New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down
Today marks the seventh anniversary of my move to New York.
Over those seven years, I’ve become an entirely different person, while also staying very much the same. If I had to ponder it, I would say that I’ve grown and matured much in the way one would have expected me to do.
I’m smarter now, more worldly, more experienced. I’m a little fatter, and much more heavily tattooed. But I’m still fundamentally the same person I was when I moved here.
I had a friend who was born in NYC tell me that you needed to live here a decade before you were really a New Yorker, and I used that as my guiding beacon for a while. I don’t know how accurate it is, and part of that is defining what being a New Yorker is all about.
For example, I came here to go to school, but dropped out. I’ve been paying my own rent from the first day I came; I never lived in a dorm, instead sharing a studio on the Upper East Side with my then-fiance. I don’t have the college experience that a lot of my friends do. Does that make my “New Yorker-ness” more authentic, or less? I didn’t have the relative safety net of not having to pay rent, but they learned and experienced the city in a way that I think is probably more important than my version.
It’s hard to tell sometimes.
According to an unscientific count off the top of my head, about 80% to 90% of the people I know are not “from” NYC, at least not in the sense of having been born and raised here. I’m sure that percentage can’t possibly hold up over the entire population; there just aren’t that many expatriate New Yorkers. Still, I’d be willing to bet that the only other American city with as many migrant newcomers is Los Angeles.
When you think about it the way I do, it stands to reason that so many people here would be outsiders. Many of the people I know went to college here. Most of them are young (well, mid-20s or so), urbane, hip, from suburbs or smaller cities, frequently Midwestern. We all have two things in common. One, we thought we could make it here, and we were right. Two, and more importantly, we are all dreamers. New York seems like a good place to go when you want to fulfill your dreams.
So, all of these people, some of them here since they got out of high school. Office workers, artists, teachers, actors, writers, waiters, whatever. We all decided to stay. Even if we are not, by my native friend’s estimation, technically New Yorkers yet, we are certainly part of the fabric of this city. We are part of New York.
(The important part, he says pridefully.)
There is a common perception that New Yorkers are rude. I have never really noticed that as an epidemic problem; there is a certain number among any population that will be predisposed to rudeness, or alternately self-absorbed to a point where they come across as rude. It stands to reason that when you put more people, living more densely, you will encounter the rudeness at a relatively higher rate.
Even with that in mind, though… The born-and-raised New Yorkers I count among my friends are the least rude people I know. They may not exactly be patient with idiocy or ignorance, won’t suffer fools well, but that’s hardly rudeness, just practicality. They are gracious, they are friendly, they have always been willing to help when their friends were at their most down. These aren’t the rude New Yorkers I heard about.
So what about the transplants? All these Midwesterners, from the flyover country, known and occasionally mocked for their unfailing politeness, are they the rude people? Not even. We may have picked up an edge of cynicism from living in the city. We may (I may) (I DO) fucking hate when a group of people walk slowly down the sidewalk, taking up all available space. But we’re still going to smile at people occasionally, even if it garners unwanted attention. We’re still holding doors open. We still wait our turn when getting on and off the subway. We’re not rude.
So who is it, then?
A representative anecdote: your average beautiful New York City office girl, heading from the subway to her job near Herald Square, says “Excuse me” to a person stopped on the sidewalk, staring up at the Empire State Building, and steps around him. Oblivious, he steps back, bumps into her.
“Excuse me, bitch!” he spits.
“I said ‘excuse me.’ You bumped into me.”
The office girl affixes him with an icy stare, the one that beautiful women are granted when they are first left to fend for themselves in this city.
“You’re not from here, are you?”
Taken aback, the exposed tourist steps aside.
Will he likely tell that story as one of a rude New Yorker? Absolutely. He will perpetuate the stereotype to his friends, and it will become canonized. The cycle continues. Yet it’s hard to see how he was not the perpetrator of the rudeness.
And so it goes. Most tourists, the ones talking about how rude New Yorkers are, spend their time in the gaudiest, least “New York” areas of the city. In these places, they are largely surrounded by others like them; the actual New Yorkers with whom they interact are generally going to be extremely harried service people at this restaurant or that store.
The people on the street, the ones being rude, making them think New Yorkers are rude?
I may not have been here for a decade, but I’m New Yorker enough to scoff at that.
If I make it three more years I won’t even have to qualify it.