If there’s one thing this city is good for, it’s instant gratification. If you’re anything like me, you want what you want and you want it now. Or, better, you want it five minutes ago, before you even had to ask for it. Here, you can have a curry delivered or grab coffee and a pack of cigs at your corner bodega at 4 a.m. and no one will so much as bat an eyelash.
Living in a fast-paced urban environment, it only makes sense that you must either learn to keep up or risk getting lost in the shuffle. Here, you’re expected to think fast and walk even faster, to move with purpose and without hesitation lest you seem weak, or worse, like a tourist. I know that probably sounds pretty rude. After all, we’re all tourists in cities that aren’t our own, and it’s pretty predictable to hate on those who just aren’t from here. I don’t mean to come off that way, I just… really haven’t got time to try and navigate my way around you as you and your 3 friends stand in a straight line across the sidewalk to take a photo in front of a McDonald’s. No. Just no.
Listen, let’s just be frank, here: this city can turn you into a real jerk. We all know the stereotype of the jaded New Yorker – rude, impatient and a bit high-strung. While I don’t think that’s necessarily true – after all, I’m often stopped to give directions and quite like being helpful to those less familiar with the lay of the land – I’ve definitely noticed that in the past nine years of living here, my tolerance levels for the uninitiated have gone way down.
It’s unfair of me, sure. After all, it took me at least a good year here before I could properly “keep up” with the pace of life around me. When I moved here, I had never eaten sushi and I thought the Flatiron building was pronounced “flat-ee-ron”. I was tickled by the fact that I could see the Empire State Building from my window and that my local bodega sold Lion bars all the way from England. And why shouldn’t I be? For me, it was a taste of a life I had only imagined during my small-town upbringing.
Then, I got used to it all. Instead of continuing to be in awe of my amazing surroundings, I started taking them for granted the more I became a “true New Yorker”. To really appreciate something, you have to take your time to be present in it, to look up and around and take it all in. There’s no time for that when you’re running for the Q train before the doors slide shut or pushing your way through crowds in Times Square (which I generally avoid like the plague, FYI) because people who aren’t from here just walk too damn slow.
Recently, I was on the subway when a mariachi band came on. I’d seen the three men several times before and had generally learned to turn the volume on my iPod a bit higher upon sight. However, that day, as I looked around at the faces of those who were seeing this for the first time, I saw that people were… actually enjoying it. They found it novel, a real New York moment.
And it was. Only I had become so accustomed to it, so over it, that I failed to see it the way these people who were visiting for the first time were seeing it. The way my 18-year-old self would have. And then I felt kinda guilty for being a stereotype.
I’m not always able to snap myself back to reality like that – after all, my reality is generally the rushing, the moving, the now, now, now. But I’ve been trying to take more deep breaths lately, to have patience. To sit back, relax and enjoy the view. I’ll let you know how that one turns out.
Image courtesy of KeystoneUSA-ZUMA / Rex Features, via Telegraph.co.uk