Category Archives: manners

I’m a New Yorker, and your rules do not apply to me

One thing that you have to say about New Yorkers is that they don’t lack self-confidence. I have never met a phalanx of people that are so certain of their right to existence. Or indeed, so convinced that the city in which they live is the greatest on Earth. Suggest to a New Yorker that you might consider living somewhere else at some point in your life, and you’ll see them snort derisively before surreptitiously adding you to the list that they always carry with them entitled ‘People To Cross The Road Away From When You Spot Them On The Street’. (Newcomers to this site will be interested to know that New Yorkers aren’t legally allowed onto the streets of the city until they have at least 87 names on their personal list.)

There is not a single argument you could use with probably 90% of born-and-raised New Yorkers that will convince them that there could possibly be anywhere else that is more worth living than here. And plenty of the people who have made New York their adopted home would agree, their systems finally conquered by a city which steamrollers all before it.

Of course, one of the problems with such swaggering self-belief is that some New Yorkers can have an occasional tendency to take themselves too seriously. Beware the person who tries to make an (admittedly weak) joke at the expense of New York, or criticises anything from the weather to the transport system. Responses can vary from the blank look that says “I don’t like this, but for your sake I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is the legendary ‘British wit’ we hear so much about” to the thirty minute diatribe about exactly which of your orifices the offended person will use to ensure your opinions never see sunlight again.

The other issue is that there are some New Yorkers who seem to believe that rules or common courtesies do not apply to them, and that they are an optional part of life or merely apply to tourists/foreigners/anyone but them. Whether it’s parking in places they’re not supposed to or, you know, not saying thank you when somebody holds the door open for them, some New Yorkers simply don’t like doing what they’re told to or what’s expected of them.

Take, for instance, my Saturday afternoon. Heading towards Battery Park City, we walked through a walled-off pedestrian path created by a construction company to allow people to pass through their site unheeded. Repeated giant neon orange signs told cyclists that they could NOT ride their bikes through the path, and that they had to DISMOUNT. In the three minutes it took us to walk the length of the path, we must have been passed by at least eight cyclists who were firmly in the saddle. One of whom had the temerity to “beep beep” us out of the way.

Not with a horn or bell, I hasten to add. No no, he just used the words “beep beep”.

As the fifth cyclist went past, I’d had enough, and using my best passive-aggressive posture, pondered aloud to The Youngest about the inability of New Yorkers to read. The Special One rolled her eyes, I remembered that some Americans carry guns, and The Youngest rued the day her mum had ever met that strange man from Britain. 

Meanwhile the cyclist rode off into the sunset. I’d like to think he had a sheepish look on his face, but he’d probably just realiszed that he’d left the iron on when he left the house that morning.

PS If I don’t get a comment from a New Yorker saying “yeah, but why should you have to get off your bike in that situation” I am going to be sorely disappointed.

Rudeness with a smile on its face

I’ve said before that New Yorkers have a reputation for being rude and surly. The idea is not without some small justification. After all, in just 17 months of living here, I’ve been bashed out of the way with an umbrella, been screamed at in a supermarketgrocery store by an old lady, and been given death stares by everyone from ten year old kids to grumpy old waiters.

In reality, most locals are actually no more rude than the residents of any other city. And indeed, many are among the most friendly people you could hope to meet. It’s almost enough to make you forget about the man ranting at staff in the coffee shop for using whole milk instead of skim milk. 

After last night though, I’m wondering if this general air of new-found politeness could actually just be part of an elaborate sham. A plot, if you will, to lull me into thinking that New York is a blissful Disney-style paradise where everybody is kind to each other.

Having walked up the steps from the L train to the N train platform, the scene at the top suggested that Manhattan was under attack and everybody was being evacuated to Bay Ridge. People thronged everywhere as they attempted to get off or on trains coming into the station, and the ten yard walk to the N train that had just pulled into the platform seemed to take forever.

All of this posed a problem for the middle-aged mustachioed man on the far side of the platform. Of course, he desperately wanted to get on the train, but at the same time, he needed to adhere to New York’s nascent “let’s be polite” policy. But the two things were mutually exclusive – honorably edge his way through pedestrian traffic and he’d miss the train.

His solution was breathtaking, and I swear that however long I stay in New York, I will never see this again. First he put his arms in the air and clasped his hands together. An unusual move in rush hour, I think you’ll appreciate, and one that didn’t go unnoticed by fellow travellers. Then swiftly he brought down his still clasped arms/hands at 90 degrees to the rest of his body, taking a pose last seen on the starting blocks for the 50 metresmeters men’s freestyle final at the Olympic swimming pool in Beijing. Having got everybody’s attention, he simply jet propelled himself through the crowd to the door of the train, using his arms to part the Red Sea of people ahead of him.

So far, so rude. Or at least, it would have been had he not been shouting at the top of his voice as he did it, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am trying to get on this train, thank you very much.” He may have skittled all commuters in his path, but at least he did it politely, right?

Sadly for him, the doors weren’t open when he got to the train, and he had to spend a good thirty seconds staring into space and trying to ignore the looks of the astonished fellow passengers that he’d belted out of the way. I’m guessing that the anger they vented in his general direction wasn’t quite so well-mannered…