nyc manners


Every time that I get ready to travel somewhere I think three things.

  1. What do people take pictures of when they go there ? (I gotta make sure I see that shit)
  2. What are people like there? I’ll bet they’re weird and nothing like me. Like aliens!
  3. This is expensive.

Up until about 5 years ago the crown jewel of my travel resume was a half-day shopping trip to Windsor (that’s in Canada!), which is, pretty much just Michigan but the cops are on horses and they serve mayo with their fries (don’t knock it ‘til you try it). Knowing that, all of my perceptions of other towns were freshly fueled, working stereotypes. I once visited my sister in Nashville and was floored when the women were, in fact, not all Patsy Cline look-alikes and people drove cars instead of riding horses. I’m a simple man, leave me be.

So, on my most recent travel adventure to New York City, I was obviously expecting everyone to be at a record breaking level of asshole that would make 1990’s Dennis Leary jealous. Also, I was told by a friend of mine – who I don’t think has even been to Canada, amateur – that I shouldn’t say things like “sorry” or other Midwestern social pleasantries for fear of looking like an idiot. I believed him. First mistake. [Note to self: list “International Travel Experience” under ‘Necessary Qualifications’ on next listing for New Friends.]

I rolled into the Big Apple and, like any second rate lawyer, tried to find any shred of evidence to support my case that all New Yorkers were soulless beings.

When someone sneezed on the subway, my mental Polly Pocket notebook scribbled down that no one said “Bless you.” How rude. I love it.When a piece of paper fell from someone’s pocket, I accosted them for littering. Filthy beasts! (…I yelled silently to myself).Whenever I heard someone speaking in Greek I assumed they were yelling nasty things at other pedestrians (my Greek doesn’t get past ‘gyro’ or ‘Parthenon’)

I was there for four days staying at the quietly underrated “Tea Kettle Lounge” and on the third day, my perception of the city and it’s tightly packed inhabitants become very clear.

I was attempting to navigate the gauntlet that is Macy’s square (this was mid-December, mind you) and I knew exactly where I needed to go. Head North on Broadway until you hit 35th and then hang a left (sound pretty New York-y right? I know. I’m pretty proud). Everyone else on the sidewalk was stopped dead. Their eyes scanning the tall buildings around them, not paying attention to the street crossing sign that just switched from Orange-Hand to White-Jogger. Everyone just stood there. Five feet from the cross walk and no path in front of me. Without thinking, I yelled “Lets go!” and like scared little mice, they all scattered. I felt powerful. I may have smiled a bit. Probably a sneer if anything.

But by the time I got to the crosswalk, it had already turned back to the Orange-Hand. I decided to go anyway. The taxicab to my left didn’t agree with my decision and started navigating a crash course to the far side of my kneecaps. As if from instinct, my hand flew down onto the taxi cab hood and, with annoyed malice, I looked at the driver and said four words I never thought I would:

“’Ey! I’m walkin ‘ere!”

What…? That’s something angry New Yorkers say. Not me. I’m… Oh my.

I looked around for someone (my mother) to be shaking their head at me but there was nothing. Everyone just kept upon his or her normal business and I finished crossing the street. The remainder of my northbound trek up Broadway I realized – I didn’t say “Bless you” on the subway. I didn’t pick up the paper that person dropped. I would really like a gyro.

It only took me 3 days to become the jaded stereotype that I mocked from the comfort of my middle class suburb in Ohio. It was a strange moment. This was the closest thing I’ve had to “coming of age” (a phrase I still don’t totally understand). The moment was short lived however as I looked up to a street sign alerting me that 35th was south of me. Fuck.

“Look out people! I’m retracin’ ma steps ‘ere!”

If my own quickness to find solace in asshole tendencies wasn’t groundbreaking enough; on the return trip to the airport, Emma and I were lugging our luggage (I now understand where the term  comes from) through the subway system. This involved the repeated process of picking up our bags and carrying them down the stairs, a feat difficult for Emma because her and her bag are the same size. After the first flight of stairs, I turned to help her out and saw a rough looking older black man carrying her bag down the stairs for her. He set it down, smiled, said, “have a good day” and went about his business.

Riding to La Guardia, my mental Polly Pocket opened back up and jotted down three more things.

  1. New Yorkers aren’t assholes. Tourists are.
  2. Don’t give money to someone who helps you out just because they look homeless. They might not be. You will probably offend them.
  3. Does this mean that all Scottish people don’t wear kilts?



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