I moved to New York three and a half years ago. After two years in Grand Coteau, LA, it was a jarring transition to find myself living on a block with a higher population than all of Grand Coteau. Despite this initial shock, I’ve come to feel at home in New York and I know I’ll miss it after I move away in May.
When I heard Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz slam the Big Apple for its “New York values” I started to wonder what these values might actually be. After a few years of living in New York City, here are a few things I have observed as real New York values:
During my time in New York I have heard countless languages spoken on the street. I have walked through neighborhoods with signs written in Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, and languages I don’t even recognize. The variety of people who feel at home in New York is moving. They come from different backgrounds and have different beliefs. There are visitors, transplants, and natives. Some are new immigrants and others are from families that have lived here for generations. Everyone is welcome in his or her own way. While New Yorkers can be brusque, the diversity of the city lends itself to offering a home to anyone and everyone.
During my first weeks in New York I went to watch some of my fellow Jesuits play in a hockey game. After the game the goalie from another team started explaining to me, in typically New York-style colorful language, why I should come out to play with them. He told me he had just started playing goalie a few years earlier even though he was already in his thirties. In taking on this new role, this guy learned that sometimes you just have to go for it. He wasn’t afraid to fail and he wasn’t afraid to tell me what he thought I should do. This boldness initially grinded my polite midwestern sensibilities, but I’ve grown to appreciate it. New Yorkers don’t hold back. They know what they want and go for it. It’s not the style for everyone, but it seems to work well for them.
The go, go, go nature of New York city is a very common stereotype. Someone once told me, “There are two speeds in New York: fast, and get out of the way!” Three and a half years after moving to the big city this still exhausts me sometimes. As a result, I occasionally find myself consciously slowing down in order to appreciate New York’s architecture, even though this sometimes means getting jostled by impatient crowds. The fast pace can be off-putting and might not always be the best way to approach life, but the productivity is undeniable. People in New York have a sense of urgency that drives them forward, both literally and figuratively. Once New Yorkers commit to something, they’re going to pursue it until it’s accomplished.
- Feelings on the table
You always know how someone from New York is feeling. The visible passion of New Yorkers is another stereotype that has held true in my experience. When people talk about this it always seems to be about how visibly angry they get. Most people can call to mind an image of a New Yorker shouting them down in the street for bumping into them. Although I’ve become numb to the honking cars that are constantly sharing how their drivers are feeling, I do still notice how people are not afraid to express how they feel. When those emotions are anger or aggression, it can leave me feeling intimidated. However, those emotions are often actually warm and joyous. To see a New Yorker delighted and animated is truly wonderful. The way I have been welcomed and greeted by New York friends reminds me that emotional expression can be very positive.
As residents of the capitol of the world, it may not come as a surprise that New Yorkers are fiercely loyal to their city. If the outcry over Sen. Cruz’s comments wasn’t evidence enough, look at the way they banded together after Hurricane Sandy, which paralyzed the city my first year living here. People didn’t give up on the swamped financial district or forget the leveled neighborhoods in Queens. They stick up for their city and work hard to keep it as strong as they picture it in their minds. In my experience, that loyalty translates into personal relationships with friends whos have put up with me during the past four years and I know will be around for years to come. New Yorkers stick by the place, things, and people they love.
Sen. Cruz is right – “New York values” are real. I have seen them with my own eyes. Even though they are occasionally frustrating to my Midwestern sensibilities, I am glad to have encountered them and allowed them to expand my worldview.
Cover image courtesy Flickr CC user Bob Jagendorf, found here.