Even though it's nearing the end of the tourist season, I was inspired by a letter to Boston's Weekly Dig, and thought some advice for out-of-town visitors would be helpful. First, the letter:
Dear Slack-jawed Touristas,
While we appreciate the dollars that you pump into our Menino-pillaged coffers, being from East Bumfuck, Iowa, is no excuse for the complete lack of common sense and/or courtesy that you and your fellow bus-cattle exhibit as you continually add yet more obstacles to our ceaseless urban rat race. Here's a few helpful hints.
Step away from the center of the thoroughfare while rummaging through your fanny pack, consulting Streetwise for the best baked bean jernt or instructing your brood on navigating a road with more than one traffic light.
As rude as we seem (we're ruder), we won't harpoon you if you ask one of us for directions. Hell, we'll gladly point you in the direction of Fanyooeeill Hall if it will help unclog Washington Street of your corn-fed cankles.
Lastly, don't expect much from us. We have centuries of hating life that have made us surly and mean. We'll allow you to gawk, drool and quack to your little hearts' content, but when we glare back at you like you're a brown smear on the bottom of our soles, don't take it as anything more hostile than a superhuman effort to tolerate your inexplicable need to make our lives more difficult in your search for chowda, swan boats and the aura of history that our bitterness toward existence has long since bludgeoned into oblivion.
You should keep in mind that the Dig's readership is far more bitter than most--the next Dig letter refers to the pathos of pigeons picking through vomit for food. But after that letter, nothing I write could be nearly as obnoxious as that, so with that in mind, here are some tips for tourists visiting Boston:
Bring a street map. You will get lost. You don't believe me? Then why are you asking me for directions? Your Google search map didn't help, did it? Seriously, the entire city street system was designed by drunken cows, except for Back Bay, where every street is one way--because otherwise the only existing grid in Boston would be too easy to navigate. Most street directions consist of something like "You go straight until you hit a left that curves. Then you take it until you reach the thing. Take a left, but not the sharp left, until you reach the other thing." This actually makes sense if you live in Boston, but, remember, you don't.
Enter the subway (aka "the T") quickly. As an evolutionary biologist, I realize that being very cautious while entering dark holes in the ground is, overall, an adaptive trait--you never know when there might be a large, scary carnivore down there. But the rest of us have to get to work. I take the T every day, and I assure you there are no large carnivores roaming around. So when someone says "Excuse me" in a tone of voice that really means, "Get of the way, you fucking moron", it's because this is a mass transit system, not the fucking Epcot monorail. Think of it this way: back in your suburban paradise, if you were driving home from work and were stuck behind someone doing 27 mph in a 45 mph zone, how happy would you be?
Don't be an escalump. That person on the left side of the escalator who's looking really pissed off at you? She's trying to get by. Move to the right of the escalator. This goes for stairs too, if you're walking slowly (see the above point).
"The front of the cah looks just like the reah of the cah. Please move to the reah of the cah." Very sage advice offered by more than one driver. Don't enter the car ("cah") and then mill around because you're confused right by the entrance. You can be just as confused farther into the car. The rest of us need to get on the train.
Don't 'keep it real' on the subway. Mistakenly, you might think that you're fooling the rest of us into thinking you're not a tourist by leaning up against the entire vertical pole. Granted, we all have our fantasies, but here's the problem with what you're doing: the rest of us actually need to grab on to the pole, so we don't go flying once the train starts moving again. We will grab your ass, as flabby and pathetic as it is, so we don't fall on ours.
Don't 'keep it real' on the subway, part deux. Inexplicably, I once saw a group of foreign high school students in a desperate effort to 'keep it real' (or whatever their culture's equivalent thereof was) by sitting on the floor of the car ("cah"). You don't have to be a microbiologist to realize that the floor is...sticky. What were they thinking? To boot, these wonder kids were blocking the way to about fifteen seats. The next stop was largely a tourist stop, but one native got on the train, and roared at them, "Get off the fucking floah!" (floor). They got off easy.
Mysteriously, the train will eventually resume moving in the forward direction. As sure as the sun rises and sets, several tourists will enter the car, stand with their feet parallel to the direction of the movement of the train, and then go flying backwards into someone, often spilling a dark, staining liquid in the process. Said tourist will then look surprised, as if to say, "Gee, I had no idea that the train would start moving again." Just out of curiosity, how do think the train got there in the first place, you moron?
Yes, the Cheers bar is by the big "Cheers" sign. This is self-explanatory. And stop over-pronouncing your R's.
Enjoy your trip!
I'll add one bit of advice for tourists from the UK - be aware that if you're from London, then the Boston commuters *are* ruder and more awkward on the T than the Londoners are on the Underground. Yes, I know you believe that is impossible, but in my experience they genuinely are - Londoners don't want to touch anyone if at all possible, so will in general tuck in behind someone going at a sufficient speed in the direction they want to go. Boston commuters seem to want to go past them - even if there is someone coming the other way.
I've never had to fight against a tide of people blocking the whole way in London to get on the train.
Oh, and don't eat in Faneuil Hall. I got food poisoning.
Bonus tip: If you're stupid enough to try driving in Boston, keep in mind that most people aren't. Feel free to ask a pedestrian for driving directions to Fanueil Hall, but keep in mind that many of them are pedestrians for a good reason. This might explain said pedestrian's look of confusion, though it could also be the fact that you're miles away from downtown and driving in the opposite direction.
Please Do NOT attempt to drive on Rt 128 unless you have a very safe cah, with roll bah protection, or Grand Prix driver reflexes.
That is all.
I haven't been in Boston for, oh, eight years, so perhaps things have changed in the meantime, but I didn't get the impression then that Bostonians were particularly rude (Parisians or Berliners either)(New Yorkers maybe). In fact, I found them rather easygoing.
Driving's a challenge, admittedly, but once you get the idea that you're expected to be a pushy a$$#ho!e, all it takes is patience and a sharp eye for street signs.
How, though, do you pronounce "Fanueil"? Fanh-wee?
(Never mind. Wikipedia explains. Fannel, fanual, faniel, funnel.)
"Excuse me. Do you know the way to Fanh-wee Hall?"
You might want to say something about Driving. And who pretends not to see whom. And why, in escalation, it can be strategically sound to tear off your steering wheel and throw it out the window.
My father went to Harvard. My brother went to BC. I went to UMass.
And give the default joke about Scrod.
As sure as the sun rises and sets, several tourists will enter the car, stand with their feet parallel to the direction of the movement of the train, and then go flying backwards into someone...
This happens to me on the MAX (Portland's light rail), fairly regularly. The other day it happened and I ended up with a handful of a rather shapely young women's bum. She had the audacity to look at me like a I was some sort of perv. I had to then explain, rather politely in typical Portland fashion, that I had stopped her fall, so she wouldn't squish my five year old and/or hurt herself.
It's telling, that in Portland, if you run into the rude, chances are it's a tourist. Portlanders tend to be very nice to most everybody. Apparently, the antithesis of Bostonians.
I used to live in Boston. Boston drivers are the worst I have ever encountered. Parisians were downright polite in comparison. New York drivers are sweetie pies. Italians are models of courtesy. In most cities, the goal is to get where you are going as quickly as you can, and this leads to imaginative driving. In Boston, the goal is to spread nastiness, so drivers will work to keep you from getting anywhere even if it means they will have to waste time doing it.
Bostonians are the rudest people I've met in any major city, or in the suburbs or in the countryside for that matter. New Yorkers are brusque. They are in a hurry. Bostonians lead nasty pinched lives and revel in spreading the misery.
"You go straight until you hit a left that curves. Then you take it until you reach the thing. Take a left, but not the sharp left, until you reach the other thing." This actually makes sense if you live in Boston, but, remember, you don't.
That sounds about right.
And when you're in the North End, pick a restaurant and get the fuck out of the way. And don't walk four across as you dawdle down Hannover street clutching your Mike's Pastry box. You're still in the way.
I am going to spend a week in Boston working on site in June. They are going to provide me with a rental car, but now I think I should tell them I will pass.
After all, I have been overseas, driving on the left side of the road for 10 years now. It's hard enough to remember to switch back when I come to the US, to do it in Boston sounds like it may be too big a hill to climb.
Of course having been in Jo'burg for that time, the locals better be cautious if they fuck with me, things like that get serious here.