that's a good choice about who to judge a university by.
fyi, there isn't necessarily a forced grading curve. many upper-level courses I took didn't have curves, but then it was still really important to do well on each assignment.
I think regardless of how grades are assigned, though, people are taking challenging courses and care about doing well. that's why people are task oriented. I found that to be a good thing, personally, because I think hard workers make better classmates, especially in things like labs or group projects. it's just nice to be around motivated people.
one thing to remember is that people to not live and eat on the engineering quad. people live at their dorm or apartment and eat at dining halls and restaurants. outside of academic settings you can find plenty of people chilling out and not focusing on their work at every moment. even if people claim they are constantly working it's obvious that they're having down time as well. usually if I bother to go to the library or an academic building, I will be in "nose-to-the-grindstone" mode because that's the time when it's appropriate.