The capital of crabby

Think we’ve got a bad attitude, dubious fashion skills? Don’t let the door hit you on the way out

Chris MacDonald and McCauley Braun weighed in on the Hub’s snubs. MacDonald thought his outfit well-suited for a hot summer day. Chris MacDonald and McCauley Braun weighed in on the Hub’s snubs. MacDonald thought his outfit well-suited for a hot summer day. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / July 22, 2011

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Maybe it was too hot. But Terry Moreira had been knitting her baby blanket for the better part of an hour, and only one passerby had bothered to say a thing to her, or even smile her way. Boston was, once again, failing her friendliness test.

In Taunton, where she lives, Moreira said her knitting is a consistent conversation piece that gives strangers an excuse to stop and chat. In Boston, it just gives people an excuse to grumble.

“The only person that said anything just asked me how I could be knitting when it was so hot,’’ Moreira said earlier this week from a park bench in Post Office Square. “Here, everyone’s too busy to notice anything. Rush, rush, rush. Always on the phone.’’

For Moreira and other visitors and residents frustrated by Boston’s notoriously brusque ways, news that the city had earned the dubious distinction of the country’s least friendly place came as little surprise. The driving culture alone, many said, has to put it in the top five.

But some did not take kindly to the “meanest’’ designation, saying the city’s crusty, crabby reputation is exaggerated, even charming in its way. If you don’t like it, they were quick to say, there’s the door.

They were doubly annoyed by a second slight to the city’s character: recently being named the worst-dressed city in the country by GQ magazine.

“Boston is like America’s Bad-Taste Storm Sewer,’’ the article groused. “All the worst fashion ideas from across the country flow there, stagnate, and putrefy.’’

The one-two punch, branding the city as a bunch of grumpy slobs, pricked people’s civic pride, and stirred a rally to its defense, if a self-deprecating one.

Sure, Boston is not exactly Milan or Paris when it comes to fashion, many said. But below Pittsburgh?

“The very worst, in both?’’ questioned McCauley Braun, an 18-year-old working downtown this summer. “I don’t believe that. They’re probably just jealous of our sports teams.’’

Apart from the occasional defensiveness, most dismissed the dismal rankings as irrelevant. The breezy GQ list, which the magazine teasingly called a “deeply scientific, irrefutable poll,’’ was an obvious, lighthearted attempt to grab attention, many said.

The second survey, conducted by a pair of psychologists at the University of Michigan, struck many as vague. Kindness is too elusive a concept to measure, at least across an entire city.

Still, many had to admit that both surveys had at least the ring of truth.

“Spot on,’’ quipped Chris Baron, a 42-year-old from Everett who spent his lunch break taking pictures on Boston Common. “Unfriendly and unfashionable.’’

Baron was only kidding, although it was hard to tell. That’s part of Boston’s problem, he said. People who live around here are often more cynical and sarcastic than most, and that can make them seem unfriendly. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t good people.

“I once saw two guys walking down the street, swearing and screaming at each other,’’ he recalled. “But when they saw an old lady fall down, they were the first ones there to help her up.’’

Andrew Campbell, a 44-year-old in town from Atlanta, said he had not expected much Southern hospitality, but had been pleasantly surprised by his reception. On the subway, he had asked what stop to get off for the movie theater, and people were happy to help.

“Maybe the attitude changes with the season,’’ he said, suggesting that the hard winters were to blame for the city’s chilly disposition.

As a visitor, Campbell said he did not feel qualified to pass judgment on Boston’s fashion sense, but said it seemed like most cities.

Speaking for himself, he had chosen a bright tie-dyed shirt to tour downtown with his son and did not feel that he was underdressed.

“I thought it went well with these shorts,’’ he deadpanned.

Across the park, Chris MacDonald admitted he hardly qualified as a fashionista. But he thought his outfit, a worn Red Sox T-shirt and shorts, had a relaxed, understated quality well suited for a steamy summer day, if not the latest in haute couture.

The GQ article also prompted a backlash for stating that the city suffered from a “kind of Style Down Syndrome,’’ causing outrage among advocates for the developmentally disabled. On the website, the article no longer included the phrase.

The article ended by calling the area “Jurassic Park for fashion troglodytes.’’

But for most residents and visitors, the city’s penchant for rudeness was far more striking than any perceived fashion shortcomings.

Donelle Sirois, a 16-year-old from California touring the city with relatives from Cape Cod, learned that the hard way when she generously held the door for visitors at the aquarium. Her favor quickly turned into her job.

“Quite a few people went through,’’ she said. “Finally, I said ‘OK, I’m not holding it anymore.’ ’’

People weren’t sure whether the reported rudeness and lack of elegance were at all related, and evidence to the contrary was not hard to find.

One woman looked as if she was heading to a ball as she strolled through the Boston Common in a long white dress with spaghetti straps and a fancy purse.

But when approached, she pretended not to notice. Asked again if she had a moment, she unleashed a sneering look, never breaking stride.

Peter Schworm can be reached at