This morning, when getting my morning coffee and bagel (it’s become somewhat of a ritual now), the man in front of me in the queue turned around, walking straight into me. Naturally, I started to apologise, even though it really wasn’t my fault. In Melbourne this would have been the same for both parties, but in New York? Nope. He didn’t so much as make eye contact with me, and walked straight past to continue with his day. The first thing I thought was “man, that guy was rude”. But then I started justifying in my head, that he did look to be in a hurry, was on the phone through his headset, and most likely had an extremely stressful day ahead. This got me thinking about the stereotype that New Yorkers are rude, always in a hurry, and always minding their own business. Was it all true, or has New York been falsely essentialised?
I spoke to a few people today about the matter; at the magazine, and at dinner with my air bnb hosts. All of which are true New Yorkers.
“We’re not rude, tourists are just slow and in the way!” one exclaimed.
Similar responses were elicited and I began to understand the matter from a NYC citizen’s perspective. Yes, to a tourist, happily trying to sight see the city, the locals would seem rude and obnoxious, as they don’t make eye contact, push past you on their way to work, and don’t seem to want to stop to help you.
But after some research I’ve learnt that most New Yorkers are not typically from New York, or even America for that matter. People often come from all over the world to the Big Apple for opportunity; to create a new life for themselves and advance their career. They are often hard working, career driven and focused. And in a big city like this, when you have a mission to accomplish each day, who has time to be stopping for tourists crowded squinty eyed over a map on the sidewalk.
This is the problem with essentialism; stereotypes are created and people judge a city or the people in it before they even get the chance to understand their lifestyle. I think you can’t really fully understand the ways of people, especially in an essentialised city like New York, unless you’ve actually lived and breathed as a citizen yourself.
Like they say, you gotta walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you judge them.