Tag Archives: stereotypes

Once, twice, three times a New Yorker

New York and its population come with a certain reputation for fieriness. To be fair, some of that is deserved. Hell, I even perpetuate it myself, telling tales of being whacked in the arm by an old man and his umbrella, or being pursued around a supermarketgrocery store by a woman with rage management issues. But like the dog that’s had its teeth removed and replaced with foam molars, New York’s bark is much worse than its bite.

The problem is that it’s not as good a story to say that the people of New York are essentially fine upstanding citizens who love their mothers and do a lot of great work for charity. It’s so much easier to stick with the notion that all New Yorkers are impatient and crazy, and more-than-capable of dropkicking a cat more than 60 metresmeters at the end of a particularly bad day.

Thankfully, every so often (generally just when you think you’re at the end of your tether) New York musters all its strength to give you a demonstration of why it’s actually not that bad after all (and why you shouldn’t allow yourself to be affected by the stereotypes). And the last couple of days have given me some great examples to reassure me of New York’s loving intent.

1. The car crash victim
Walking to the opticians on Friday, the idyll of a bracing stroll through the streets of Chelsea was broken by the sickening crunch of metal on metal. Looking up, I watched as two cars pulled into the side street to survey the damage caused by an accidental low-speed crash. This being New York, I readied myself for screaming and shouting as the ‘wronged man’ stepped out of his car to survey the damage. With swearing expected at the minimum, and full on flying fists as a distinct possibility, surrounding pedestrians waited for the theatreer to begin.

Instead the driver looked at the minor dent on the bumper of his car, smiled understandingly at the quivering wreck of a man sitting in the car behind, and waved him on his way. New York was robbed of another drama, and Friday evening went on undisturbed.

2. The chorus line
A couple of blocks down the road, I looked up to see a crazy young(ish) woman around fifty meters away, walking towards me ranting at the top of her voice. Here we go again, I thought – I’m about to be verbally abused by a mad woman who hasn’t been seen in the same postcodezipcode as ‘sanity’ since 1987. Denied the opportunity to cross the road by fast-moving oncoming traffic, I readied myself to put my head down and hope for the best.

Then two small children skipped out from behind the woman, and I quickly realised that, far from being crazy, the three of them were actually giving a full on walking Broadway version of one of the songs from Annie. It was like seeing a female Von Trapp trio traipsing through the cold city streets, content in each other’s company and happy to fend off the cold without a care for what anyone else thought. Damn them for their cheeriness, I thought, before quickly self-flagellating myself for my grumpy New York attitude.

3. The patisserie lady
Last night I went into a high-end grocery store to pick up a dessert for a dinner party we’d been invited to. The queueline snaked past the patisserie counter, making it difficult to tell a pecan pie from an apple tart given the vast array of coats, scarves and bags obscuring the view. My plaintive mumblings of ‘excuse me’ were ignored by every single member of the line, with each one clearly fearful that I was using my desire to buy pastry-based products as some sneaky way of cutting infront of them.

Just as I was giving up hope, a lovely looking old lady looked at me, and backed away to allow me room to see what delights were on offer. She seemed to smile as she did so, a knowing glance between us regarding the sad state of affairs that is modern manners these days. As I started to look into the cabinet, I took a second to remember that New York is all too willing to show you its softer side, if you just give it a chance.

Then the crotchety old bag stuck her head right in my face and shouted at me to back off and not push infront of her, before ranting mercilessly about the ‘youth of today’.

Ah New York, it never lets you down.

Expect the unexpected

Like Drew Barrymore and her endless ability to score the lead roles in sappy rom-coms, A Brit Out Of Water would be nothing without a stereotype. Don’t get me wrong, I like to tell it as I see it, but sometimes you just have to fall back on good old-fashioned exaggeration to get your point across. I am, after all, a man.

For instance, where would all the fun be if I didn’t characterise the British as ever-so-slightly repressed stuck-in-the-muds with a predilection towards moral superiority and a penchant for inbreeding. And if I didn’t insist that that the sun never shines and that black pudding is compulsory by law on Tuesdays and Fridays, you’d probably not even believe that I was British in the first place.

Meanwhile all Americans have cameras with lenses longer than their arms, eat sandwiches filled with enough meat to feed a small army, and have a commitment to pronunciation that can at best be described as ‘perfunctory’. Obviously, most New Yorkers are brash, rude, and wouldn’t know the phrase ‘thank you’ if it came up to them and whacked them in the head with a bag full of bagels.

If stereotypes were to be believed, of course, the French are garlic eating surrender monkeys whose all-encompassing arrogance makes them the most self-involved nation outside, well, Britain. Certainly, legend would have it (and occasional experience has confirmed) that as a general rule they’re not particularly patient when it comes to dealing with foreigners who get in their way. So when The Special One had a small vehicular malfunction on our holidayvacation on a narrow and hilly road last week, and the traffic built up around us, I expected the honking horns to rise to a rousing crescendo within a matter of moments.

Not a bit of it. Everybody got out of their cars and gathered around us, offering advice and comfort as we sought to get a car with the power of a small lawnmower over the brow of a particularly steep hill. There was practically wild applause as we finally got going, the locals waving us on our way as they joyfully returned to their cars. Stereotypes count for nothing in this beautiful part of the world, I can tell you.

Unless you’re talking about back seat drivers, that is. Fourteen years without having sat behind the wheel, and I still managed to offer a barrage of misplaced advice and unhelpful tips. I’m just grateful that The Special One didn’t have a bag of bagels with her…