Lots of work in an unhappy place
I grew up in a big city in TX; have lived in IA, MO, spent chunks of time in MT, OR, WA, CA, and road-tripped all over the US. I moved to MA ~20 years ago for work, and lived in Boston proper for the first 3 years. I remember the feeling my first years here, that sick knot in the pit of my stomach, surrounded by the unfriendly, unpleasant, rude, angry - and at best, repressed drudges - that seemed to be all around. You can call it culture shock, but even going out to walk my dog I noticed that vagrants were kinder and more pleasant than most of the folks I passed on the street. I'd never seen such unfriendliness elsewhere in the US. If I even made eye contact with someone while out walking, they gave me a wide berth or took it as a threat, a challenge, "what are you looking at?!".
Heaven forbid I actually *smiled* at anyone. That's an indication you're a crazy person. Even if you're just having a good day, smiling to yourself, people look at you like something's wrong.
In other areas I'd lived, you didn't just make eye contact as you pass a fellow human being, you also frequently give them a polite nod or a "howdy" - given they could be the only person you pass for miles. Logically speaking, the population density here makes it virtually impossible to acknowledge individuals in the mass of people. I can understand why a smile stands out. But a single smile from one stranger has the power to lift the overall mood. That's a secret that hasn't made it to this part of the country.
The only people who were friendly or animated came from India, China, other countries or regions of the US where kindness, openness, and personality aren't quite as repressed or frowned upon. When I've talked w/natives of MA about why the culture here is so socially conservative they've chalked it up to Puritanical roots (which certainly persist, even though this is not a religious area by any stretch). It simply isn't proper to be too cheerful, to express who you are for fear someone will be put off by your lack of reserve. People should be Staunch, Stoic. The dress is reserved, socially conservative just like the people. And personal style might block you from getting/keeping work. Someone with colorful hair, cheerful attire, or anything visibly playful about them gets the stink-eye. They must be nuts, clownish, extremely immature. This is not the time or place to be yourself! How to survive - limit yourself to ONE piece of color or personal expression a day. (A few people will still comment "I wish I could get away with that look.")
Why do I stay? I moved here for work, and that has been something there is no shortage of in the Boston area. People take work very seriously, and you will work as hard as a New Yorker here. You quickly learn to adopt a neutral expression, avoid eye contact, and STOP ASKING people why the place is so glum. They don't understand the question. There is little diversity here, and most of the native white population has almost no experience with the rest of the US. Expensive international vacations to major metropolitan cities aside, New England is all they know. If people elsewhere in the country seem friendly or happy - the assumption is they are FAKE, disingenuous, and they probably have an angle or want something from you.
That's rubbish, but you'll never convince a dyed-in-the-wool native that a smile comes free, or might simply be *polite* acknowledgement. :)
You do learn coping mechanisms for dealing with the gloomy nature of the place. It isn't where I'd want to be forever - the mood can be so emotionally draining, it forces you to retreat within yourself to retain your personality.
Yes, the old architecture is neat, though much of it is in decline or disrepair. No surprise, since the cost of living is so high.
Arts and culture...while they do have some nice museums, the area is by and large far LESS cultured or artsy than other cities I've lived in. Most artists require more freedom of expression than you're likely to find here, unless your art has a very traditional New England focus - spinning, weaving, painting dreary landscapes, etc.
If you are moving to more rural Mass. - outside of Boston and its suburbs, one positive is that New Englanders will help each other in moments of crisis. If your car goes off a snowy road, someone will be kind enough to stop and haul you out. In the less urban areas, people pull together to push neighbors' cars out of icy ditches, and if a tree comes down in the street, residents up and down the road bearing chainsaws will break it up and clear the path. The stoic self-sufficiency of the region does include looking out for each other in times of crisis. It's about the only time you say hi to your neighbors or have any sense of community & contact with your fellow Man, however thin the interaction. In the city, this will be the opposite. You're likely to have your tires slashed if you park street-side, where another resident shoveled to dig their car out. They will feel entitled to that public parking all winter, and even block it with trash bins to ensure no one else takes "their" spot. (Oh, and prepare for a LOT of parking tickets if you're unlucky enough to have a car in the city. I mean, budget for several hundred $$$/month. Parking rules change nightly.)
I really can't blame the weather here for all of this gloom and doom (I mean, look at Finland's happiness quotient!). If you can find work elsewhere in the country, I don't recommend NE to transplants from other areas. But if you do find yourself awash in this sea of sadness, each one of us living here might bring a little brightness and personality to the area, however long we can withstand it.
Janet | Cheshire, MA