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Response to "What's with you people?"

Posted by Robin Abrahams  March 9, 2012 04:29 PM

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We had an epic thread in response to Monday's question!  

Many, many of you pointed out the LW's rudeness, not only in attacking the region where he (and the person he is addressing) lives, but in demanding an answer to a question as vague as "why are you people so despicable [sic]?" I actually think the second point gets at something nicely Bostonian: part of our regional etiquette is valuing accurate information and the well-formed question. 

And there is a regional etiquette, or lack thereof. Most commenters agreed on that, if nothing else. Let's address the "region" part first: I'm going to call it "Boston," although depending on context I might mean anything from the city proper to New England. The LW wrote about "eastern Massachusetts," but that's a lunky phrase. [Although it did lead to this gorgeous typo from Blake8: "I was born and raised in easter Mass (30 years). Thirty years in Easter Mass, Blake8? You must be, like, way shriven by now.] 

Those who defended Boston manners tended to do so on the grounds that Bostonians are private people who respect the privacy of others: 

Hang around a few years and I can guarantee that on your next relo you'll be sorry to leave your neighbors who actually mind their own business, the store clerks who don't chitchat or take phone calls in the middle of your checkout and the car repair shop that understands the value of your time (GMV2

I don't know how typical a sample I am, but as a greater-Boston resident, I am introverted, have not enough money, too many jobs, and absolutely no spare time. If "courtesy" is defined as "spending time on niceties" then no, I don't like to spend precious minutes chit-chatting with strangers, and I tend to assume that people would prefer to be left alone in a dense urban situation like the T-platform. As an introvert, who finds all social interactions subtly draining, I love Boston. (geekgirl99

Geekgirl99 certainly speaks for me! So does Webcastboy, who wrote: 

I've lived in New England (13 years in Boston), western NY, and most recently Southern California. My experience is that Bostonians are "rude" because they'll tell it to your face. Everywhere else, they just stab you in the back. I much prefer the Bostonian way. 

I find Bostonians are an odd combination of reserved and direct, myself. They don't tend to make small talk, but when they do have something to say, they will say it fairly bluntly. This is a style I find relaxing, but it doesn't suit everyone. 

A number of people made the excellent point that the folks who are getting on the LW's nerves might not be flinty New Englanders at all, but part of the large transient population:

Eastern MA--and Boston in particular--has a ridiculously large student population. There are also a lot of research institutes, hospitals, and tech companies around. As a result, a lot of people in the area come from many different parts of the country and the world. There isn't ONE set of social norms that everyone in the area follows. There isn't ONE culture, or one brand of etiquette. (Sapphira) 

One thing about the Boston area: A large percentage of people who are here are here for a specific reason, specific goal (i.e. a degree, a chance to work at world-class institutions). They're very focused on what's next *for them*. That effects the way they behave towards others. They're working hard; they feel as if they haven't "arrived" yet. They're stressed, and yes, as others have said, cranky. A lot of medium-sized fish in a big pond... (Amethyst2)

Does the LW understand that in areas w/ a lot of tourists, a lot of the people you interact w/ just might be tourists (bowtiesarecool

Finally, some commenters provided excellent advice for the LW. newlin wrote: 

Funny letter, because 3 years ago when I moved back here - after living in CA for 13 years - I thought the same thing. I could not believe how awful people were. Rude didn't even cut it....I used a very mean word to describe most people I met. And then something happened, I'm not sure what - maybe I rediscovered my roots? - but now I rarely come across a rude person. In fact I am always encountering friendly, helpful, genuine people. Of course the rude ones are still here, but I probably just ignore them - they're busy, in their own worlds, just trying to get through the day like I am. My personal theory is that it's the weather and the T. This winter's been a nice break, but last winter gave me panic attacks. The T can put the nicest person in the worst mood. That, and driving through Brigham Circle at nearly any time of the day. Hang in there LW, don't talk to strangers, and soon enough you'll be one of us. Then you won't even notice it anymore. 

And Effrontery wrote: 

Most people aren't actively rude so much as obliviously self-absorbed, busy, and/or private. Case in point: people will stand blocking the handicapped access or the automatic door button, but when asked, "Hey, can you get the button for me?" will do so immediately and without an attitude. Conversely, when lectured, "you are so rude, cant believe someone would block the ramp" will flip off a mom with a kid in a wheelchair without even thinking about it. My advice to newcomers: 

1. Quit trying to make fake small talk with busy strangers. It's annoying and you are usually opening with a prying question. If you must make small talk, keep it neutral. 

2. If you need something, ask! Standing there looking helpless might work in the south, but up here, we won't offer help because we are minding our own business. 

3. Learn the culture. It is not rude here to let someone bring her own groceries to the car or open the door for herself. It's called self-reliance. 

Have a great weekend, you people!
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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