“The air was still cold and uncirculated. The streets were still filthy and hard. The people were still bitter and ugly. The entire city of New York was sick and in desperate need of a vacation.”
– A. Nersesian
“New Yorkers, I figured, just pretended to be unfriendly.”
– J. Walls
Some people don’t like New York City. I’m not one of those people. But even I can admit to some of its follies.
When people move there, I warn them about the possible feelings of loneliness. In such a crowded city, most don’t expect to feel that. NYC is a place where one can feel utterly alone among so many people.
Most New Yorkers are taught to be careful. Statistically, because the population density is so high, the chances of running into swindlers, con men, and shysters is proportionately higher than smaller cities and towns.
Don’t mistake me; there aren’t deceivers on every street corner. They exist in higher numbers than less dense cities, but there are proportionately just as many decent folk there too. However, there are enough crooks to have created a culture of carefulness. Just about every New Yorker has a friend or acquaintance that’s been mugged or assaulted or worse.
This carefulness is, then, extremely prudent. Open trust to strangers is naïve if not utterly foolish. Show a sign of weakness and you’ll likely become a “mark,” or target, of a crook. Such signs include actions that seem normal elsewhere: smiling, talking to lots of strangers, making lots of eye contact, etc.
Instead of showing signs of weakness, many swing the pendulum the other way and make showings of strength. This can be interpreted as arrogance or rudeness, but to the average New Yorker, it means, “Don’t mess with me.” If you tell a New Yorker you don’t like their city, they won’t try to convince you otherwise; they’ll respond with a hearty, “Fuck you; get the fuck out of my city then.”
That’s the New Yorker Shell, the mask that native New Yorkers learn to wear. Look behind the mask and you’ll find a warm, friendly, and caring individual. Getting behind the mask isn’t easy though.
Another way to see it: New York is full of cliques. Cliques can be hard to break into, but once you’re in, you’re in. These cliques are, in effect, networks of trust. Since it’s not safe to trust any random stranger on the street, New Yorkers form a network of friends with whom they can let down their guard.
Wearing a mask can be tiring, so it’s good to be able to take it off once in a while—but only with people you know you can trust.
This can be a big shock to those from smaller towns. Smiling, talking to strangers, and making lots of eye contact aren’t just part of being friendly; they’re a part of what makes a close-knit town close-knit. You meet new people by being friendly to them. Shunning your neighbors seems utterly antisocial.
Population density changes that equation, however. Your “neighbors” in New York City aren’t just the ten to twenty people on your block. They’re the hundred to two-hundred people in your building. If you want to include your entire block, that’s several hundred people.
No one has the energy or mental capacity to know every one of their neighbors in New York City. The mere thought is absurd. People change apartments so frequently that the neighbor down the hall will be someone different in a month. So why make the effort to get to know your neighbors?
For people who have a strong need to connect with lots of people, NYC is not for them. They find themselves unhappy, lonely, and unable to comprehend why. Well, this is part of the reason why. This is the culture within which the average New Yorker grew up.
Cliques are the key. Native New Yorkers have the benefit of forming their cliques while in school, where the New Yorker Shell hasn’t been fully hardened yet.
For transplants, there are other ways to form these networks of trust. Coworkers can be one source. Church can be another. Some like clubs and bars. Others prefer social gatherings such as community service, classes, or special interest groups. Transplants will have a harder time finding that right mix of friends, unfortunately; that’s just the reality of it. But it’s not impossible.
To be honest, the clique phenomenon isn’t just localized to New York City. Any major city has the same challenges too. I know this through personal experience. Understanding why it’s a challenge is the first step. Knowing how to solve it is the next step.
Or, if you just don’t like New York City: “Fuck you; get the fuck out of my city then.”
. . .
Do you like New York City?