When R and I moved here, we weren’t totally sure what to expect. On the one hand, we had a set of friends that hated living in the city and were keen to point out how miserable it can be. On the other hand, most of what they complained about is true of many cities (rats, crime, lack of personal space, bad landlords). I do have friends who are currently having trouble with their landlords (a common complaint here) and ours is sometimes less than attentive, but he’s been great with the big things – like making sure the exterminator came ASAP when we saw a mouse.
Of course, in a city with this many people, the nature of the people in general can help or hurt your experience. For instance, if, at every turn, someone is being nasty or rude, that will negatively effect your experience. Many people have the impression that all New Yorkers are like that, without exception – loud, rude, nasty for the sake of elbowing you in the stomach. Admit it – as you read that, you were able to conjure the perfect image in your head, whether aided by media or not.
The reality? A lot of that went out as the city grew more livable in the nineties, at least from conversations I have had with people who’ve lived here much longer than I. The new model New Yorker is less stressed out, less hassled by crime, and therefore, more friendly. However, there are a lot of things about city culture that could be interpreted as unfriendly – on the subway, for instance, I spend the majority of my time NOT looking at people, ignoring the fact that rush hour traffic has me squished up against a person I’ve never met (and will likely never see again) and then, a few minutes later, squished up against an entirely different person whom I’ve never met (and will likely not see again). Ask a New Yorker – they admit freely the attitude “if I’m not looking at you, you don’t exist.” This attitude can stray into the times when the subway isn’t that busy, or just onto the street in general, and can be perceived as being ignored or being unfriendly. Fair enough – but it’s part of city life.
At the same time, I hear people talking about giving directions to tourists and trying to help out as best they can. I even helped an older British duo (brother and sister) get to where they were going one evening on the 1 train, and a friend saw a woman go out of her way to help a foreign gentleman get to the right subway station for the hospital where his sister was being treated.
Are there those people you conjured above? The angry New Yorkers who hate everyone for no reason? Of course. A city of this size, this squished together and you’re bound to come into contact with them more often than even in a city like Chicago. But the old guy running people down in the grocery store with his shopping cart, the lady yelling randomly at me on the sidewalk for being surprised at a siren and the guys making rude comments about each other on the subway are the exception to the rule – three or four incidents since we moved here in August. We’ve also been lucky, I’m sure, and open to the city in the way that comes of knowing we have to be here, so why make it miserable for ourselves? Still, the fact that we can do that proves that it’s not such a bad place to live.
That’s not to say that the city has no failings: the trains are unreliable when you really need them to be on time, the cost of living can be astounding and everyone does have that one DOOZY of a story, but as far as the unrelentingly terrible New Yorkers? I get the feeling that that went out of style in the 90s…