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Boston Etiquette

Answers to tough Boston etiquette questions.

Q. I've never been to Boston. Hell, I've never been anywhere. I've heard it said that a man has to wear a sport coat if he is to go out even to hoist a few - in Boston.

Any truth to this? I once had a t-shirt printed up like a tux - that's as close as a native Californian gets to dressed up.

Shoes I can understand - what with snow and the like, but a sport coat???

-- Al

A. Mr. Boston is tempted to tell you to just stay home in California - people who don't know when to wear a jacket (and accompanying tie) really shouldn't venture forth and risk offending the rest of us. But, truth be told, Mr. Boston is tired of people asking him if it's true that New Englanders and Bostonians are really just a bunch of stuck-up know-it-alls who exist only to look down their noses at the less fortunate. And Mr. Boston is really tired of those angry letters from the local tourism board accusing him of scaring off the visitors.

So never mind what you may have heard about New Englanders and Bostonians. Yes, it is indeed true that Boston is generally more of a formal place than, say, Santa Monica. Why, even in Harvard Square, that most relaxed of Boston-area scenes, men have been known to walk around in public with ties on! And even on Saturdays, when they don't have any excuse like an urgent meeting with the president of France.

But standards are not what they once were - the old rule about never drinking before 3 p.m. or east of Park Street has been relaxed considerably. Today, the number of establishments that absolutely require a jacket and tie (such as the dining rooms at the Ritz Carlton) has shrunk considerably. It is quite possible to get a drink in even some of the finer drinking establishments with only an Oxford shirt and a pair of slacks on. And in the summertime, down by Quincy Market, it is even possible for a man to get a drink while wearning nothing more than sandals, Bermuda shorts and a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt! Still, when in doubt, call ahead. But for heaven's sakes, leave that faux-tux T-shirt at home!

Q. Who has the right of way in a rotary?

-- N.R.

A. Ah, for the good old days! Mr. Boston spends a lot of time sighing like that, it seems. Once, the rules of the rotary were simple: Whoever had the least to lose had the right of way. Mr. Boston used to love outdueling nice shiny new Cadillacs and Lexuses in his old beater of an '81 Omni with the crushed-in hood and liberal amounts of rust. No way would Mr. $30,000 Behemothmobile dare a chrome-bender! Zip, zip, zip went Mr. Boston as he raced around the rotary.

But all that was before sport utility vehicles. The people who drive these things are nuts. They think they can ignore the rules of physics in the snow and they show no fear in rotaries, comforted, no doubt, by those recent studies that show that in a collision between an SUV and a normal vehicle, the SUV will crush the regular auto like a bug against a windshield. So Mr. Boston is forced to fall back on the Second Law of Rotaries:

In a big rotary, like the ones that make up the West Roxbury Parkway, whoever's already in the rotary has the right of way. In a little rotary, like the ones along Fresh Pond Parkway, whoever's not in the rotary has the right of way.

Please note that these are empirical rules, not legal ones (legally, the person in the rotary ALWAYS has the right of way). For some reason, the above is just the way it works, i.e., when Mr. Boston is on the West Roxbury Parkway, he notices that people entering the rotary usually stop for oncoming traffic; but when driving along Fresh Pond Parkway, people already in the rotary usually stop for incoming traffic.

Q. I've always found it kind of odd when we go out for Chinese food and the first thing the waiter brings is a plate of French rolls? What do you do with them?

-- K. F., Sudbury

A. Why to sop up all the sauce when all the meat is gone, of course!

Have a tough Boston etiquette question? Try to stump Mr. Boston in the Wicked Good Conference.

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