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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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  • Guest

    There are thousands of MA (economic immigrants) transplants to CA (North or South) each year.  Biggest differences?

    In MA your reputation ‘sticks’ to you (as do those of your family members, going back generations) so you exercise care about it.

    One need have no such concern in CA. Reinvent yourself frequently.  Sounds good until one realizes it means people can take advantage of others in any 1 city (or industry or social stratum or other niche) and just start over the next day in another. People will take your word as to who you are. Constant mobility means hard to track ‘phoney’ types back to their recent past unless one really make an effort (background checks).

    On the other hand, while things change s-l-o-w-l-y in MA, everything is ALWAYS changing in CA. Go on vacation for a few weeks, come back. There will be (one or all) a new building in your neighborhood, a new trend in the community, a new company in your field of expertise, , a new relationship among your circle of friends. The fast moving merry-go-round of change is alternately exhilarating and wearing. Until you retire to Grass Valley (or other suitable slow lane). 

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