How to Be a New Englander

Edited by Jolyon Helterman

how to be a new englander

Photograph by David Salafia


Okay, before you get all indignant, review your past few “special event” outfits. We’re betting the lot included something muted, shapeless, khaki, fuzzy, rubber-soled, and/or tied around the waist. Perhaps you also have a 5-foot cousin who refuses to wear even the most sensible pair of heels, or a captain-of-industry brother with a perpetual 3 o’clock shadow. Remember the arrogant young grad who showed up to her first job interview in corduroys? Right. That was you.

It’s complicated, because New Englanders both do and don’t want to stand out at the party. We want to be singled out for our wit, our intelligence. Maybe even our style, because we have that, too—we just don’t need to say it with sequins. While bespoke suits and snakeskin pumps may be fine for other cities, here we have tact.

There’s a subtle art to floating in just below the dress code. A fleece vest never says you’re above a particular crowd, even if you are. Opt for loafers where heels or wingtips might go, or, better yet, your favorite iteration of Converse sneakers. Use sunglasses as a hair accessory, or to hide where there is none. Keep them there all day. Roll up your sleeves, untuck your shirt, and forgo the statement bag for one of your countless boat totes, the utilitarian depths of which never cease to astonish. —Alyssa Giacobbe



Drizzly afternoons punctuate crisp autumnal days, which is why practicality dictates that you find rubber boots chic enough to wear when it’s sunny. Hunter for Rag & Bone rain boots, $295, Barneys New York.



Photograph by Hero Images

Photograph by Hero Images

The quintessentially New England mudroom is a reflection of us: humble, utilitarian, defiantly casual, and, yes, given to occasional bouts of chilliness. But there’s a fine line between unflashy informality and unbridled disorder. If guests’ first steps into your home involve forging a trail through a disheveled thicket of damp coats and sludge-smeared boots, it’s time to get your duck shoes in a row.

Even cosmetic improvements will yield visual impact—a wall-size mirror, a splash of color, a whimsical piece of artwork. But a cheery shade of carmine isn’t going to keep anyone from tripping over a treacherous backpack- scape. For that, you need hooks. Lots of them. A mudroom can never have enough. Hang them high, hang them low, hang them everywhere, and spend a few dollars for serious workhorses up to the heavy lifting. (I’m partial to Restoration Hardware’s “Grand Coat Hook” and the Mission-inspired “Twist Robe Hook” from Rocky Mountain Hardware.) Assign several hooks to every family member. Then put your stuff on them. Then put their stuff on them. And save the trailblazing for the other side of the door. —Bridget Samburg



After an eight-generation run, the New England dialect is being eroded by an influx of interlopers who pronounce their Rs and say “Mary,” “marry,” and “merry” the same way. The monsters. But there is an upside. As the region figures more prominently in popular culture, we have more opportunities to play disdainful armchair linguist whenever someone attempts the local tongue on TV (see: Julianne Moore, 30 Rock) or in movies (unless they involve Ben Affleck). Like all New Englanders, we play to win, so we interviewed a few linguists to assemble this, a connoisseur’s guide to diction pedantry. —Joe Keohane

The Rhotic Reversal: The secret isn’t removing Rs, it’s adding them. Anyone can do cah—no one ever thinks to add I was out sawring wood or note that Cuber is an island.

The Hair-Splitting City Division: That’s the Irish Boston accent, as opposed to the Brahmin one and the North End one, which are totally different.

The Needless Contraction: As in: “Mary went to the store and so didn’t I.”

The V Bomb: Vermont doesn’t have the accent anymore. Only half of it used to—because half of the state was settled by people coming up from New York—but now the line between accent and no accent moved to the New Hampshire border. All that’s left is the old Vermont glottal stop, like “President Clin’n.”

The Dot Reachback: That guy’s too old to be saying “the stolen jeans are in the basement.” It’s Savin Hill. It would be “dungarees,” and “in the cellah.”

The “I Knew Jack Kennedy and You’re No Jack Kennedy” Gambit: Oh, please. The Kennedy accent is used only by Kennedys, comedians, and imposters.

The Rhode Warrior: That woman wouldn’t call that a frappe and a sub. She’s from Lil’ Rhody. They call those cabinets for some inexplicable reason. And grinders.

The Surly Dismissal with Shibboleth Kicker: God, for all the money they spend on these things, you’d think they could at least shell out for a halfway decent dialect coach. This show sucks. Anybody want a tonic?



Illustration by John Macneill

Illustration by John Macneill

West Coasters may peacock in blinged-out Ferraris, but our ultimate status symbol is a car as indestructible as the Yankee spirit, such as a ’93 Volvo 240 GL. Nicknamed the “Swedish brick” by aficionados, its patina (not pretension) reflects our region’s Cape-sand-inside, scratches-from-rooftop-skis-outside aesthetic. Here, mechanic James Stephenson, of West Springfield’s Precision Auto Repair, explains how to keep a vehicle purring like a Brahmin dowager. —Margaret Heidenry

Practice defensive ownership. “Preventive maintenance is the key,” Stephenson says. Spotting a problem before it becomes a major issue is “90 percent of the battle. All cars are nuts and bolts. Some are just older than others.”

Keep a clean undercarriage. This is New England, where corrosive snow and rain mean your beloved ride could “rot away,” Stephenson says. To combat car-­destroying rust, he recommends a yearly protective undercoating.

Get your motor running. “Not driving a vehicle is worse than driving it every day,” he says. Idleness, it seems, makes a car “fall apart internally.”

Seek a significant other. Finally, Stephenson advocates a faithful relationship with a trusted mechanic who “knows your vehicle.” He or she can be your car’s “second set of eyes and get you to 300,000 miles.”





We’ve all been there, enjoying a perfectly civil natter with some out-of-towner who then, apropos of nothing, suddenly throws shade on one of our local successes for a career blip. While their targets—Affleck’s Bennifer years, Mark Wahlberg’s bout with boxer briefs—are as predictable as their Hahvahd Yahd shtick is tired, one must address the breach of decorum swiftly and firmly. Step one, a quick history refresher: specifically, the chapter “You Owe Us Your Freedom.” Our region’s role in the American Revolution ensured the existence of these United States, and it’s in this same spirit that our compatriots put themselves out there. Yes, mistakes were made (The Marky Mark Workout) and major setbacks endured (Gigli). But who among us hasn’t wrestled with our own personal Funky Bunch year? Step two: Remind your counterpart that homegrown heroes’ eventual triumphs bolster the entire region. Affleck found brilliant redemption in The Town; Wahlberg, with his Oscar-winning movie The Fighter. Amy Poehler eclipsed her bizarre rants in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo by winning a Golden Globe. Can Tom Bergeron transcend the embarrassment of, well, being Tom Bergeron? You see, that’s the funny part. It doesn’t matter. Because either way, at the end of the day, we defend our own. —M.H.



Photograph by James Baigrie/Getty Images

Photograph by James Baigrie/Getty Images

Anxiety-dream sequence: surf-and-turf dinner party, a roomful of weepy lobster neophytes, you’re the only New Englander for miles. Plus, you somehow forgot pants. Quick, what do you do? You can panic and lie about your provenance. Or you can buck up, throw on some khakis, and teach them to dispatch their bugs like Four Seasons Hotel executive chef Brooke Vosika, whose catering division breaks down 100 lobsters a day. —J.H.





Photograph by Jolyon Helterman

Photograph by Jolyon Helterman

Requiring the forearm strength and fortitude to dice, chop, and slice several pounds of onions, potatoes, and salt pork, the Aroostook Savory Supper, from the eponymous Maine county, is a dish to be earned. We turned to chef Marc Sheehan, who opens the coastal-themed Loyal Nine early next year, for a luxe take on this rustic dish. Before you balk at the sheer quantity of pork fat that will accompany your bird, do note: It’s the Yankee way. “A lot of times, really fatty pork was served with turkey,” Sheehan says. “Having something that’s as rich as this, with another animal fat, weirdly makes sense.” —Leah Mennies

Aroostook Savory Supper recipe (above) can be found here.



With our 473 miles of coastline, we are a maritime people. We also have a quirky, deep-seated aversion to losing boats, particularly ones belonging to other people. To ensure you never become that guy who let the SS Too Expensive to Replace drift out to sea, it’s important to master at least one good knot. Start with the bowline, which is easy to tie and, just as important, to untie, yet won’t ever come undone by itself. —Eric Randall



New Englanders, more than anyone else in America who doesn’t still fly the Confederate flag, are a grudge-bearing people. We’re uniquely suited to it. We have a profound sense of our own history, which is basically a long list of grievances, and thus are comfortable living at least part of our lives in the past. We’ve spent a great deal of time groveling before petty and vengeful gods and their earthly representatives, and we relish the opportunity to pass some of that misery along. We have a flinty spirit and a tenacious work ethic that doesn’t let up until the job is done. Plus, we’re cold all the time.

All of this adds up to an uncanny sense of commitment. From the initial screwing-over to the day our immortal souls sink forever into the sulfury depths, we remain faithful to our grudges. We attend to their needs over our own, and always leave space for them in our hearts, our thoughts, our bones. Because holding a grudge is not a sprint; it is a feat of endurance. The pain of pursuit is dulled only by the constant repetition of a simple mantra: I will get you for this. I will get you for this. And someday you just might. —J.K.



Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

The best of New England’s generational wisdom gets handed down via our wealth of gifted writers. Here, an abridged cheat sheet of old and modern classics by homegrown authors you can turn to for inspiration and insight into, you know, our collective psyche and whatnot. —M.H.

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Click to view larger.



There comes a time in every New Englander’s development when brandishing one’s educational pedigree would be advantageous. Perhaps so-and-so’s wife went to Groton, too, and bonding over Third Form Latin is just what you need to get into the club. Could be you’re quite shy—invoking MIT less as a brag than as a plea. Or maybe you’re simply a pompous (read: insecure) ass, prone to leaning on your elite credentials. The reason is unimportant. What matters is how you finesse the drop. Herewith, a few moves to keep in your repertoire. –Kara Baskin

The Metonymy Two-Step: Lobbing an Ivy League privilege-bomb outright (“I went to Yale!”) feels at best unseemly, and at worst witheringly common in its boorish directness. Better to work the mention in obliquely, preferably from an unthreatening buffer zone of at least two removes—an associated club, a campus haunt, even the town itself—lest innocent onlookers find themselves blinded by ivory light of such startling magnitude. “Back in New Haven…” gets the point across clearly, yet far more charitably.

The School-Mascot Mazurka: Graduates of elite liberal-arts schools are harder to find in a crowd because, well…naturally, there are fewer of them. That’s why it’s best to accessorize with subtle reminders of your academic glory days: sticker on the Jeep, ragged sweatshirt when out running, and an alumni magazine casually tossed on the coffee table all send the right message.

The Trapped-in-Time Tango: Hallmarks of this behavior include concocting “Class of 2002” Facebook groups, tagging sprees on Throwback Thursdays, and “checking in” at impromptu reunions. (Typical caption: “I love these people!”) However, do this only in moments of extreme vulnerability, lest you appear needy or, worse, forget to untag yourself in a bad photo.



photograph by Image Source/Corbis

photograph by Image Source/Corbis

I was a rock-solid winter driver before I’d even hit the ripe age of 16, thanks to a safety-obsessed father with a penchant for turning nighttime snowstorms into unorthodox “teaching moments.” These impromptu episodes somehow always happened around midnight, when he’d nudge me awake, whisper, “C’mon! Let’s go,” and whisk me outside into the frigid terrain to practice driving on the desolate country roads around our Connecticut hometown. Bleary-eyed, yet exhilarated by the notion of my stickler dad sanctioning such a brazen flouting of rules, I would carefully maneuver the car, the wordless stillness punctured only by the occasional laconic command from the copilot seat. “Okay…slam on the brakes!” I slammed. Wheels spun. My heart raced as I panicked that we were on a collision course with the trees. In a few adrenaline-spiked seconds, I’d learned the most fundamental rule of snow driving: You’re never entirely in control of the car. Gradually, I got comfortable with gently tapping on the brakes, minimizing sudden movements, and letting the steering wheel do its thing rather than wrestling it to do mine. And with ever so slightly succumbing to Mother Nature to stave off disaster—a gesture of pragmatic humility that has served me well over my (now) decades of New England winter driving, and who knows what else. —B.S.



Years ago, when I lived on a crooked street in Cambridge, I came out to find my pickup completely buried in a 6-foot snowbank. I grabbed my heavy plastic shovel (metal’s worthless, always warping and getting jammed in the cracks) and started digging, removing the snow from the top and sides of the truck, and, per local tradition, throwing it back into the middle of the street.

Then I cleared all the snow from beneath the truck. Every flake. After that I brushed all the snow off the wheels, roof, and door handles. Every flake. And then I started working on the snowbank around it, shearing its walls down and planing them. It was painstaking work, but weirdly meditative and satisfying. An hour or so later I stood back and admired a snow-free vehicle set in a perfect three-walled box, like that temple in Petra, if that temple in Petra were made of dirty wet snow and a ’94 Ford Ranger. It was human perfection carved out of nature’s filthy chaos. It shone on that iron-gray New England morn.

And then? I left it. For three weeks, I bummed rides and endured frigid walks, consoled by warm thoughts of agonized neighbors fretting, “When will he move that truck? When will that spot be mine?” But it would never be theirs. It was mine. The vehicle stayed in that spot until the snow melted. I would have kept it there forever if it hadn’t. —J.K.



Nothing saps log-cabin-y coziness like ­constant tinkering with poorly stacked logs. We asked Cambridgeport construction wiz and incendiary firebrand Richard Soeiro how to ignite the flames like an obsessive pro. (Hint: Kindle them right the first time.) —Caroline Hatano





Photograph by Shannon Fagan / Corbis

Photograph by Shannon Fagan / Corbis

As hardscrabble as we are in general during storms—shoveling out from towering snowbanks, chortling at intimidated expat southerners—we somehow turn into panicked idiots beneath the supermarket fluorescents. Fifteen-year ­Market Basket veteran John Garon, front-end manager in Burlington, has seen it all. We asked him for his best advice on how to avoid getting snowed in for a week with nothing but spoiled milk and weird amounts of Dinty Moore. —K.B.

Show up before the doors open. Check your favorite market’s hours, and arrive a half-hour before opening. For instance, Market Basket officially opens at 7 a.m., but savvy shoppers arrive at 6:30, Garon says. The doors are unlocked. Wander on in. Really. You won’t get arrested.

Follow the flow. Now is not the time to outfox your fellow patrons by gaming the system and starting in the frozen aisle while other poor suckers loiter in produce. Garon says it really is quicker to work with the flow of traffic than against it.

Load up on ice scrapers and rock salt. “We sell out of these things every single time. Get them before a storm hits,” he says. Other key purchases: bottled water, canned food (but in moderation, and only things you’d eat normally), fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, and batteries.

Use the registers closest to the entrance. “People tend to go for the high-­numbered registers,” Garon says. “The lower-numbered ones are often faster.”



We New Englanders place a premium on how long we’ve been local. It’s why we scramble to trace our ancestry back to the Mayflower (a.k.a. those who found 1620s England too liberal), and give our offspring olde-school monikers like Alden and Oceanus. It’s also why we telegraph our native bona fides by referencing anything “new”as its previous iteration—or better, the one before that. For example, dropping a “Got some gorgeous cod at the Bread & ­Circus yesterday” conveys pre-2003 cachet. Need an earlier reference? At right, a few to get you started. —Wyndham Lewis

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Click to view larger.



As any Democratic strategist will tell you, the region’s swath of left-leaning politics is far more variegated than the monochromatic blue the country at large sees. Here, a guide to the many faces of Boston’s liberalism. —W.L.

The Blood-Blue Liberal: Invented the “to whom much is given, much is expected” ethos. Prep school and Ivy grad. Money so old that no one recalls where it’s from. Hosts fundraisers with high alcohol-to-hors d’oeuvres ratio. Natural Habitat: Brattle Street, the Boston Athenaeum. Patron Saint: William Bradford. As Seen in: The Collected Works of John Cheever.

The Terror of the Town Meeting: Highly educated intellectual and the most feared zoning-board enforcer west of the Charles. A crusader for public education; sent children to private school. Natural Habitat: Brookline. Patron Saint: Michael Dukakis. As Seen In: Brookline Access Television.

The Brotherhood of Local…: Held a sign at the polls prior to learning to walk. Waxes poetic about his dad’s days in the IBEW. Politics driven by employment, a.k.a. “getting his brother’s kid a job driving a snowplow over at Massport.” Natural Habitat: “Hanover now, but Codman Square really.” Patron Saint: Billy Bulger. As Seen in: Mystic River.

The Spiritual, not Religious: Listens to NPR and MSNBC; quotes voraciously as her own opinions. “Very open-minded” and drawn nearly exclusively to people who share her views. Yoga practice “saved her life” after the divorce. Never been to Chick-fil-A, but boycotting until they support same-sex marriage. Natural Habitat: Brattleboro. Patron Saint: Rachel Maddow. As Seen in: Eat Pray Love.

The Massachusetts Republican: Considered by most of the country to be a Democrat, and by Alabama and Wyoming to be ACLU. Spends time bashing Obama’s anti-business crusade, while apologizing for the national party’s social agenda. Natural Habitat: Concord/Hingham. Patron Saint: Bill Weld. As Seen in: Flomax and Cialis ads.



Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Unlike in those sports wastelands where slack-jawed bros get their game-day thrills almost exclusively from the dunks, touchdowns, and home runs, New England fans have long possessed a connoisseur’s taste for the subtle grace notes of the game: the intricate, miniaturist counterpoint of an opposite-field groundout that moves a runner; the delicate two-part harmony of a defensive-minded winger, or a tight end who holds the pocket. We loudly cheer the nuance of every extended pitch count that would go otherwise unnoticed in Atlanta or Los Angeles, where the “LET’S HEAR SOME NOIZZZZE” cues from the Jumbotron are required to, well, hear some noise.

Of course, it’s no coincidence that for the better part of a century the little things were pretty much all we had to cheer. Do we need to be reminded that the Patriots’ greatest player P.B. (pre-Brady) was a left guard named “Hawg” who scored a single career touchdown in 1974? So as the deafening din of futility fades from our collective ear, as we learn to savor the sweet symphony of victory—sometimes in the form of the Dropkick Murphys through tinny Duck Boat speakers—let us not forget the leaner times that we the people lived through that made us appreciate the sac fly. —W.L.



Photo by Toan Trinh

Photo by Toan Trinh

It’s a common misconception that our disdain for the home of A-Rod is simple, that it’s your garden- variety inferiority complex. It is that, of course, but it’s also so much more. To properly hate New York, you have to dig deeper, to summon a whole mess of contradictory and unflattering impulses: cold anger, smugness, defiant provincialism, sophistication, modesty, superiority, hot anger. None of this needs to be consistent or even coherent, nor do your stated reasons for hating that megalopolis to the south. You can hate it because the people there think they’re better than you are, or because they’re not as good as you are. You can hate it because it’s too loud and congested, or because it’s not as loud and congested as it used to be. You can hate it for any reason you want.

Because in the end, hating New York isn’t even about New York. It’s about a pathological need for permanent underdog status, a need inextricably woven into our very being. We’re not underdogs anymore, of course. But if we concede to being the regional superpower we are, that carefully cultivated self-image, so lovingly fertilized with spite and resentment for so many generations, goes right out the window, leaving us with only ourselves. So say it again: Yankees suck. —J.K.


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