I Love New York. Except For This One Guy …

A friend of mine posted this HuffPo article (“New Yorkers Aren’t Rude. You Are.”) on Facebook a few weeks ago, and a conversation sprang up among several of us who have had nothing but wonderful experiences in New York.
Fifth Avenue Snow
(Shared from Flickr, photo by Michael Elliott.)

It’s true! I am not a city sophisticate by any stretch of the imagination. (Although I hasten to add I grew up near San Francisco and spent a lot of time there in my youth; now I live very near Nashville and am in and out of town regularly. Even downtown.) Still, I know I’m out of my element in New York, which is a very big city. Yet the first time I went there (very early ’90s, stayed in Midtown), sort of expecting rude, I had a marvelous experience. For real. This formed my attitude about New York City, and I was anxious to go again. (And did.)

Since then, I’ve visited other large cities—Chicago, Dublin, and Paris, most notably—and also had wonderful experiences. So I was primed to agree with this article … until I read it. Sure, it’s crowded, and sure, tourists do stupid things (like stopping dead in the middle of the sidewalk, rather than moving to the side, as they would if they were driving). The writer of this article says,

For some reason, a huge number of tourists to New York seem to totally forget that when you are a guest somewhere, it behooves YOU to learn the unwritten rules of conduct so that you will not upset the delicate social balance of the place you are visiting. Because New York relies so much on foot traffic, these people often utterly disrupt the flow in the subway or on the street, and then complain that New Yorkers are “rude” when we do not accommodate their interference with our lives. …

And yet, every day I see tourists and just general social malefactors who stop in the middle of sidewalks, who hold up entire subway trains because they try to force the doors open, who block a stairwell or who try to get on a subway car before they let anyone else off.

This is a sense of entitlement that the pace of this city cannot abide. …

Your trip to the bank or to the American Museum of Natural History is not something that should interfere with the professional lives of 1,000 people. So when you hold that subway car, and people curse at you, or when you prevent them from getting off the train and they barrel right into you, there’s a simple lesson: this is your fault ….

Wait—what? When I’m in an elevator and the door opens at my floor and someone jumps into the car before I can exit, I just put my hand across the door to hold it open and then get off. Not everyone was raised the same way. Not everyone is as aware as we might want them to be. And this is not, for God’s sake, a matter of life and death. I’m also not convinced New Yorkers are the delicate hothouse flowers the author would have us think. Sometimes they are just impatient (as we all can be). Sometimes they are … rude.

I learned this in a very personal way. It was about this time of year (January, cold, snow on the ground) about fifteen years ago that I visited New York City for only the second time in my life. Gerry and I were using the subway, and I was apparently walking on the wrong side of a set of stairs going down, and I didn’t know there’s a rule, according to this man, about which side of the stairwell to use.

It was not crowded, not at all. In this particular section of the stairwell, there were three of us, maybe four. The man was coming up the stairs on the same path as I was going down—the left—and when he got to me, he refused to move, even though he was tall and thin and fit and much younger, and didn’t need to hold on to the rail at all.

This man didn’t know, of course, that I am physically weak on my left side and need to hold on to the handrail with my left hand. I always gravitate to the left of the stairs, whether I am going up or down.

So there we were, both stopped, him on the stair below me, glaring at me. And all he wanted to do was teach me a lesson.

“Excuse me,” I said.

“You’re on the wrong side,” he said. Gerry had already moved over for him, but stairs have always been problematic for me. I didn’t want to let go.

And he didn’t budge. So I told him I was a middle-aged lady who needed help and that he was an asshole. Which he was. I had to walk around him. He strutted off, very proud of himself for holding the line for true New Yorkers.

That’s the only negative experience I’ve ever had in New York, but it was a doozie. I’ll never forget it.

Here’s the thing. I did read this whole article (more than once), and I do get it. However, the unwritten rules the author speaks of are concepts the tourist has no way of knowing without a significant amount of time spent in the city. That’s why the residents know them and the nonresidents don’t know them. Dublin City has a lot of people in high-powered jobs too (honestly, the writer gets no sympathy from me on that point; everyone’s time and lives are important) and I have many times, I know, been in the way, much more so than I ever was in NY, and yet I have never had a Dubliner accost me and tell me off.

I agree the writer of this article has a point—and I realize this sounds like I am taking the position that New Yorkers are rude when in fact Gerry and I went on to have a fabulous time on that trip, with wonderful interactions with locals on the subway, on the sidewalk, in restaurants, our hotel—but he’s not making it in a way that makes me sympathetic. I just don’t think you can justify rude. My mother used to say there was no substitute for good manners and no excuse for bad ones.

Still true.



2 thoughts on “I Love New York. Except For This One Guy …

  1. wow, I adore New York. It’s like my happy place. I love every TV series based there, every film with a glimpse of it, every street I have walked down, every shop I have been in and every person I have met. I would quite possibly gnaw my left arm off if it got me an apartment there I could wile my days away writing in. Am I wearing rose tinted spectacles? Sure, maybe. Do I care? No. It’s my own personal obsession.

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