Monday, March 10, 2008

The Chit-Chat Index and Subway Door Index

I came across this interesting discussion on "City-Data-Forum" about Bostonians. The weight of opinion there seems to be that Bostonians tend to be more aloof than in other places, with some debate over whether aloof and rude go together. (I think not.)

I've blogged before once or twice about how I'm not a big Boston fan, but I do think over-generalization is problematic. Lots of Bostonians are friendly, lots are rude, lots are aloof, lots are cold, and lots overlaps one or more of these non-exclusive categories. And I doubt the proportions are that different from any other major city. Maybe a slightly higher "aloof" score.

But having lived in a number of cities (and spent time visiting the big "City"), I propose the following two indexes.

First, the "Chit Chat Index": How bizarre will a clerk in a chain store think you are if you make small talk about weather while buying an umbrella? And how much will the clerk engage in the small talk?

From lowest to highest, in my experience:

Boston: Clerk's facial expression seems similar to what it might be if you had just suggested that you move into his/her house. Clerk does not speak.
Washington: Clerk registers no facial expression but responds with a conventional pleasantry.
Philadelphia: Clerk chats amiably about rain.
Pittsburgh: Clerk tells you all about rainstorms experienced since 1997 and invites you over for dinner. (Ok that last one is an exaggeration.)

Second, the "Subway Door Index": How easily can you exit a subway car? Will passengers wishing to board the train step aside to let you off? (Here I exclude Pittsburgh--never having ridden the T here--and include New York as a major locus of subway riding.)

From easiest to exit to hardest to exit, in my experience:

Philadelphia: Not enough people trying to get on to make a difference.
Washington: The people will respectfully stand aside, lined up as a "V" on either side of the door. (I am told this is changing due to increasing ridership on the Metro and the increasing partisan rancor of the Bush years.)
New York: A lot of people on the platform, but a narrow path will open.
Boston, most stops: A solid wall of people--each giving a blank stare as you try to figure out between which two people you might escape.
Boston, Park Street, rush hour: A solid wall of people will begin pushing onto the train as soon as the door opens. This is really why Charlie couldn't get off the MTA.


Jessie & Steve said...

I love your assessment of the Park Street Station because of its humor, but I get on the T at Park Street during rush hour and hadn't noticed it as being necessarily worse than my experiences taking the subway in NYC. Of course, I'm one of those aloof, unfriendly New Englanders.

I'll add to your description of store clerks to say that Minnesota clerks are similar to Pittsburgh clerks. I've had people tell me their entire life stories at Target while ringing up my dish detergent and toilet paper. Now that I'm back in Boston, not so much. Of course, when we were in New York, there were some of the friendliest people in the world on the other side of the register, but often they were the owners of those businesses. With the increasing corporatization of New York, I'm afraid it will be less friendly.


Adam said...

Does that mean New York is worse than I think or that Park Street is better than I think? Hmmm... Well, I should have added the caveat that my regular riding of the Boston subways ended almost 6 years ago.

I think I should also have said that the chit-chat index is my measure of aloofness while the subway index is a measure of rudeness.

That City-Data forum thread was mainly on the aloofness issue; I think there was a Boston Magazine cover story a few years back on the rudeness question.