While I’m in New York, I suppose I fall into that weird world somewhere between being a foreign outsider and a local. After all, I’m marrying a US citizen, and over the last thirteen years I’ve spent more time in New York than any other city in the world other than London.
With that in mind, maybe New York’s new marketing campaign designed to make tourists and foreigners feel more welcome in the city isn’t really aimed at me? I’ve always found people from this city to be among the nicest and most helpful people I’ve ever met, but tourist bosses reckon that there’s a perception that New Yorkers are too busy or rude to help out a visitor who’s struggling or lost. And with a decline in visitor numbers to the US hitting the city’s bottom line hard, they’re determined to do something about it.
As such, they’ve come up with an advertising campaign with the strap line “Just Ask The Locals”, featuring celebrity residents including Robert de Niro and Julianne Moore giving their insider’s guide to the city. Admittedly the vast majority of the adverts appear inside the ‘international’ terminal at JFK, but tourists and locals alike will also be able to see video ads in the city’s cabs (if they get fitted with a GPS system, that is) and at various bus shelters.
The idea is that locals should feel free to idly wander up to strangers and give them some tips on those hidden Big Apple gems, such as Pete’s Tavern (recommended by comedian Jimmy Fallon), the Frick Museum (artist Chuck Close) and the Mediterraneo Restaurant (former New York Giants star Tiki Barber).
Launching the campaign, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said:
“Giving out that kind of advice is something that’s going to come naturally to us. New Yorkers have never been shy or reticent to tell people what they think.”
A couple of things spring to mind, other than Bloomberg’s implicit suggestion that people from New York are rude enough to shove their opinion down other people’s throats regardless of whether they want it or not.
Firstly, while it’s impressive to have de Niro and Moore on board, the rest of the celebrities will barely be recognised on the streets of New York, let alone by foreign tourists from Japan or Germany. Jimmy Fallon’s bid to break out of Saturday Night Live hasn’t exactly rivalled Dan Ackroyd or Mike Myers. Similarly Tiki Barber may be the New York Giants’ all-time rushing and reception leader, but if he hasn’t appeared alongside Jimmy Parrott on A Question of Sport, don’t expect any Brits to recognise him. Maybe getting celebrities that visitors have actually heard of would have been the way forward?
As for Chuck Close, he doesn’t even live in the city, but instead prefers to hide out a good couple of hours away in Bridgehampton. It’s like asking me to dole out advice to tourists on which restaurants to visit in Basingstoke*.
But clearly there’s one easy way to make tourists feel that they’re welcome in this city, and indeed the United States as a whole – do something about those immigration officers. They’re generally the first person that tourists meet once they step foot on American soil, and yet they manage to combine all the charm of a serial killer with the zealous administrative intransigence of a recently-jilted Inland Revenue employee. Hardly the kind of welcome that has you wanting to don a ten-gallon Stetson and perform a quick do-si-do to the ‘Star Spangled Banner’.
Obviously these good men and women have to do their jobs, and make sure that they don’t let any old riff-raff into the country. But is it really too much to ask for a smile?
* Try Galletto’s on London Street – their seafood tagliatelle is to die for…