Boston: The Perfect City with the Perfect People?
I hadn’t been to the U.S. since I was 10 with my parents. So what I knew, I knew from friends, social media and magazines.
Looking back, I always thought countries with a longer history and deeper “culture” were much more interesting and enriching. While maybe the U.S. became the refuge of many in the Middle East, the hub of education for the privileged and the hip place for LA lovers and New Yorkers, I was yet to discover what that big world out there meant to me.
My main destination was the East Coast – Boston, based in Cambridge, commuting to the prestigious school of MIT Sloan and in for a ride.
Unlike many stories I’d heard, when I got to the passport check, the only thing I was told was to “Have fun”. Compared to the French border earlier where the woman checking my passport asked her colleague “C’est quoi cette merde?” and the Portuguese airport where at Check-In my passport incited quite a few exclamation marks, America seemed to be welcoming me with open arms.
The roads were wide, with a smooth accurate asphalt surface; crisp clean and jet-black, it seemed so unreal. There were no cigarette butts to be seen anywhere and the air just felt different. I suddenly realized there was much more to the American world, especially where I landed.
I walked around the streets that night, appreciating cocktail drinks, shrieking at the prices on menus that seemed quite close to what I last experienced in London and enjoying the diversity of the environment.
Whether a student at Harvard, fit legs running in the morning or healthy people jogging with their babies in strollers and elderly locals cycling, the Bostonians on the surface can seemingly be summed up in just one word: “Perfect”.
You can smell competition in the air, the pace is also a little laid back compared to New York (will share my experience there soon) but every bit as challenging and “badass”.
I finally met a few Egyptians there (by then I’d missed Arabic so much and noticed how I was starting to miss a few words), some went to the top Ivy League business school and others went to a prominent music school – the difference was noticeable to say the least.
Those who could hear the music warned me of the perfectionist nature of their city, while most of my conversations among the business students in those gatherings wouldn’t last more than three minutes. A rule, apparently, in their world of networking.
The city had a beautiful contrast between its modern architecture and its more traditional older buildings with red bricks, which gave them a bit of an old English feel. Everywhere you turn you would see the name of a big institution, consulting group or pharmaceutical company. It was a city of conglomerates.
Greens and the River Bank
Vast parks and sailing clubs and a river all added to the posh image of Cambridge. The river, though, was the start of my curiosity about what lies beneath all that glitter. The water smelled like several dead fish would be floating by the shore and its color was a muddy green. Not what you would expect to see there.
From Cairo to Lisbon and from Lisbon to Boston, this was yet by far the greatest culture shock.
Perfect schools, perfect kids, perfect buildings, but was this lifestyle sustainable? Even yet, was it affordable?
The prices of apartments were shocking! Students were resorting to living in Cambridge in student housing but most people there couldn’t afford living in the city center and resorted to small apartments over 45 minutes away with no AC. Suddenly that quality of life didn’t seem quite attainable or real for many.
“I’m from Boston. I know my tattoos and piercings might suggest otherwise but they are probably the outcome of this place”
That was quite a dark remark I got from a bar tender as I was getting the last drink of the night.
And that’s when you notice the special touches of rebellion from most service staff everywhere around the city from fashion retail shops to restaurants and bars. Their looks seem to be a cry out of trying to be anything but complacent to the place.
Yet here I am, after a month of staying in Cambridge, you get addicted and I can tell I am taking the withdrawal symptoms very well.
WE SAID THIS: Also check out “Arabs in Paris“