Recently, i’ve been experiencing NYC in a strangely sentimental way every time i commute into the city for work. I find myself snapping out of my usual thought-filled daze, looking up from the sidewalk, and just taking everything in, as if i were discovering the city anew. And i can’t help but assume that i wouldn’t fit in anywhere other than New York. I have these thoughts regularly, but these days, the conviction is so unshakable. Sometimes when i ride the subway, i like to stand and hold the pole even if there are empty seats and casually look around and observe the people. I don’t know what it is about subway trains, but i instantly feel comfortable and content in that sea of strangers who are so absorbed in their own bubbles but also refreshingly friendly, when given a chance to be. New York friendly is a rare kind of friendly: not overwhelming, not interfering, and most definitely not forced. Friendliness in New York is warranted, not expected, but it’s also surprisingly prevalent, if you know how to interact with the people. It could be in a quick nod or even just a glance. Wherever you find it, it’s cool, never clingy, and it always brightens up your day, if only for a fleeting moment. Perhaps “friendliness” is not the right word. Maybe it’s solidarity.
The bubbles definitely exist, but they’re so clumsy and thin and easily breakable, and not many people realize that everyone needs and wants to break out of them sometimes. There’s a secret camaraderie among New Yorkers, and i’m not sure how much of that exists—and if it does, what it’s like—in other big cities. And so this is the question i’m faced with now: do i leave New York knowing that physically, it’s an unhealthy environment for me, but risking never getting used to a population that behaves differently? Do i go for the people or the environment? In a way, i guess they’re one and the same. What i really wanna know is, what are people in other big cities like?
*photo is of street artist Keith Haring and was taken by Chantal Regnault. found here.
There’s something about New York. It’s amazing and depressing at the same time, and i’m starting to feel more of the depressing part these days. Despite having grown up in urban and suburban areas, i feel like the city is becoming too much for me. All i can think about these days is retreating to nature. I used to love taking aimless walks here, so i went out this weekend to take advantage of the warmer weather, but i didn’t enjoy the walks this time. It was an opportunity to think to myself, but the roads, the cars, the crowds just got to be a bit much.
I hear so many visitors say that New Yorkers are unfriendly. I remember reading one particularly resonant (but stupid) comment: “New Yorkers are so unfriendly—they don’t even look at each other on the street!” Really? So you’re unfriendly if you don’t look up at everyone who passes by?
I grew up in Seoul, South Korea, a suburb of D.C., and Central Jersey before moving to New York City for college. (I consider the Jersey suburb my hometown.) I didn’t find the city or its people overwhelming or off-putting at all, but then again, i did grow up in a fairly large and developed suburb. On the contrary, i actually found New Yorkers to be much friendlier than Jerseyans. I found myself in many an argument with those who complained about the unfriendliness of New Yorkers.
In the end, it comes down to this: it’s a matter of privacy, not friendliness. New Yorkers, like all inhabitants of big cities, work hard to stay inside their individual bubbles. Everyone is constantly bumping into one another, but they’re all encapsulated in their own dedicated bubbles, so they bounce right off of one another and keep on truckin’ along. But once the bubble is broken—and they do break, whether by accident or purpose—they’re the same human beings as all the other human beings in the world. (For a similar take on this, read these excerpts from E. B. White’s Here is New York.) We need those bubbles; otherwise, we’d all go crazy from the constant contact and interaction! We’re already overstimulated.