Help me if you can

I was back in the commuting saddle today, scuttling into the city with the rest of the ants. After a week in the sun, I don’t mind admitting that the experience was particularly painful. Almost as painful as a torturous opening sentence that mixes metaphors containing horses and insects, I’d imagine. I’ll get the hang of this blogging thing soon, I promise.

Heading home after a long day at the office, I was approached by a clearly nervous middle-aged American woman who managed to stutter out that she wanted to ask me a question. Embarrassingly, the New Yorker in me instantly became suspicious, and put my hand in my back pocket to check that she didn’t have an eight year old niece who was about to relieve me of the burdensome weight of my wallet and give it to a friendly Russian money launderer for safe keeping.

As it was, the woman was just a newcomer to the city who wanted to know which platform she had to use to get the L train from 8th Avenue to 3rd Avenue. I’d seen her from a distance as I entered the subway system, and she had clearly spent a short time attempting to make eye contact with someone in a bid to find out the information she needed. As anybody who has spent any length of time in New York will know, making eye contact was officially outlawed in 1961. I’d already watched her approach one young man, but I assume that she had misinterpreted his attempt to get a piece of subway grit out of his eye as a gesture of friendship and solidarity and was forced to come up to me instead.

It’s tragic that some ‘outsiders’ (of which I’m most definitely still one) feel unable to ask their fellow man for directions, for fear that they might get bad-mouthed or – worse still – ignored. And it’s even more tragic that I was suspicious enough of her motives to ponder what fate was going to befall me. New Yorkers may “want to be a part of it”, but that’s one characteristic I could well do without.

You will, however, be pleased to know that I successfully managed to direct her to the correct L train platform. Admittedly there are only two platforms, and all trains from both platforms went to her destination, but it’s the thought that counts.

3 thoughts on “Help me if you can

  1. Cocktails

    Sadly, living in a city can turn you into a horrible, suspicious person (or in my case, an even more horrible, suspicious person).

    I am reminded of being approached by a tourist relatively recently in central London. Before they had even finished saying ‘excuse me, would you…’, I had assumed that they were charity muggers or Scientologists offering to help improve my personality for only a small cost. So it was only after I’d muttered ‘no, thanks’ and made a swift exit, that I registered the look of bafflement on their faces and that they were holding a map, rather than a clipboard. I still feel a bit guilty…

  2. fishwithoutbicycle

    People ask me directions ALL the time. Even when I am on my hols and have no clue where I am. I must look like I know where I am going. Clearly I have been breaking NYC eye contact rules too 🙂

  3. amelie

    I never really thought about how scary New Yorkers must seem with their lack of eye contact until I went to Antwerp. If you want to be given a run for your money as a New Yorker, try being a tourist in this Belgian city and asking for directions… you’ll finally understand why the rest of the world is so scared of us.

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