Opinion | Constantine von Hoffman

You know when you’re from [expletive] Boston

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The worldwide outpouring of sympathy over the Boston Marathon bombing has resulted in a lot of well-meaning out-of-town people and institutions showing their solidarity with us by saying or publishing some version of “We’re all Bostonians now.” In keeping with the true spirit of the city — as perfectly captured by David Ortiz — I’d like to say, “Appreciate the thought, but no you’re [expletive] not.”

Those nice folks shouldn’t take this personally; after all, a lot of us who live here aren’t sure if we’re Bostonians.

Some of that is because we are a big college town. During the summer, when the students are on vacation, it feels like the city has lost a third of its population. Those of us who remain — including my wife and me, who didn’t move here to go to school — are quite happy about that. But we know that those students are definitely not Bostonians. The first step toward qualifying is to stay here after graduation.


Tough job, right?

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Residency by itself is not enough, though. Some people live here for decades and although they are accepted by the community never quite make the transition to being locals.

For good or ill, what they lack is the attitude — the distinct Boston view of the world that has been freely and frequently passed on to newcomers by generations of people born here who have accents thick enough to stir chowder with.

What is that attitude?

It’s hard to describe precisely, although many outsiders have tried. Coming up with just the right words about it is an especially popular activity among tourists. Recently I encountered someone from elsewhere who tried to describe our certain something but, because of what we have gone through with the bombings, she was trying to be diplomatic. Bostonians, she said, are energetic and very straightforward. A month or so ago I suspect she would have said “jerks.”


Even that, however, doesn’t capture it. Maybe it’s better demonstrated than explained.

An example: My wife, who has lived here since 1980, was watching a video tribute to Boston and, while she appreciated the effort, she thought to herself, “[Expletive] you.” It was, she says, at that exact moment she knew she was a Bostonian.

Now don’t misunderstand. Boston is filled with nice, caring people — who don’t want to admit it. I have no doubt many of the same people who ran toward the explosions and saved lives would also berate you for not knowing how to drive like a local. Of course if you know how to drive then you do not know how to drive like a local.

Boston’s residents hate it when people ask them for directions to “Cheers” but give them anyway. It’s a city where no one thinks twice about putting a bumper sticker that says “Coexist” next to one that says “Yankees Suck.” And where the rest of us just say “amen” when we see it driving down the street.

As for me, even though I don’t like to admit it, the truth is I’ve been a Bostonian for a while. I don’t know the exact date, sometime in the early 1990s, but I do know the exact incident. I was driving in Chicago — city of broad shoulders, enforced traffic laws, and polite motorists — and I paused at an intersection. I paused because I realized I no longer had any idea how to make a legal left-hand turn, and I didn’t care.


I might have been in the Midwest but in my head I knew, “Welcome to Boston.”

Constantine von Hoffman is a freelance reporter who covers business and finance for CBSNews.com.