamyn

This quote played over and over in my head as we spent fifteen very cold and windy minutes on Saturday trying to find the actual T entrance at State Street and Washington to get on the Orange line. It's actually part of the Old State House, via an unmarked half-orange door.

Thanks again for all the advice.
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 8:37 PM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

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