Opinion: The Truth About "Rude" New York - Discovery NYC Week


You’ve heard it all before. As much as Massachusetts is filled with curmudgeon drivers or the New Jersey industrial complex remains the metaphorical armpit of this great nation, New Yorkers will never be able to shake their legendary reputation for being impolite, especially when interacting with tourists. Noting this “fact” by the media makes for a great way to eat up already vapid print copy, server space, or kill time during a broadcast on a slow news day.

Curmudgeonly New Yorkers wait for the subway
Photo courtesy of focalmatter

Firstly, I concede that no one could make the case for New York being a city of overtly welcoming or pleasant inhabitants. But as a two-year resident and transplant from the oh-so-cordial state of Rhode Island (sarcasm), I take issue with this rap New Yorkers get for being rude past the point of common compassion. My honeymoon phase with city may be long gone – in fact, it’s probably at the argue-in-front-of-our-rotten-kids-at-least-once-a-week phase – yet there’s a camaraderie I still feel with everyone I see on the subway that has never waned.

It’s a sort of all-for-one-one-for-all ethos that rises like a superhero from the depths of the urban overgrowth in cases of even the slightest emergency. It’s the assurance of knowing that anytime I’ve dropped my entire life in the middle of a sidewalk or underground platform, there has always been more than one stranger willing to help me pick it back up. In return, I’ve tried to pay it forward every chance I get. It’s also worth knowing that, while the sound insulation provided by a pair of earbuds and the hum of a subway car riding over the Williamsburg Bridge is a great way to get the hell away from humanity at the end of a long day of work, I have yet to meet a person who is above a few minutes of small talk and a friendly smile.

Yet the unique nature of this communal ethos may explain why tourists, especially from the eternally hospitable South, are so put off by New Yorkers. So, in the hopes of better informing the experience of any readers out there who plan on visiting the Big Apple anytime soon, let me offer a non-native’s perspective on the rationales behind New Yorkers’ less than savory behavior. My testimony is based on long-term but entirely subjective observation. Also, I’ve peppered this list with some general to-knows about less than satisfactory goods or services that when rendered leave the unknowing out-of-towner feeling like they were done so out of personal jingoistic malice (for a good example, see point number three). But let’s start with the basics, first off…

1. There are too many fucking people in this god-forsaken place as it is.

Understanding this very basic, annoying truth of New York City is essential for the enjoyment of any tourism experience. While plainly self-evident on paper, just how crowded and overwhelming the city can actually be is usually lost on any large-scale family reunion occupying an entire sidewalk in midtown because they insist on taking t-shirt worthy pictures of the whole gang with the Empire State Building in the background.

Let me emphasize that this is a terrible idea, especially during the summer when you actually have a reason to be in the city during a weekday morning when the entire city is trying to get to work. Quick hint: Don’t stop on the sidewalk, especially for the Empire State Building. Head to Bryant Park at Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street. There’s plenty of room and a family Christmas card-worthy backdrop of the downtown skyline from up close, and any New Yorker will tell you how to get there because…

2. Believe it or not, most of us are pretty good about giving directions.

See, we so desperately want to get to work on time (see the first point) and lost tourists present a potentially crippling threat to the flow of pedestrian traffic anywhere they are. Therefore, all residents of tolerant demeanor and peripheral empathy are generally of the understanding that helping the helpless with directions is beneficial for everyone involved. Oh good, you know where you’re going now? Great. Now get moving.

Photo courtesy of Ian Muttoo

3. Only take the yellow cabs.

You don’t want to know what happens when you don’t. Many a hipster went broke bringing you this information. And while you’re in those yellow cabs, remember:

4. Just because a neighborhood you’re passing through has graffiti does not mean your cab will inevitably be stopped by a pack of doo-ragged ruffians blasting DMX before everyone of moderate attractiveness in your party is thoroughly and violently gang raped.

Seriously, you need to stop watching television — and really, this is New York. The hell did you expect? A wonderland of oxidizing trees emitting the scent of lavender through the wind swept tunnels between skyscrapers? Do you know how hard it is to clean off spray paint? Does anyone judge your neighborhood because your daddy is too lazy to (hire Mexican-sounding contractors to) fix the one broken picket on your white picket fence? Get out your limo and smell the piss, Cher Horowitz. Big cities are just not that good looking, especially cities this big.

Okay, I’m sorry (deep breath). That was too much. Being hospitable. Right. Anyway, while we’re on the subject of ignorance…

5. You know what? Just leave the homeless alone. We got this.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of them and they understandably don’t bother trying to tell the difference between residents and tourists. But you know what? Leave donations to us residents. We walk the same blocks often enough between home and work to have a good idea of who is actually sleeping on the corners during the winters and who is just trying to take the neighborhood for what they’re worth. Keep your money, save it for gyros and hummus. Or better yet – the vegan burger foodtruck around the corner.

6. If an old man who doesn’t speak your language gives you some trouble in the basement floor of a Duane Reade (a local convenience store chain) because he thinks you took his shopping cart even though you just picked yours up from the cash register…

You stare this man straight in the eye and do not waver. His nostrils will sense the slightest fear-induced perspiration. What you’re staring at is the modern day version of a bridge troll. These paid undercover shoppers are subsidized by City Hall (at the behest of the elite corporate Illuminati who run the island of Manhattan and, therefore, the world) to test the territorial confidence of summer interns living in nearby hotel-based housing programs as a way to further weed out the weak.

They’re supposed to only give college-level transplant applicants a better idea of what city living used to be like in the late ’70s when New Yorkers were 36.7 percent more agitated on a daily basis than they are today, but sometimes they get confused and start hassling tourists. Like when the Applebee’s waiter insists on carding you for that Raspberry Meltdown Margarita, take it as a compliment! Not only do you appear helpless and vulnerable to others, you’re being mistaken for someone too young to be legally drinking.

In regards to warding them off, I like to pass on the same advice Sam Neill gives everyone in Jurassic Park about what to do when facing a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Remember, they can’t see you if you don’t move. Also, walking away helps. Bonus points if you cross your brow first.

7. If asked, then no, you absolutely despise improv comedy.

In fact, by no means are you in possession of a funny bone. Both the concept and the spontaneous impulse of humor are entirely foreign to you. You watch TV dramas for the dependable character arcs and not even fart jokes muster the slightest guffaw from your morbidly serious lips.

Okay — maybe, just maybe, if proposed being locked in a room with the best writers of all the late night shows being shot in this city, then perhaps that might interest you into purchasing a few tickets for a night of entertainment at a suspicious sounding bar you’ve never heard of if only so your closest relations on this family reunion weekend might leave you alone for a few hours. But Christ, improv comedy? What, do you look like a doe-eyed freshman three drinks into a spiked punch bowl at their first community college theater team mixer? Please.

Yes, even if you’re going to Upright Citizens Brigade later, you are NOT interested in improv comedy.