Feeling at Home in the 8 Mio Citizen City called New York

Today I felt like a New Yorker. Someone asked me for directions. Completely out of the blue I was blabbed at on how to find this street and that avenue. During bright daylight, right there in the midst of Manhattan. I must have given off a certain vibe towards tourists, of that I am convinced. Which one exactly I am clueless of but maybe it was my ignorant shoving through the masses of amateur photographers eyeing the landmark of this City that gave it away.

I do have to say that I felt rather flattered than insulted when a nameless face in the crowd wanted to know her way to a specific store. Heck, do I look like I know where Bare Minerals could possibly be? Is my make-up highlighting my entire face or does it just look easily applied to initiate a question like this? Either way, I was happy to point out the directions to the Dutch girl until our ways parted again. And while my friend was giggling and saying I could have just directed them to Sephora right around the corner, a different emotion overtook me. An emotion I had fought for so long but which I have noticed always comes around when I need it the most.

Is it possible that after all this time a feeling of home has crushed through the wall of resistance? After the first few months had passed here and after I’d seen how crazy this city can truly be, I had almost given up calling the Big Apple my home. Heck, even a year and some days later (which happened to be last year, to be exact) I had turned in the opposite direction and started complaining on how New York will never feel like the place I will feel comfortable in, least to say, accepted and embraced. But slowly, as the months passed by, as I got to know her people better, as my hate for anonymity vanished, as I actually got to see my real home again, I developed a different perspective. That even though this city is hideous and expensive, unpractical and uncaring, busy and hectic, loud and polluted, fake and revealing – despite these and further disadvantages everything has its bright side. And for this shining light I came and for this twinkling star I am still hanging on to the ride. It might have been that every other place outside of this metropolis seemed so poorly populated. Or so immensely fruitless in opportunities. Not to say plain boring. It might have also been that I have learned how to deal with clinging to my identity and developing different attitudes for different situations. Whichever one it is, it has all brought me to the point I am now.

A point that always comes through in especially extreme situations. Be it searching for a room (and boy, did I have opportunity to show what I’m made of then), looking for a new job, or simply visiting a different city. It’s the point I and perhaps other inhabitants reach every once so often. This is usually the point it’s time to decide: Give the city another chance or turn your back to her and neglect her for the time being. But let’s not be quite so dramatic. After all, this quaint town shoves her foot unknowingly underneath of you and shows you when it’s time to be kicked out no matter if you’re prepared or not.

No, that is not the point I am trying to make. I am trying to explain to you, non-New-Yorkers or fellow city inhabitants, how it feels like to be finally immersed into the wonderful city life. And it’s not even the same vibes I received two years ago, when I took every opportunity out there to experience Summer Stage concerts, Shakespearean plays, or Brooklyn Bridge excursions. It is more about feeling like I can walk these streets and be well aware of where I stand. To strut down Manhattana in complete confidence and bypass the newbies who will clearly only stay for a limited amount of time. Or to rain past my favorite favorite Mexican place in the Village and to know there are quazillion others still left to discover.

And the people? Well, the people are very special. Indeed, so special, I can barely start describing them. From the typical New-York-adapted fako living a secret masochist life in his mind to the relaxed Brooklyner who will never know why he hates the Bronx so much. Or the Indian-looking Queener who will never give up showing what his hood is really made off. It takes time to get used to so many different personalities. To me, everything is pretty much about the people who live in a certain place. If I cannot connect to mass, then I will never be able to connect to the city (take Vienna for example: Beautiful place to live in but not the right culture for me). Even today, though, I still have troubles accepting certain aspects of certain people and this is why I am bugging you on here all the time… Or at least it is a good reason for the fair amount of posts, if I may.

I have fought this very special feeling for way too long. I am still fighting it. I fear that once I will let the Big Apple become my home, my one and only leading point, I will lose my eye sight forever. I will start unseeing these places and people and landmarks as less special than they truly are and adapt to the culture in a way hazardous to my own being. I might even change to someone I won’t ever wanted to become or into something I won’t ever be able to look at in the mirror again. But once again, through this eroding wall of resistance, the feeling is longing to come and take me over. And after all, it is not so bad to call New York your home, is it?

Take for example the crude epitome of anonymity and intimacy at once: The New York City Subway. Each time I walk down those worn out steps I am not prepared for what will happen this time around. And I am not talking about an occasional 20-minute-train delay or other technical hassles. I am talking about those sunshiny moments when an unexpected street performer hops on or you see a face you like. Or those gloomy minutes where aggressiveness is paired with hostility you will surely want to avoid immediately.

No, it is not shameless or fear-worthy to be home in this city. But it is also hard to feel like a true part of this eight million citizen chaos called New York. Everything you hung to changes or is destroyed (by construction or a hurricane, who knows). Everyone you felt deeply about turns your back on you and leaves the city behind – and you stranded. And every other matter that seemed so important outside of this city becomes irrelevant at once. It is hard to stay focused here. And to keep the same values you had before. At the same time, she challenges you to combine new traits with the previous good ones or to turn to the bad side forever. Then again, not everything is black and white. You are taught on how to accept the gray shades in between and to become a chameleon for the other stages you are likely to undergo when you are here for so long.

Not that I am always mistaken for a New Yorker. For instance that one time when I was wearing my hard-earned Hard Rock T-shirt and wanted to enter the ESB. A guard was protectively stepping in front of me, trying to shake me off. “Excuse me, you have to go around the corner to get to the top” he lectured me. Perplexed and slightly annoyed I pulled out my employee’s pass. After passing him, though, I had to grin. Must not only be body attitude which makes some people judge where you’re from, right? Unless he was a newbie himself…

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