The Melting Pot and Me

Posted in The Gnovis Blog

I swear New Yorkers were born with three hands: one for their coffee, one for their cigarette and one for their cell phone. And most days I’d like to slap all three right out of their hand. While I am not, nor will ever be a real New Yorker, I do, for better or worse, reside here. When people from back home or college ask how I like living in NYC I never respond with “I love it” or “I hate it.” I simply say “it’s an experience.” And I think most of the non-natives tend to agree.

What that means is there are days when you love it — you relish the convenience, NBC is filming “Law and Order” outside your bedroom, you see an opportunity around every corner, you feel like you can conquer anything or anyone and, most importantly, you feel privileged to live here. Other days it seems like it’s uphill both ways to the grocery store (and your bags rip before you make it back to your fourth floor walkup), your subway train breaks down with a crying baby and a man who’s just pissed himself, the line at the deli is too long to justify buying a coffee on your way to work and your colleagues are drawing straws to determine who’s going to squash the cockroach that stealthily crept into the editorial room.

And how do those descriptions differ from everybody’s description of a good versus a bad day in any anonymous suburb? Well, the highs and lows here are hightened by the shear magnitude of people. After calling this my home for nearly two years,l I am just now beginning to realize why some days are so frustrating: the cultural differences. Where I grew up in rural Maine, our school had two black people, we spoke just one language, we were weirded out by the concept of sushi and we were so behind the times that no one I knew even carried a cell phone, though my parents did have this weird industrial-looking one that attached to the dashboard of their minivan. What I’m suggesting is that my culture was no culture.

Fast forward to today and I’m immersed in dozens of cultures, languages and varying standards of etiquette. My blood boils when New Yorkers don’t walk on the right side of the sidewalk, though I realize that was probably never culturally embedded as it was for me; I sometimes flip off the immigrant taxi driver who lays on the horn too overzealously, forgetting that level of street noise is perfectly acceptable in many parts of the world; I scowl at the Euro trash smoking up a chimney in SoHo but, without considering that European bars and restaurants are still smoke-friendly establishments; and when a store clerk yells “step down” to me, I get offended and complain of the service, though there’s probably something cultural behind that too (I just haven’t figured out what just yet).

After all that you’re thinking 1) I’m an ignorant jackass or 2) I’m highly self aware. But those kinds of debates are best saved for rainy Sunday afternoons when golf is the only thing on network television and stale Saltines are the last munchie left in your kitchen cupboard. The crux of what I’m saying lies in the fact that transitioning from no culture to culture overload is an “experience,” and an often frustrating one. But once you realize that the annoyances often stem from simple global differences, there’s a level of appreciation one begins to develop. But, then again, you caught me on a good day. Ask me what I think about New York culture come Friday at 5.