The different social yardsticks of American cities

When comparing different cities, I like to bring up this little shortcut in how people in different cities seem to compare each other:

  • In New York City it’s: “How much do you make?”
  • In Boston / Cambridge it’s: “What do you know?”
  • In San Francisco it’s: “What can you make, and how many people think it’s cool?”
  • In DC it’s: “Who / how powerful is your boss?”
  • In LA it’s: “What powerful people / how many people know who you are?”

Those are the ones I have a pretty good idea about, here are others I’m less sure of:

  • Chicago: I have no idea (perhaps: “How well can you make a pierogi?”), please help me with that one!
  • Philadelphia: is tricky – it’s such a chill city that I think people just aren’t likely to care too much about comparing themselves to you
  • Seattle: likewise, although probably there it’s something like: “What awesome backpacking trip did you do last summer?”
  • Houston: some variant of “How classy is your family?” (again not much knowledge there)
  • Portland: perhaps “How organic are the vegetables you are eating and how many hours did it take you to harvest them yourself?”

Now, to be fair I did not come up with the overall idea that there’s a common yardstick that people measure themselves against – that would be the amazing Paul Graham. However I do disagree with his analysis of DC: I may know someone, but if I can’t ask them a favor or I don’t work for them, I gain no status.

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