How is it that a place so progressive also houses rotaries that spin in endless circles of doom? How can a bastion of logic like MIT be in a region that has highways that go in two different directions — at the same time? And why do locals who toil for social networking giants like Facebook by day still associate only with their four best friends from high school by night?
Bostonians are used to these contradictions. Newcomers aren’t so lucky. Last year I composed a native’s guide to our fair city. Now it’s the interlopers’ turn: Maybe you arrived from the Midwest to work in biotech and nobody has smiled at you in four months. Perhaps you moved here three decades ago, and the old lady next door just asked when you moved in.
This story is for you.
I asked transplants to vent about their confusions, and my inbox is now more backed up than the Bourne Bridge on a Friday in August. Here are the things newcomers’ find most baffling about Boston — whether they arrived last week or last century.
Let’s face it: Much of the United States is one long beige yawn of fake stucco and McMansions. Here it’s a Tetris game gone horribly awry, with irregular lots, a mishmash of architectural styles ranging from Yankee prep to Revolutionary War-era health hazard, prices that would make someone from Nebraska weep, and weather-specific features that inspire both intrigue and horror.
“I work with people who have never even seen a basement. In the Southeast? In Texas? They don’t have basements,’’ said broker Tory Keith from Natick real estate firm Board & Park.
And, while some people are beguiled by our housing potpourri, others are aghast.
“They’re either really charmed that our houses don’t all look the same or are terrified,’’ she said.
Also perplexing: broker’s fees, the lack of parking spaces, and having to cough up the first and last month’s rent as a security deposit.
“I’m used to move-in specials, first month free, et cetera. I never planned on needing thousands to move,’’ said Cara DiBenedetto, who left California for the North End.
Our charming burgs boast roadways seemingly designed by Jackson Pollock’s demon toddler. Tales of trauma abound: Missed interviews, lost people, nervous breakdowns while driving on Route 93 South and 95 North simultaneously.
“When I first moved to Cambridge in 2003, I thought I’d drive up and down Mass. Ave. to get to know the town. I didn’t know it gets all crazy through Harvard Square. I ended up getting lost for two-and-a-half hours,’’ said Jen Norton, who hails from the angular sanity of Illinois.
When Mindy Eichler moved to Marblehead from New York, she couldn’t fathom why “there were no street signs anywhere.’’ Well, Mindy, you should be grateful: Throughout Boston, there are actually duplicate street signs — and even streets! How many Washingtons do we need? Woe to the person eager for dim sum in Chinatown only to be dumped behind St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton.
Consider yourself fortunate if you don’t blow a tire on your way, too.
“My [husband] is from southeastern Ohio. Appalachia to be exact. He can’t for the life of him understand how a state with so many resources has the [expletive] paved roads,’’ lamented Newton’s Rachel Bennett.
Arlington’s Dave Shrewsbury, also from West Virginia, concurs.
“I had never seen worse roads in my life than when I moved to Massachusetts,’’ he said. “Also, seriously, how many roast beef places do you need? It’s ridiculous!’’
Which brings me to …
These include but are not limited to: the aforementioned roast beef, Dunkin’ coffee, iced coffee (even in winter), candlepin bowling, bar pizza, soft-serve ice cream, and ice cream in general, no matter what the weather. This includes frappes — and the fact that they’re absolutely not the same as the far inferior milkshake.
“I still refuse to call a milkshake a frappe. It’s a milkshake, and I won’t be bullied (even by my husband) into calling it anything else,’’ insisted Melrose’s Brian Samuels, originally from New Jersey.
Also on the list: Ben Affleck sightings, small liberal arts colleges, professional sports, and peculiar holidays ranging from Allston Christmas to Evacuation Day, which coincides with St. Patrick’s Day. In all three cases, these involve unsightly street scenes, questionable behavior, and possibly going home with things you don’t want or need.
A moment of silence for the poor woman who showed up at her local spa wanting a manicure and got a six-pack instead. Connecticut’s Judy Bolton-Fasman had never heard of a mudroom until she moved here. (What sounds better? Dirt den? Shoe sanctuary?)
“Jimmies. Bubblers,’’ said a puzzled Elissa Perkins, a Boston emergency physician who can save lives but can’t figure out the lingo to save hers.
There’s also the fact that innocuous items have names that imply pain, fitting for our martyr-ish attitude toward everything from the weather to sports. “Grinders’’ are actually subs, or a violent way to pulverize meat. You can get alcohol at a “packie,’’ but it sounds more like a way to squeeze into a wagon on the Oregon Trail. “Tonic’’: Carbonated treat or ancient flu elixir? “Wicked’’: Evil or amazing? “Frost heaves’’: Cracks in the pavement or Arctic food poisoning?
And let’s not forget the Registry, which some novices might assume refers to all things baby but will make you regret ever being born.
As a Boston child, you were probably told to go down cellah to take out the barrels. Your mom carried her F-lene’s charge cards in a pocka-book. Your nana sat in the front room with her clickah and police scanner. You pushed a carriage through DeMoulases. Best just keep all that to yourself because nobody knows what you’re talking about.
One woman, new to a job, recalled being told to put something in a “draw.’’ A draw — as in, Bob Ross’s specialty? An Old West-style shoot-out? No, her boss was asking her to put something in a drawer, by which time she wanted to hide in a closet. (On the plus side, at least he didn’t ask her to fetch a regular coffee from Dunks, which would have promptly gotten her fired.)
And a shout-out to the anonymous commenter who told me that she thought Billerica was actually a man named Bill Ricka.
Massachusetts is the most educated state in the country, but it doesn’t stop us from acting like complete morons.
Here, people will drive 85 miles an hour just to cut you off — no blinkah — and take a left on a yellow light before it turns red (which apparently also means the car behind it is grandfathered in and can floor it, too).
The very same person will place a lawn chair in a parking space for hours on end simply to save it. They will also drive across state lines for tax-free shopping and bulk alcohol but refuse to associate with anyone not from their hometown.
One final insult: We’re home to one of the largest craft breweries in the United States — Sam Adams — but happy hour is illegal.
On the other hand, maybe our dark, dreary winters have impaired our reasoning.
“I’m originally from Brazil, and I got shocked how the parents here hang out in the freezing cold temperatures with their kids so easily. In a tropical country like Brazil, if the temperatures are below the 40s, they don’t leave their homes,’’ said Lívian Selau, shivering in Saugus. “Now I totally get it and do the same with my son. Otherwise, we’d have to hibernate for six months.’’
Meanwhile, cruel sunrises and sunsets can mangle even the hardiest Midwesterner’s circadian rhythms.
“I grew up at the same latitude but opposite end of the Eastern time zone. It gets dark in the winter and light in the summer so freaking early here,’’ said Michigan transplant Kerianne Hourihan, now possibly groping for her blinds in Roslindale.
Rachel Powers, who lives in Los Angeles but visits her family in Boston, recalled being shocked at how dangerous Boston driving could truly be. People “took tight turns on 200-year-old slush-filled streets at 85 miles per hour while I was standing on the corner with schoolchildren,’’ she said.
Chicago native Peter Haas, who went to college here and has returned on vacations, still looks back in wonder.
“No signs to give you the name of the street you’re on. They simply assume you already know. And the uniform Mario Andretti-style rules for driving through rotaries. The blinking red light (which means “stop’’ everywhere but Boston) means downshift to third, keep your eyes straight ahead, don’t look left even for a split second, and leave it up to the other drivers to stay out of your way,’’ he marveled.
But most of all, remember: The same people who might nearly run you off the road during rush hour won’t speak to you in real life.
New Mexico transplant Hilary Clay of Arlington summed it up best: “One day, my tombstone is going to read: ‘Insisted on saying hi to people walking their dogs and was murdered for it.’ ’’
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 pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @GlobeHomes.
Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story misspelled the name of the real estate firm Board & Park. The Globe regrets the error.