Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How Insufferable Are New Yorkers?

Well, the short answer, for me anyway, is "very".

There's a little discussion going around in the blogosphere on how annoying, if at all, New York and New Yorkers are. What started it off was this post by Conor Friedersdorf:
Even if New York is a peerless American city, an urban triumph that dwarfs every other in scale, density, and possibility; even if our idea of it is the romantic notion that Joan Didion described, "the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself;" even if you've reveled in the fact of the city, strutting down Fifth Avenue in a sharp suit or kissing a date with the skyline as backdrop while the yellow cab waits; even if you've drunk from the well of its creative springs, gazing at the Flatiron Building, or paging through the New York Review of Books on a Sunday morning, or living vicariously through Joseph Mitchel or E.B. White or Tom Wolfe or any of its countless chroniclers; even if you love New York as much as I do, revering it as the highest physical achievement of Western Civilization, surely you can admit that its singularly prominent role on the national scene is a tremendously unhealthy pathology.

Despite the rent, the cold, the competition, the bedbugs, the absurd requirements for securing even a closet-sized pre-war apartment on an inconvenient street; the distance from friends and family, the starkness of the sexual marketplace, the oppressive stench of sticky subway platforms in the dog days of August; despite the hour long commutes on the Monday morning F Train, when it isn't quite 8 am, the week hardly underway, and already you feel as though, for the relief of sitting down, you'd just as soon give up, go back to Akron or Allentown or Columbus or Marin County or Long Beach -- despite these things, and so many more, lawyers and novelists and artists and fashion designers and playwrights and journalists and bankers and aspiring publishers and models flock to New York City.

And then Andrew Sullivan jumped in:
I love it to death, but would never live there. And the narcissism of its inhabitants (yes, I know I'm not exactly one to talk) is deeply irritating. It's much less different than it once was; and nowhere near as interesting as it believes.

At which Ezra Klein stepped in:
New Yorkers, by contrast, have what's considered the greatest city in the country and can't stop talking about it. It's like an A-student bragging about his grades, or a rich guy making everybody look at his car. It's unseemly.

And finally, Ta-Nehisi Coates, who says it's all about the sheer numbers:
I think it's hard to get what happens when you slam millions of people who are really different into close proximity. It's incredible to watch. I think that's only smug if you're the kind of person to attribute accidents of environment and history, to genetics.

Moreover, I think New Yorkers only seem more smug, because there are more people in New York and thus more arrogant New Yorkers. In my time, I have watched mo-fos from everywhere from Dallas to Cleveland to Columbia, Maryland hold forth about why their neck of the woods is touched by God. This kind of person would be that way, no matter where he or she were born. Regrettably, in New York we have more of those kinds of people, because we have more of all kinds of people. It's worth remembering the sheer population size of the city--it's like ten Detroits.
My view on this is fairly simple: I love New York but I fucking hate New Yorkers.

You see, New York is a fantastic city. It's got great restaurants. Great attractions. Great nightlife. Great comedy. Great buzz. When you visit New York, you feel a thrill -- it's like being part of something bigger. And for me, personally, New York will always have a special place in my heart. The woman I married spent five years in the city, four as a college student, and for that reason alone, I love it; the memories of visiting it are invariably happy ones.

But my problem is this: New Yorkers believe that they have a monopoly on living in a cool place. Now, please understand this is not some Chicago-New York rivalry thing playing out. Frankly, I consider neither of these cities home, and couldn't care less what inhabitants of each city think of each other.

But it is quite instructive that New Yorkers believe they are sui generis; they are special and unique for living in a place like New York. They really do believe that they have the best of everything (untrue) and that no one is as hip or cool as them (also, sadly, untrue).

What's more is that New Yorkers think what makes them cooler and better than everyone else is the fact that they live in New York. It's circular reasoning taken to absurd lengths. Why is New York cool, you ask? Well, because of New Yorkers. And what makes New Yorkers so special? New York!

Shut up. Please, just shut up.

Look, I have many friends in New York. I try to visit at least once a year because of the number of friends I have there. I would love to live there one day, if I could afford it. But honestly, New Yorkers need to get a grip. More than that, they need to get over themselves.

It should be made mandatory for New Yorkers to spend some time in other big cities, both in the U.S. and abroad, just to understand how non-special they really are, and just how non-special their city really is. You want culture and art? Walk around Montparnasse in Paris during the early evening, or maybe around le Marais. You want down and dirty, hipster neighborhoods with local markers and weed sellers? Go to Camden in London. You want neon signs? Walk around downtown Tokyo, where it's brighter at night than during the day. Hustle and bustle? Las Ramblas in Barcelona.

But New Yorkers don't know any of this, or pretend not to know. For them, the world begins and ends at the boundaries of the 8000 bridges and tunnels connecting New York to the rest of the world. And it's really annoying. I get that you're proud of your city, and like living there. But open your goddamn eyes and ears, just for a second. And if that's too hard, then at least do us the favor of closing your mouth.


hemlock said...

i liked the cities in this order:


as an outsider, to me people in ny just seemed miserable - really really unhappy. and this was the frickin "holiday season".
the fact that the subway smelled and central park was full of piss... it was gross.
(must be put on record though, the new yorkers were very nice to me...)

i enjoyed the lights, but those you can see anywhere.

more importantly, l'hore l'hore ay.

Ali Rashid said...

Just reminds me how we, the Karachiites boast about being more of intellectuals than rest of Pakistan (very debatable though).

Often I hear my city mates condemning the rurals for voting the most corrupted political parties out of nothing but ethnicity bondage with their leaders. E.g. A sindhi rural will always vote for PPP, beyond any reason. My friends also actively condemn feudalism in the country that seems to be the root cause of such disasters.

Nevertheless, both these points are hardly objectionable, except for one thing: you cannot point fingers at the poor and unkempt rurals when you vote yourself for the MQM out of nothing but your ethnic bondage. And as an equivalent to the 'feudalism' theory, need I mention the slogan 'Jo Quaid ka ghaddar hai, wo maut ka haqdaar hai'?

Smci said...

Just something about New Yorkers, Israelis, and New Zealanders. They're the meanest people on Earth.

Then again, my DC folks aren't exactly known for their manners either.

Is it me or is there a direct correlation between population density, and the "mean-ness" of a city's population?

takhalus said...

I was gonna say the same thing Ali, Karachiites often believe in their superiority over other places in Pakistan. Londoners believe Britain doesn't exist north of watford and the list goes on..

Anonymous said...

"Just something about New Yorkers, Israelis, and New Zealanders. They're the meanest people on Earth"

"Is it me or is there a direct correlation between population density, and the "mean-ness" of a city's population?"

New Zealand is densely populated??????????????????????????

Yo Mista said...

You may discredit everything I have to say because I'm a New Yorker, but I completely disagree with everything you have to say.

First of all, your assumption that most New Yorkers don't get out much is completely baseless. What New Yorkers are you talking to??? The New Yorkers I know, hear and love are those that love to travel (admitting this is only in reference to the people I know). Not to mention, New Yorkers (have to) travel because the city can become overwhelming at times. Being surrounded by concrete can feel claustrophobic.

Second, every city has its own culture - its people, attitudes, etc - it's all mixed. Having been born and raised in Chicago, I felt most Chicagoans absolutely loved their city and thought Chicago was the best city in the world. The difference? People in Chicago are very different in the way they express their love for their city. The Midwest is generally friendly, hospitable and modest (relative to the rest of the U.S.), so obviously the way they go about expressing the love for their city will be different.

The fact that New Yorkers are very vocal about the love for their city does not mean they love their city more or that their city is the best. It simply tells you about the type of people you'll find in the city itself.

Go back home said...

So what is home for you?


Ahsan said...

Hemlock: Wait, you have a problem with piss and smelly subways, and yet put Chicago second on your list?

Ali Rashid and Takhalus:

But non-Karachiite Pakistanis ARE backward. What're we going to do about it?


Anon413 stole my question.

Yo Mista: I'm not saying New Yorkers don't get out. I'm saying that when they do, they refuse to open their eyes and ears and consider other places even remotely equivalent to their city. It's as if traveling simply reminds them of how Super Freaking Awesome their city and their fellow inhabitants are. And you're basically agreeing with me when you say that New Yorkers are more vocal about loving their city. That's exactly my point: much, much more vocal, insufferably so.

Go back home:

Indeed it is. No matter where I live and how old I get, Karachi will always be home. Family+closest friends+place you grow up = home. Simple.

Chad said...

I have to say, this is all pretty silly, and New York seems to get the shit-end of this debate more than other cities. But that's probably just because more people visit NYC than, say, Cleveland, so more returning tourists have a reason to complain about the locals. Of course, there's the obvious reasons for this: most tourists visit places that are full of tourists and the people who make money off them. Ahsan, you note that other places have superior neighborhoods for culture and art, dirty hipsters, and neon signs. That means you're talking about SOHO, Williamsburg, and Times Square? Those are the three most insufferable places in the entire city (and not just because of the tourists). What would you think of Chicago if you spent all your time in Wicker Park, Wrigleyville, and the Gold Coast? You'd think Chicago was full of hipster douche-bags, frat-boy douche-bags, and banker douche-bags.

I'll tell you what's great about NYC: and it's not what most people see when they visit for a few days. It's a deep source of American history, including the family histories of the millions who passed through there as immigrants. There are more languages spoken within the city limits than just about anywhere else in the world. This means that you can get just about any kind of food you want (it might not be better than everywhere else, but the variety is endless). You can leave your tiny little apartment in the morning and get more done in a day than anywhere else I've lived -- and all without ever visiting a gas station. Just about every neighborhood still has a local baker, butcher, fishmonger and produce market, quite often surpassing the quality of premium stores. You can still buy live fish (for cooking, not pets) in the markets in Chinatown.

People always say that it's a great place to visit, but they wouldn't want to live there. These folks have got it perfectly backward. Visitors to NYC never get a sense of how people actually live there, and it's a hell of a lot better than the douchey over-priced restaurants, bars, and clubs that most out-of-town guests end up seeing because they read a review in the latest issue of Time Out New York.

Listen, I lived in NYC for 14 years, and the only people who had an attitude about living there were the ones who had either just arrived or had an inflated sense of self about everything (where they were from, how much money they had, etc) -- and every place has folks like that. But in general, if people seem happy about living where they live, good for them. If other people elsewhere feel differently, that's no reason to take it out on New Yorkers.

PS, If you want self-righteous city-dwellers, try San Francisco.

PPS, This business about midwestern friendliness, or southern charm, or some other such regional affectation is all pretty superficial. I remember Nashville (may it recover soon), where people smiled and tipped their hats during the day and got drunk and beat each other up in the streets at night.

Smci said...

Israeli cities aren't as densely populated either.

I guess it's just the people, not the relative density. Otherwise Singaporeans and Hong Kong(-ers?) would be worse scrooges.

But BELIEVE me, those three I mentioned are some nasty mofos.

Ahsan said...

Chad: Great comment. I actually agree with basically everything you say. A few points:

1. I really like New York. I think I made that clear in the post, and am reiterating it here. The stuff about everything in the world being within a couple of blocks, and the language stuff is right on the money. Like I said, if I could afford it, I would love to live there.

2. I think you're right about people who recently moved there (recently defined as 5-10 yrs) as being the ones most vocal. But I also think recent immigrants to NY are a large portion of the city's population (obviously not majority but a significant minority).

3. I don't think you can dismiss New Yorker smugness as something people from all cities do. It's not merely that they like living there (which is true of everywhere else, as you note). It's also that they feel the need to tell other people how other cities don't compare. That's uber annoying.

But great comment overall.

Chad said...

Yes, recent transplants comprise a good proportion of the population. But that's part of the story. Chicago has a lot of transplants from St. Louis, Milwaukee, and smaller towns from IL, IN, IA, WI, MI, OH, etc. Most of them will tell you that they prefer Chicago to their podunk hometown. New York has a lot of transplants from, well, the rest of the world. And they'll tell you the same thing about their hometowns compared to NYC (or spend a lot of time thinking about how to get the hell out). So you have a lot of folks comparing NYC favorably to the rest of the world, one forsaken hometown at a time.

Furthermore, I think a lot of these arguments are started by non-NYers. Folks like Friedersdorf visit, complain, and elicit a flood of responses from people defending their city in no uncertain terms. My sense is that this is a fight the NYers rarely start, but like most people who are happy with where they live, they're confident they can win. The exception, to end the comment on a note of agreement, are the recent arrivals. But they're probably still getting over their perpetual fear (it can be pretty scary at first if you're from some quiet, "modest," midwestern town) or they've overcome their fear and are basking in the false glow of conquest.

Ali Rashid said...


"But non-Karachiite Pakistanis ARE backward. What're we going to do about it?"

Name a Pakistani whom you could be proud of internationally, and every 9 out of 10 times, he will be from outside of Karachi.

There is comparatively a much longer list of Non Karachiite people who earned repute for this country and are internationally known - Moeen Nawazish, Arfa Kareem, Imran Khan, Jansher Khan, Nazir Sabir (first Pakistani to climb the Everest), M Yousuf (Snooker world champion)...and I could continue for as long.

If what you meant by Karachiite Supremacy is the 'mahajir supremacy', then let there be no further discussion: Your stand pretty much exposes its own flaws in such a case.

Naqiya said...

ahsan i read this in the morning and had a long list of things to say, but i see chad has me beat! you stole all my points chad wtf! so i'll say just this:

8 million people.

from all over america, and all over the world. so for you to say "New Yorkers believe they are sui generis" etc. etc. is utterly ridiculous! come on. you know better than to make sweeping generalizations like that! esp about 8 million people.

waisay how many actual new yorkers do you really know? i mean either born and raised, or the spent more than a few years working or studying here variety? i work and live with tons of new yorkers, and they happen to be just as amazing, complex, nice, mean, nasty, aggressive, meak etc. etc. etc. as any other group of diverse, eclectic people anywhere else.

also, as for your nyc is not as special as other cities paragraph, i think you just disproved your own point! nyc IS special because while elements of what makes it amazing are present in different cities all over the world, it really is the only city that has ALL those elements together in one place. and thats because people from all over those cities and others choose to come and live here, bringing their culture along.

which brings us back to the 8 million: it makes this city too complex to be summed up by "new yorkers are [insert sweeping statement here]" arguments. hence, your argument is pretty bs

Ahsan said...

Ali Rashid: Um, I was joking. But good to know where you stand on this.

Naqiya: Thank you for your second last paragraph. You basically proved my point.

Naqiya said...

it absolutely does not - i was spelling out a point that YOU made, based on facts, without any degree of douchy-ness. so no, it does not.

Naqiya said...


the other perspective from the New Yorker

Ahsan said...

nyc IS special because while elements of what makes it amazing are present in different cities all over the world, it really is the only city that has ALL those elements together in one place. and thats because people from all over those cities and others choose to come and live here, bringing their culture along.

Do you actually believe this? That NY is the "only city" with all those elements/immigrants/cultures? Seriously?

Naqiya said...

of all the places i've ever visited in america, yes i think it is the only place that has that kind of mix of cultures and communities from all over america and all over the world, along with all the other things you mentioned in your paragraph (art, neon signs blab la).

so yes, nyc is special. if it wasnt, i wouldnt choose to live here, you wouldnt choose to visit, and neither would the billions of tourists that come every year. arguing otherwise would be quite stupid and besides the point. it doesnt mean other places aren’t special in their own way, and no one is arguing otherwise.

as for proving your point – unless you think i’m being douche-y or obnoxious, or that there is in fact absolutely nothing special about ny, please do explain how i’m proving your point.

the only obnoxious argument i see here is yours ahsan. anyone who thinks that he can say, with any degree of authority that 8 million people all think "the world begins and ends at the boundaries of the 8000 bridges and tunnels connecting New York to the rest of the world" etc. seems pretty obnoxious to me.

but what do i know. i'm just a idiot new yorker with my eyes and ears closed.

back to work for me. see you in two days when you come to visit us insufferable new yorkers.

Ahsan said...

My last comment on this thread, because now I'm bored of this topic.


That's Lewis Black's famous little bit on America going around the world, telling others how great it is. Substitute "America" for "NY" and you have an idea of what I mean. That's what it sounds like to hear New Yorkers earnestly tell us "But we ARE the best city in the world...can't you see?". Why can't NYers just be satisfied in saying they live in a nice, fun city, and to each his own? What's with the proselytizing?

Only need the first 1:30 of the clip btw.

Ahsan said...

Ok, now this really IS my last comment.

Naqiya, please calm down. I never called you douchy or obnoxious; if anything, you have been the one using insults. My point to you was simple: NYers are smug when it comes to their city. You helped me prove my point by saying something to the effect of "but NY really IS special" and that it's the "only city" with a mix of cultures and immigrants (a laughable assertion).

As for me visiting it, I'm doing so because I have friends there and it's a fun place. But does that make it special in and of itself? No, not really. If that were true, Karachi would be a cooler city than NY, because I visit home a lot more often.

Again, no one is arguing that NY isn't a great city. But all this stuff about being unique and offering things other places don't is silly. It's a myth propagated by NYers who believe their own hype.

Anonymous said...

As a native New Yorker, all I can say is NYers are just misunderstood by everyone. Agreed other cities have good restaurants, some nice shows and entertainment, amazing art galleries and attractions but I have never understood the kind of overreaction I get, if I “happen” to mention that the restaurants in New York City allow patrons to exercise a little more choice or some restaurants and spas here are open 24/7.

I live very close to Times Square and circle line. So, I am often asked by tourists for directions. Once a tourist said, I am from Poland and I gave her a knowing smile, I was immediately considered rude by her. I was not looking down on her. It was just that I knew she was a tourist as she was trying to hail a cab whose light on the top was off.

I have relatives and friends who come up here as often as they can. Some are kind of fascinated, some are scared, and they will say that it is crazy to live here and then ridicule the area where I live. They conveniently forget the midtown view from the roof deck of my apt complex and the breath taking view of cruise ships parked on the Hudson and the skyline of Hoboken and Jersey City from my apartment. But they go on forever about how wonderful their city is.

The truth is, everyone talks about where they live. Everyone knows how their hometown is wonderful and has a biased pride in the place where they live.

And you rightly said, home is where your family and friends are.I love NYC not because it is one of the best cities in the world but because my family is here and that's I why, i love it with all my heart.

Nikhil said...

i dont really disagree with anything you say. i loved being a part of ny and everything it has to offer, but yeah, there's definitely this sense of superiority that exists. it's similar to bombay. and, i think, to some extent, karachi.

anyway, we've talked about it before. we're not far off on where we, individually, stand.

i think it also has to do with all the hardships new yorkers have to bear - long work hours, shitty commutes, tiny living spaces - it gives them a sense of having borne all these fucking pains for a reason - a larger something.

but on the flip side, here's something else I believe - I definitely don't know about globally - but in America, there is absolutely nowhere else I would rather live.

I think NY, within the USA, does offer more than any other city, for me. The diaspora of food, the art, the sports, the cultural diversity, and most importantly, access to all of this in the easiest way possible - significantly simpler than anything i've seen in any of the other american cities i have visited - is worth the living in a small space, and putting up with all the concrete jungle bs.

i love walking everywhere and being 10 minutes away from pretty much anything, and i feel NY is, in my limited exposure, the only city that can offer me all that. Again, i'm talking only about the US, because i feel like i could potentially get all of that in London as well, and I'm really excited to go to HK soon, as I've heard that's pretty close also. But, again, for me, NY wins the domestic war hands down.

All of that being said, generally, the loud defenders of NY are people who haven't lived there very long and like it for a different (and perhaps for them, equally valid) set of reasons. Whatever, how does it even matter. This is an age old argument which will never be settled.

Anonymous said...

Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar are FAR more interesting places than New York or any American city. And, I am not Pakistani and have no Pakistani relatives.

Naqiya said...

wow ahsan! not only have you not acknowledged a single of my many valid points, you are also misrepresenting what i said by taking my quotes out of context!! come on now, i know you can play nice

aslam boi 123 said...

hey man, how r u?

Anonymous said...

Good... next topic is the Facebook ban! Ahsan, I look forward to your view!

Smci said...

Actually, I'd like to hear from our resident legal counsel, AKS on the Facebook thingy.

Nadia said...

seriously...i came on to read some controversial views on this current facebook debacle we've embroiled ourselves in.
Does nadir EVER post anything?

Anonymous said...

@ Nikhil "I think NY, within the USA, does offer more than any other city, for me. The diaspora of food, the art, the sports, the cultural diversity, and most importantly, access to all of this in the easiest way possible - significantly simpler than anything i've seen in any of the other American cities i have visited - is worth the living in a small space, and putting up with all the concrete jungle bs."

Your comment is very eloquently put. And you forgot to mention that we love jaywalking.