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Boston And San Francisco: Dispelling The ‘Sister Cities’ Myth

The Boston skyline. (John Stracke/Flickr)

The Boston skyline. (John Stracke/Flickr)

From the crowds singing “Sweet Caroline” at Fenway, to the ivy-covered red brick of Harvard Yard, Boston is known for its traditionalism and history.

But it’s also known as a politically liberal waterfront city, strong in high-tech, higher education — and high home prices. Those characteristics make it somewhat of a “sister city” to the West Coast’s San Francisco. But where Boston is rich in tradition, the Bay Area is known for its free-wheeling Californian attitude, best exemplified by the dynamic start-ups of Silicon Valley or the color of Haight-Ashbury.

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. (Alain Picard/Flickr)

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. (Alain Picard/Flickr)

Victoria Plaut, a social and cultural psychologist, has conducted a series of studies to assess whether those cultural stereotypes are rooted in reality — and how cultural norms affect the well-being of residents.

By reviewing “cultural products” like newspaper headlines, as well as surveying city residents, Plaut concludes that Boston’s culture emphasizes tradition, status and community, while San Francisco’s emphasizes unlimited possibility, egalitarianism and innovation. In Boston, residents care more about local customs and status in the community; in San Francisco, norms are looser and goals are more individual. Plaut claims that this culture difference might leave transplants feeling disoriented in a new town, perhaps without knowing exactly what cultural forces are at work.

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Hosts Meghna Chakrabarti and Anthony Brooks introduce us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and bring us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3.

WBUR's Sacha Pfeiffer is co-hosting Radio Boston while Meghna Chakrabarti is on maternity leave.

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