Helluva Town! Why Do People Think It’s Ok to Put Down New York?

Last September my better half and I were visiting Seattle. We were staying at a friendly B&B on Capital Hill where breakfast was served at a big table and all the guests could chat. One morning there was a couple across from us. She was from Sydney. He was a hometown boy, Seattle born and raised, who’d met her on a trip down under. Naturally they asked where we were from.

“New York,” said my better half.

“New York City?” Seattle replied.

We nodded.

“Come here for better life?” he asked without blinking.

Granted, Seattleites are known for a kind of  whacky boosterism completely out of proportion to their town’s place in the universe, but still. What’s up? This was not the first, or last time we heard someone casually put down our home. Why do people feel it’s perfectly ok to disrespect New York even when talking to New Yorkers? . I’ve traveled to some pretty awful places, but I’ve never said to a native, “Wow. It must suck being from here.”

Maybe it’s a popular culture thing.  Even people under fifty are somehow channeling the ghost of Kitty Genovese and the memory of the ungovernable years, but there’s something bizarre about otherwise polite folks from places that pride themselves on “friendliness” saying vile things about a city, things they’d never say about a race, or a nationality — at least not in public and to a person of that race or nationality.

Most of the gibes are complaints about crime and dirt, and of course our legendary rudeness.

New York is cleaner than many US cities, even smaller ones. It may not be Singapore but most people pick up after their dogs. It’s one of the safest urban areas in the world. It has by far the best mass transit in the US, not to mention museums, restaurants and ethnic neighborhoods that make you feel like a world traveler for the price of a metro-card.

There’s an incredible amount of parkland as well. Not just the massive Central Park but old growth forest in Inwood — Manhattan’s northern tip. You can see ospreys nesting in Jamaica Bay. My local dog walk involves a stop at the duck pond, and if we’re very lucky a sighting of the wild turkey of Morningside Park.

Mostly I love my city because there are still are neighborhoods here, distinct enclaves, filled with distinct types, and  despite the encroachment of Starbucks and the like,  independent coffee shops and even bookstores continue to exist. Unlike most small towns in America, you can go to the neighborhood hardware store and ask the owner for what you need instead of driving to Ye Ol” Mega Superstore twenty miles away.

The people, despite their reputation, are friendly and talkative. Always have been, even before 9/11. Conversation breaks out on buses and movie lines. When a tourist takes out a map, a crowd gathers to debate the best directions and where to go. Eccentricity is not just accepted, it’s expected.  We’re not rude to strangers, even those who describe “ground zero” as a must see destination and don’t realize it’s an open wound in our collective heart.

So if you’ve never been, please stop by, but leave the attitude home.

7 thoughts on “Helluva Town! Why Do People Think It’s Ok to Put Down New York?

  1. I’m the better half. Yeah it is true, we New Yorkers don’t get respect from a lot of people. I have actually had people tell me, “Gosh you’re so polite, not like a New Yorker at all,” like I am supposed to take that as a compliment – and I am thinking, how is that not like going up to a black person and saying, “Gee Jamahl, you’re so, you’re so articulate!”

    I am not saying everyone has to love New York, even I as I age, long for more rural quiet places, but I mean, as my wife points out, neither she nor I would have the chutzpah, upon first meeting someone from “insert god-forsaken hellhole” say, “boy what a shithole you’re country is,” yet people have no compunction about doing that to our fair city.

  2. Bonjour, Marion.

    1. Impressions of NYC are still widely the result of Hollywood and television. Law & Order and CSI New York aren’t exactly making it look like a friendly place.

    2. The “friendliness” scale is relative to where you grow up. What passes for good manners in New York is downright rude compared with Deep South hospitality.

    3. Some New Yorkers pride themselves on being brusque. When someone remarks that they don’t find the behavior friendly, they’re told “I’m from New York, that’s how we are.”

    4. I don’t find NYC’s public transit system any more convenient than those of DC, the Bay area, and Boston. (And those are, by and large, cleaner.) It beats out smaller cities, but most major metropolitan areas have good transit these days.

    5. There’s an offhanded arrogance some people from major cities have that puts people off. Be it New York, London, Paris, etc. It’s this attitude where they expect some kind of recognition just because they happen to live in a particular geographic location.

    Where I live gets slammed a lot. I hear it all. How arrogant we are, how dirty the place is, from people that have never even been here. I don’t care. They don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re just repeating what the TV and internet told them.

    1. I’d dispute your points 2 and 4 (though I take the 5th on 3). New Yorker’s may lack Southern hospitality, but sometimes I’ve found that kind of hospitality is a social ritual. I’ve seen NYer’s really go out of their way, even for strangers. As for mass transit, the NY subway goes 24/7 unlike systems just about everywhere else in the US.

  3. “As for mass transit, the NY subway goes 24/7 unlike systems just about everywhere else in the US.”

    Which accounts for the service closures and the delays.

    RE: Point 2
    Dispute away, but expectations for what constitutes “good” manners are cultural. You see southern hospitality as a meaningless ritual, southerners see it as good manners. You see shouting, “Hey geddoutta the way!” at someone instead of running them over as good manners, somebody else sees it as rude.

  4. I can’t get into the specifics of NYC, however I can comment as an Aussie that has the pleasure of visiting the States often and in widely spread areas.

    New Yorkers treated us just beautifully, amidst much laughter and good natured ribbing about our accents…we were not only directed to different points of interest on two occasions our delightful helpers went with us to be sure we headed in the right direction. We made friends, laughed a great deal, and had a marvelous time…including seeing Streisand at the Garden.

    I have no hesitation recommending NYC to any of my friends heading Stateside. The normal precautions that need to be taken anywhere anytime are of course followed. That is just common sense. I love NY.

  5. RE: Point 2
    Dispute away, but expectations for what constitutes “good” manners are cultural. You see southern hospitality as a meaningless ritual, southerners see it as good manners.

    Having been to the South often, I actually have to say that the Southern Hospitality thing is both overblown and superficial – i.e. it seems often phony and not terribly genuine. Yet the assumption in most parts of the US that pride themselves on friendliness is that their “friendliness” standards are what *everyone else* should aspire to. People in some parts of Europe are reserved. That is how it is. People in some parts of the world will ask questions that we here in the US consider incredibly intimate and personal – that ishow it is.

    1. Couldn’t agree with you more Cheech, ‘overblown and superficial’, ‘phony and not terribly genuine’ hit the nail on the head.

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