Often, people assume that to experience culture in New York, you have to go to a specific neighborhood. But that’s not the case. I find I learn more about the world through meeting people and engaging them in dialogue, however briefly, than I do by visiting different areas.
The beauty of New York City is its melting pot character. Unlike anywhere else on the planet, people from across the globe flock here, each new city dweller adding to our metropolis’ overall diversity. Historically, New York was a hub for immigrants, and it remains so today. As many as 800 languages are spoken throughout the five boroughs and about 36% of the population is foreign born.
Meeting someone from another country is commonplace. And often, as excited as foreigners are to embrace New York as their new home, they’re eager to share stories from their past, too.
Whenever I prompt her, my manicurist opens up about the traditions and customs of her old village in Nepal. More than the knowledge I’ve gained about daily life and religious practices there, she has taught me firsthand about the warmth of the Nepali people.
Cab drivers from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan consistently report on the lives and homes from the troubled lands they’ve escaped. A year ago, one driver told me stoically of his time as a surgeon in Iraq, and the luxurious life he once led as a well-educated professional. He fled during Sadam’s regime and today he drives a taxi at all hours of the night to provide for his family.
Many local bodega owners seem full of the lively Latin personalities that characterize their nations. In contrast, a lot of lower Asian-run Manhattan’s bodegas are distinguished by the staunch efficiency emblematic of their managers’ homelands.
Regardless of where you eat, shop or walk, to live and breathe in New York City means coming into contact with people from all over the world all the time. With a simple question—Where are you from?—it is possible to unlock the stories of our city’s colorful faces, all of which contribute to our city’s greater narrative. If you’re ready to listen, New Yorkers will escort you on the cultural trip of a lifetime that easily outshines the typical guided walking tour.
Featured image courtesy of Hiroko Masuike