Living in New York City isn’t the only way to learn about New York City and the special breed of people who live here. Often, when traveling around the world, I learn a lot about our city and our culture.
Whenever people abroad ask me where I’m from, I specify “New York” rather than saying “America” or “the States.” To clarify things even further, I’ll also often tell these far flung strangers which burrough I live in. But no one else ever tells me they’re from “Toronto” or “Frankfurt” or that they live in “the 16th Arrondissement.” Unless prompted by me to be more specific, they report that they’re from “Canada,” “Germany,” or “France.” Over the years, I’ve come to realize that we New Yorkers like to distinguish ourselves from the rest of Americans. Because, first and foremost, we identify with our city.
This distinction makes sense. No one is ever surprised to hear “I’m from New York.” Usually, in fact, the news is met with: “Oh yes, we could have guessed.” Could this be due to my impatience regarding service? The brisk pace at which I walk? The fact that I’m constantly multitasking on my phone? That I consider grey a bright color? That I don’t balk at the small size of any European hotel room? That I expect to get everything I want exactly the way I want it, when I want it? That I don’t understand why people consider Tokyo such an expensive city? The truth is that there are myriad telltale signs of a New Yorker’s origin—some flattering, some not so much.
Because more than being a city, New York is a place that attracts a certain breed. And as diverse a group as we are in race and size and background, we are in many way homogenous. In our bubble of a natural habitat, it’s easy to forget this. But when roaming the streets of Aix-en-Provence, the uniqueness of the New York becomes uncannily clear. While other travelers recoil from the crowded market streets, I remain calm because feeling like a sardine within a cramped space is no new sensation to me. On the other hand, while shoppers at the same market patiently wait their turn to purchase goods at each stall, I grow anxious in wait, so I squeeze through the hoards to angle myself in a manner that secures attention as quickly as possible, much to the dismay of my fellow shoppers. After all the shopping, when others might sit down at a café to relax, I tap my foot on the ground until the waiter finally approaches, and I’ll continue to tap my foot throughout the half hour I have to wait for my coffee to arrive, marveling all the while at how diners at adjacent tables just lean back and take in their surroundings as if it’s not at all bizarre for coffee preparation to take so damn long.
This is not to say that I’m always in a hurry ,or that I’m incapable of relaxation. I can get to that step-on-the-brakes place—the state of mind my friends and I coined “tranquilo” during a trip to Panama. It just might take me a bit longer than the average American, but probably not the typical New Yorker.
It’s only when traveling that I can pinpoint the urgency that marks a true New York character. When in the city, it’s always “go, go, go” without thinking twice. And as much as I travel to get away from it all, I wouldn’t give up my New York born and raised nature for anything. I will always be a New Yorker first. And I’m happy to know that, while one might confuse a German expat with a Dutch, or a Chinese tourist with a Korean, it’s rare to mistake a New Yorker for anything but who they are.
Featured image courtesy of Lucie Barlett