16/ 02/ 2016
The world is split into two categories of people: those who think New Yorkers are the shit, and those who think we’re the most rude, arrogant people on earth. And I was never more aware of this fact than when I moved to other cities and met people who ALL had opinions about us. Hell, we even have conflicting opinions about ourselves!
I just got home from a fairly long day of work, then meeting up with an old friend (who just got engaged! yay!) during which I may have cussed someone out. But: I don’t do that every day, in fact I rarely do. And I ALSO had friendly conversation with a few strangers, held the elevator for someone, and had someone hold the elevator for me. Conclusion? There are mean New Yorkers. New Yorkers CAN be mean. Are New Yorkers mean by definition? No.
I believe that, in place of tradition and politeness in New York, we have a culture of genuine empathy. There is an unspoken understanding among everyone standing on a crowded subway platform that everyone is unhappy about being squeezed onto the subway. It is assumed that everyone is in a hurry, so you don’t come to blows with everyone who squeezes past you, or brushes against you, though you might roll your eyes. And if you’re going to make someone take time of their day to, say, give you directions, you should apologize and thank them. And lastly, it is an unspoken truth that people should do their jobs competently–in New York, you are incompetent at your peril–but they do NOT get paid enough to call you sweetie and treat you like you’re their best friend. That is a privilege, not a right.
That doesn’t make New Yorkers rude, it makes us pragmatic by necessity. New York is crowded, and it’s an expensive city to live in, with congestion and long commutes. To survive, thrive and be competitive in this city you have to be quick, you have to be sharp, and you have to hustle. There is something to be said for growing up in a place where people are highly competitive in everything, from basketball or handball at the park to dressing up for work, getting a job, or even making friends. We are trained from an early age that nothing is a given, and we have to work for it, or someone else will take it from us. So we stay sharp, and we respect that aggression, cynicism, and quick wit that is so common among here and so rare in most other places–those qualities that other people see as arrogance.
Sometimes, you’ll meet a special exception to all of this, who can manage to be all of the above, and still be extra nice. Just know that there is a 50/50 chance that person wants a tip, or your phone number. (Kidding. Yea, we got jokes, too.)
The truth is, when someone is really struggling, a real New Yorker will probably stop and help them carry a stroller down the stairs, or give an elderly person their seat. Not all of us, but many of us would. Those of us who didn’t stop/get up probably just had a bad week, or came from a country even more crowded and cutthroat than the 7 train.
Not to mention, there are MANY people in this city who came from somewhere “nice,” and who’ve interpreted the relative anonymity of New York as license to be hardened assholes. These people go around the world giving us a bad name, telling people that New York “made” them that way. They are sorely mistaken. This essay by a self-proclaimed New Yorker is a case in point–she says being a New Yorker makes it ok to be mean to her barista at Starbucks and to airport security guards, but in reality she is just a horrible, rude person who thinks she can get away with showing her true colors because she’s in New York. Most of us know what it’s like to serve people like her–kids who spent weekends in mid-town marveling at the concrete and what they THINK the city is all about: pushiness and uncompromising aggression. And we would never wish that type of treatment unto others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen New Yorkers stand up for each other against rude assholes like that. We may not smile at you, but we have principles after all.
Like in the rest of the world, there are people in New York who are inconsiderate, incompetent, and rude. Most are just trying to get through their day, so stop complaining that other people are inconsiderate of YOUR feelings and start thinking about how you are sharing their space and they have more important things to worry about than a complete stranger.