Archive for May, 2017

New England Cultural Potholes

May 28th, 2017

Ah, the glorious Boston and surrounds…Flawless? Well, no.

Having lived most of my life in Boston, I choose to remain. Yet, the most amusing foibles of a region are those the most chauvinist locals have never noticed, and might even deny if you would describe them.

Esoterica Hazing

May the Great Pedants forbid that you mispronounce or misspell a New England place name or other highly localized term! Think for one of an imported TV meteorologist a few years ago who left quickly in disgrace in his trial period because of Stoughton.

He was talking through a forecast and seemed to follow school pronunciation rules saying Stuff-ton. In local speak, that city is Stoat-in. The weather guy disappeared shortly afterward.

A better, more civilized outcome? Sure. Don’t be so clubby, rather accept that nearly all ignorance is easily fixed. As opposed to stupidity, with the exception of a few technical or math concepts, teaching a proper pronunciation or spelling, for example, is quick, kind and easy.

Do that and the formerly ignorant one is clued in and part of the gang. Plus, you are the good guy. As another bonus, there’s the chance and likelihood of a nickname-level running joke, endearing instead of hostile.

90-second C.V.

Many locales (think Paris and London) have their share of snots. Few though can compete with New Englanders’ instant, intrusive résumé battles. Within a minute and one half of meeting a typical local, you have to hear:

  • every famous person related to said local
  • childhood prep school
  • college
  • important people they know or work with

This dick-on-the-table measurement contest is as predictable as it is tedious. The NYC equivalent, in contrast, is much more benign and prone to camaraderie from shared experience. There, the first verbal hugs are ones no Bostonian would ever ask, to wit,  how much do you pay for this apartment/condo? New Yorkers do that to start a conversation and to share envy or condolences, depending.

Alas, insecure New Englanders have to prove themselves to each other constantly. My prep school or U is more prestigious (locally) than yours or my ancestors are better known…

I think of one of my Inc. Magazine writing-stable buddies. He regularly would stop a group discussion with something like, “Ball, you went to such a shitty school. How come you know so much?” He was fourth generation Harvard (accepted and pushed through likely because of his family’s largess). Other Inc. staffers with Ivy degrees would often tell him that I was simply smarter and better read. He could not believe any such trivialities would trump Harvard.

Shout ’em Down!

Far too many New Englanders are in the old England debate mode. That is, browbeat someone else, even at high volume, and claim victory when they shut up.

“You have not converted a man because you have silenced him,” wrote John, Viscount Morley in the 19th Century. That’s not the guideline here. Rather, what used to hold only in debate clubs and those same prep and Ivy schools is to bully your way to an alleged victory. The more classical, even Talmudic, ideal of discussion to approach and refine truth does not fit this style.

Shouting people down is delightfully ridiculed by Monty Python in their argument sketch. It is enough of a thing to happen there as well as here.

Truth be told, screaming at people and using intimidation instead of facts and analysis is blessedly not that popular outside of New England in this country. If you move here, you will certainly run up against it all the time.

No Comfort to Enemies

The infamous, and far too thrilling, Boston driving, is more accurately New England driving. Offensive is considered defensive driving to many around here.

That does not happen alone. One expression is when you ask a local why they do not signal turns much less exits off rotaries. With a maniacal laugh, a Bostonian is likely to reply, “That only gives information to the enemy (a.k.a. other drivers).”

Sure, it would be safe to let fellow drivers know where you are headed. It would be considerate not to surprise those behind you if you will clog a left lane for a turn. It would even comply with state law.

This road attitude manifests throughout the region in many forms. For an example of inconsiderate arrogance, I think to a side business I had briefly with a chum from New England money. We proposed to rent fancy motor yachts for private functions. The owners got some cash for unused boats and we did all the work of renting, entertaining and cleaning.

Part of this was meeting with a yacht owner and discussing particulars. My friend made it very plain to me that the proper attitude was to disparage the yacht and act like it was barely adequate. I could not believe that. From my Southern heritage and my observation of local rich folk, I surmised:

  1. they were likely proud of their overpriced ship, and thus insulted personally if we talked down their said ship
  2. they would question our intellect and observation if we ascribed false flaws
  3. I would try graciousness instead, as that was what I knew

Much to my chum’s amazement, my pleasant presentation and charm worked. We got far better deals than he expected and the owners originally proposed.

What far too many New Englanders do no know is that nice is free. You do not pay a financial price nor lose face.