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.
“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.