Perfecting the Bostonian Stink Eye

There’s nothing quite like a Monday morning. Determined to press forward with a good attitude, despite limited sleep and still longing for the comfort that is my pillow, I decide I will conquer the Monday morning blues. And then, I step off the subway and I am greeted by none other than the high heels and designer knockoff suit worn by someone adept at doling out the Boston Stink Eye!

Tour books of the Boston area are generally missing an important section – that of explaining the Boston stink eye. While old buildings, history, beautiful parks, and glimpses of Betsy Ross are part of the Boston experience, it will be the odd visitor that doesn’t also experience what I call the stink eye. To be sure, other places may have this, but they certainly haven’t perfected it the way the Bostonian has.

To explain the stink eye, I would love a video clip. There is, in fact, an online dictionary entry (not limiting the eye to Boston) that describes it this way: “a facial expression of disgust, disdain, or disapproval” but I’d like to expand on that limited definition.  It’s a particular look and it comes in two ways. One is when the eyes of someone are staring right at you, but through you, as though you don’t exist. You are, in a moment, reduced to an ant that can be squished. The second is more obvious – the eyes begin at your feet and slowly travel up your body with disdain, stopping to make eye contact, curl the lips and go back down the body again. It is not pretty. While both types hurt, the latter has the ability to fluster more and sometimes reduces the recipient to tears.

For a long time I thought it was me. That somehow I had that peculiar ability to bring out mockery or disdain. I questioned what I was doing wrong and wondered how I could keep up with the unspoken rules of Boston. And then I realized something big. It isn’t me! It’s part of Boston. Along with the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, New England Clam Chowder, coastal beauty, Paul Revere, the North End, and the State House – it’s as much a part of Boston as those more lovely and picturesque things.

So what to do with the stink eye? Passers through can cope because their focus is on other things, but for those of us that move here and, like damn Yankees, stay, it is a more difficult dilemma. The old saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans” or “If you can’t beat them, join them”  and there you have it. I have learned with the best of them and I now know how to give a good old self-esteem reducing Boston stink eye.  Scary, isn’t it? I never thought I would stoop to this, but it’s survival of the fittest and fit I have become.

The good news about all this is that I never, ever use this on tourists and visitors. I reserve it for the Bostonian. The more Bostonian they seem, the better my stink-eye. Critics may condemn, but only until they have experienced this for themselves. After that we’ll talk.

22 thoughts on “Perfecting the Bostonian Stink Eye

  1. At least they’re looking at you. I think I’ve made eye contact on Vassar Street maybe a half dozen times in the three years I’ve worked here!


  2. This made me laugh simply because I cant imagine you giving anyone the stink eye as you call it. I have experienced it in by sales people, in well a certain country…. its aimed more at my nationality than anything else, like and you think you can afford this… which has upset me, made me grind my teeth even and yes giving it back has a certain satisfaction of its own.
    That is what I love here, even when you go into an expensive store and you are obviously not buying they are so gracious about it. But today on the bus I did have an experience, there was a lady sitting opposite me and I smiled at her she gave me the weirdest look. like I had offended her for some reason. My daughter goes like mum stop smiling at people especially if they have children, really that is very sad if people are suspicious because you smile at them then it is a sad world indeed.


    1. this made me laugh so hard!! I love the “mum, stop smiling at people…” and my kids say “Mum stop smiling and dad stop talking (he will talk to a wall!)” Just the other day at L’occitane I got the “yeah, right…like you’re going to buy” look!


  3. Your entry made me juggle. Even though it appears quite depressing to have to endure the Bostonians. Generally folks lack self-esteem when they feel the need to belittle others. Does it mean Bostonians lack self-esteem or do they confuse self-esteem with utter rudeness?


  4. I’ve seen that that stare! I lived in Boston for 3 years and for a while it disconcerted me. My was of dealing was to develop my own stare as a reply. I call it the “omg you have 3 heads” look.


      1. Yes I did! There are wonderful, friendly people in these parts and it was good to see it through your eyes!


  5. When in Rome….ah, but the Romans do! They can give the nastiest of stink eyes to ignorant tourists. Oh, and how about the sales persons in high end stores when you browse the clearance racks with five small kids in tow? Actually, any service person when you show up with five small kids – hotel staff, restaurant servers, etc. Your description is spot on, Marilyn. And, yes. I`ve perfected a rather nasty stink eye to return the favor! (Ask my kids. This Mama`s stink-eye is legendary!) Love the post, as always!


    1. Oooohhhhh! never been to Rome and love that “Mama’s stink eye is legendary!” Wait till it’s a “Grandma’s stink eye is legendary”. Loved reading some of your posts on Rome but a favorite recent one was your “stoned Saturday!”


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