New to Boston? With shots of cynicism and sarcasm, a native to the region tells you how to fit in.

Ask the Expert Boston Concord Winthrop
. Hal Mayforth for The Boston Globe

I spent nearly a decade in Washington, D.C., after growing up outside Boston. It was so carefree. Driving was a breeze; streets were laid out in a grid and abided by simple geographic principles, such as “north’’ and “south.’’ Everyone was from someplace else, so it was easy to make new friends. The summers were humid, but the winters were mild. Nobody used flimsy lawn chairs to save parking spaces in snowstorms — in fact, whenever it flurried, the entire city just shut down instead. The government didn’t always function, but the subways did.

Then I returned home, nearly impaled my car at the Concord Rotary, and developed lactose intolerance from eating ice cream year-round. In order to save you, Boston newcomer, from the same fate, I offer a few pointers for acclimating to our region.

On socializing and blending in

• Radiate a cynical desire for friendlessness. A hearty skepticism of outsiders — and by outsiders, I mean anyone you didn’t go to high school with — is what defines a Bostonian social life. You may officially consider someone a “friend’’ if you have known them for a minimum of 10 years and lent them your snowblower. Anyone else is a mere acquaintance and nosy, too.

• For true assimilation, study pop culture. Who was Maurice the Pants Man? What was special about Spags? Do you consider Lechmere a T stop or an electronics store?

• Fond memories of your youth should now include a story about the following: listening to Jam’N 94.5 (or Oldies 103.3 if trapped in a car with parents), nearly drowning in a wave at Nauset Beach, almost being thrown from a roller coaster at Whalom Park or Paragon Park, churning butter at Old Sturbridge Village, and appearing on “Community Auditions.’’

• Upon arrival, please invest in the following: Five L.L.Bean jackets of varying warmth, a long-sleeved T-shirt advertising the elite New England liberal arts college of your choice, a completely impractical $250 Patagonia sleeveless fleece vest appropriate for two days in April, yoga pants for dining out, and a flannel shirt for apple-picking.

• Acceptable reasons for being late to work include: being trapped on the Red Line, being unable to locate your car in the North End, and taking Route 1 to go anywhere, unless you’re a bartender at the Kowloon.

On finances and shopping

• Do not discuss money. This is not the West Coast. If pressed by Someone Not From Here, your new home in Wellesley was financed through old-fashioned hard work at a nonprofit, not due to the unexpected demise of a wealthy aunt in Hamilton. And even if you do have endless funds, bargain-hunting should become your weekend hobby: Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Market Basket.

• Speaking of Market Basket: This is where all true locals shop. Some even call it by the original name, DeMoulas, so try it if you really want to fit in. Market Basket is a metaphor for your new life. No pretense. No frills. Exceptionally crowded. Worth it. There is no greater feeling than emerging with store-brand “cola’’ and Brigham’s coffee ice cream having paid under $2. Remember: Only fancy people shop at Whole Foods — that’s Bread & Circus to natives.

• Bostonians acquire all sorts of exciting household goods at Christmas: “Allston Christmas’’ and The Christmas Tree Shop, that is.

• True Bostonians did not come of age shopping at those swanky al fresco malls like the Street Chestnut Hill and Legacy Place — and we still resist. We trekked through Filene’s at the Burlington Mall (or Pheasant Lane for no sales tax). We tried sushi for the first time at a food court. We went to the Meadow Glen Mall and hid under the racks at Bradlees. An open-air J.Crew might as well be Rodeo Drive.

. —Hal Mayforth for The Boston Globe

Alimentary concerns

• Newcomers buy wine in the South End. Natives buy wine in New Hampshire.

• Prepare to eat ice cream year-round. And remember, “frappe’’ rhymes with “trap,’’ not “flambé.’’

• Never order: clam strips (seriously?), Manhattan clam chowder, pop, or a milkshake. A fluffernutter is lunch, not a dessert. And choosing to have a lobster roll with butter instead of mayonnaise is grounds for divorce.

• Even if you’ve never been there, create whimsical stories of your first meal at Anthony’s Pier 4, how much you loved the sundaes at Bailey’s, and weep openly about the demise of Hilltop Steakhouse and Brigham’s.


• Do not expect town names to follow any phonetic pattern. A good rule of thumb is simply to operate as though all Massachusetts towns lack vowels: Pepryll, Havryll, W’brn.

• South Boston is not the South End; Roxbury is different from West Roxbury; Jamaica Plain is not a plain at all. Readville is a myth, like the Loch Ness Monster or an expanded Green Line.

• Boston does not have a “Midtown,’’ despite any number of luxury magazines trying to make it so. If you attempt to reference a “Midtown,’’ you will be promptly deported to New York.

• Western Massachusetts is actually part of Vermont, and it technically begins after 495. Eastern Massachusetts is Senator Elizabeth Warren. Western Massachusetts is Arlo Guthrie. And remember: If it’s 80 degrees and sunny in Boston, it could be snowing in Ayer.

• Some towns in Massachusetts are accessible only via parachute, including Hull, Marblehead, Nahant, and Winthrop.

• The fancier the town, the worse the cellphone service.


• Nobody calls it “Beantown.’’ Same goes for TD Garden (it’s just “the Garden’’) and Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion (it’s Harbor Lights). And if you’re seeing a show at BB&T Pavilion, you’re actually going to Great Woods, thank you very much.

• Just as native New Englanders drop the R, you should also drop the S. Announcing that you’re going to the “Public Gardens’’ or the “Boston Commons’’ will earn you nothing but scorn.

• “How ya doin’, kid?’’ is an appropriate salutation for anyone not in a nursing home.

• If Robin Williams couldn’t manage a Boston accent, neither can you. Don’t even try.

• In 1900, a Boston marriage was once the platonic cohabitation of two wealthy women. In 2021, it refers to two people in tech who can afford to pay $2 million for a 600-square-foot condo in Somerville.

• Do not expect streets to follow any directional framework. New Englanders embody contradictions: We’re friendly but we loathe outsiders; we’re thrifty but charitable; and we can be driving north and south at the same time, depending on the highway. We contain multitudes. Abandon all maps and GPS devices, and resort to prayer.

. —Hal Mayforth for The Boston Globe

Matters of personal safety

• Speaking of prayer: rotaries. It is a good thing Massachusetts is home to the world’s top hospitals because we need them. You are taking your life into your own hands any time you attempt this automotive catastrophe. Appropriately, the Concord Rotary — one of the area’s most dangerous — is adjacent to a prison, which is fitting, since you will fly into a homicidal rage each time you approach it. The proper way to navigate a rotary is simply by merging slowly if you have the right of way. The realistic strategy is to floor the gas and hurl obscenities out the window.

• While you should expect to floor the gas when hitting a rotary, you should also expect to spend much of your natural waking life idling in traffic when going on vacation. This is especially true if heading down the Cape (never “to Cape Cod’’), which is really just an auto showroom. You will not move. You will roll down your windows and inhale not salt air but the fetid aroma of gasoline. If attempting to visit the Cape, you must leave under cover of night, like a criminal, or plan to visit in January. If this is impossible, pack water (but not too much), food, and perhaps oxygen.

• Speaking of criminal acts and blocking traffic: Do not attempt to drive anything taller than a golf cart down Storrow Drive. Ever.

• You are now a Red Sox fan, and professing otherwise is a hazard undertaken at your own risk. The only acceptable regalia is a navy blue cap, and if you buy a pink one and attempt to fit in, you must accept all consequences.

Kara Baskin can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @globehomes.