I have a theory. I’ve come up with this thought in the first three months I’ve been here already and 1 ½ years later it has still proven to be strikingly true. It first started when working for these three Irish bar owners. They were dirtcheap and didn’t treat their labor too well. On top of this, they also didn’t behave very courteous towards their customers. I almost couldn’t believe it when I witnessed my boss kick someone out just because he had taken a sip of their beer and decided he didn’t want to pay for it but get a different one. Well, it’s New York, and a shortage of customers in the Lower East Side is definitely not going to happen. But I wondered if it had been acceptable for him to behave like this at his own bar in Ireland, too, or if his manners had indeed deteriorated by his 10-year-long stay in New York.
While interacting more and more with New Yorkers born and raised in the city in contrast to people who came from all over, I noticed a few crucial things. First, the rude New Yorker is non-existent to almost not visible in the middle working class. You do have a good share of socially disadvantaged people who can be quite snappy but, on average, I found that most New Yorkers do not show signs of the rudeness I’ve seen in other cultures. It appears that as soon as a European hops off his plane and witnesses several instances in which he is not treated right and is in his way “adapting” to the manners of New York, he also let’s go most of his good habits and can become quite a mean person on the streets of this city. Those three Irish men mentioned above all had the same skill: They couldn’t deal with stress and mostly took it out on their employees (in the form of yelling at and firing them). I sometimes still wonder how they were able to keep their bar afloat. Europeans in general can become quite a pain the arse when they’ve changed for the worse in the Big Apple.
But also fellow Americans have let go of their manners here (except for Californians, they never seem to adapt in this direction).
Take people from Long Island for example, in my opinion truly the worst species wandering around in our streets. And you find them here quite often, as they like to celebrate here or even upgrade their life style by moving to the City, given the proximity in space and time. For some reason growing up on their mellow stretches of beaches and forests has not given them much of an advantage when coping with city life. On top of acting arrogant and out of place, they take it out on people they consider inferior to them, such as the busboys at a restaurant or the waiters behind the bar. I’ve seldom witnessed individuals that are so full of themselves than the ones I’ve ran across in Manhattan. I also believe I’ve never figured out the reason for their arrogance and rude behavior. If it’s the money their parents earn, then I guess it’s a great accomplishment from their sides to be born into the right family. However, this issue of class and feeling like a priority towards other classes seems to be a general issue in this country. Modesty is not really the best trait richer Americans are willing to show.
Take the following example as a situation of how different types of people would deal with an everyday situation tin New York: A promoter stops you on the streets to, well, promote a product you absolutely do not need. The unknown tourist would harmlessly become lured into the game or desperately try to escape the situation. A non-local would shove the ad out of hisface and just continue on walking or yell something mean at the promoter.A New Yorker would politely but firmly point out he is talking to someone (on his phone or next to him) and continue on his path.
The nicest people I’ve met in this city so far are really the people who have been born and raised in New York (and California). I’m not sure if this is a good sign, as I am still not too impressed by the people I find in this city in terms of manners. However, the more I am surrounded by them, the more I value someone who can show manners in public (and not only in a lady’s presence, but in day to day interactions). It appears that New Yorkers have an excellent sense of differentiating between what is worth their attention and what is not. I assume this can be led back to living here for an extended period of time. But then again, it must also be a cultural thing, as other non-locals cannot necessarily deal with the stimulations and aggressions accumulating in everyday life here. People from New York know when to avoid a bad situation on the subway. The politely excuse themselves when they run into someone in a store and don’t just keep on walking. They know when they’ve won and when it’s best to back off. This sense of survival is something everyone else has to deal with on a complete different level. I came here almost two years ago. I didn’t know how to deal with rudeness and I still have a hard time adapting to it. From shaking my head over pushing people out my way over feeling ashamed of what I have become in public life – you name it. But it is very calming to see a true New Yorker deal with these issues and it is also comforting to know that most of them are really not that bad personality wise than they’re reputation has it.
E.B White’s quote from 1949 ends this post with a perhaps accurate observation regarding the inhabitants of the Big Apple:
There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something.
[…]Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion. ”
Have you ever seen the movie “Miracle on 34th Street?” There is a scene in the beginning 5 minutes during which a store owner rudely shoves a poster boy out of the door. I am almost certain this store owner was not a New Yorker born and raised here.