I must say though, it is really a blast, getting the chance to play tour guide in a place where, without much effort from your end, your visitors will be blown away.
When I say "blown away" I don't just mean it in the sense that they all fall in love and want to stay here forever. Think of "blown away" as a mix of overwhelmed and over-stimulated.
New York is unpredictable, shocking, and outside of many comfort zones. Especially for someone who has yet to experience it.
There is a certain high expectation for non-New Yorkers upon their first visit. And while I can only speak from my own experience, that expectation is often surpassed with flying colors.
I find that the best aspect of exploring a new place is not so much in the trademark spots you put on your must-see list, which you built from extensive online research, but rather the experiences you sort of stumble upon along the way.
This goes for a lot of destinations I’m sure, though it could not be more true for New York City. It has a certain unpredictability that I have yet to see in anywhere else. A way that tends to give newcomers culture shock, even if they're coming from within the U.S, even other large metros.
There are a number of comments or acknowledgments I’ve collected over the years, whether it was from my time at James Madison University in Virginia, or during visits from friends outside of New York. Many of which are silly generalizations, though some are rather comical.
For instance, my friend actually bought an "I (Heart) NY" shirt from the first souvenir store we saw and then wore it all day. When strolling down a sidewalk in Chelsea, she sort of gasped at the rumbling noise coming from under the sidewalk. "What the fuck is that?" she asked, horrified.
So that was a good lesson. Make sure to explain "subways" to your visitors; they have the potential of being rather terrifying.
Or there could be that friend who accepts multiple brochures or pamphlets from the people on the sidewalks, who aggressively hand out menus like they're the most important thing you'll ever read.
Somehow whenever I leave Times Square I'm never strolling, but rather running, desperately for dear life.
It is refreshing to hear perspectives from outside of your daily routine. These conversations have a way of reminding you to look at the big picture and acknowledge aspects of your life which you have grown used to. There have been a few memorable reckonings which have done that for me.
"Where is everyone rushing to? It's Sunday."
I am in no way naive to the fact that people have incredibly busy lives, many of which are beyond any "tight schedule" I've ever had. It's what keeps us on our toes and interested, the agenda of one person to the next having the potential to be so astronomically different. And although Sundays tend to be universally regarded as mellow, down days, the world doesn't pause in the same way here.
Though I must admit, I often find myself speed-walking through the city even when I have nowhere to be, at no specific time.
Is this an instinctive response to everyone around me? Maybe we're all sending each other the subliminal message that we better hurry up or we'll miss out on something important.
I know, we've heard it all before. Cheesy phrases about taking a second to enjoy what's going on around you, derived from the iconic Ferris Bueller quote about life moving too fast.
But here I am, in NYC with my college friends just months after wrapping up four of the best years of our lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia (where life generally moves at glacier pace). We're enjoying a long-awaited reunion, hopefully, one of many though they are sure to dwindle with distance and time. It's Sunday, and I'd like things to slow the hell down for a bit.
"Are there always so many people sleeping on the sidewalk?"
This comment was particularly interesting. My attention was suddenly drawn to the overwhelming amount of people sitting, laying, sleeping on the sidewalks, holding or propping up a sign, pleading for help.
It's unimaginably sad, the struggle which these people endure each day. It doesn't surprise me that homelessness in NYC has in recent years reached it's worst since the Great Depression. It's a reality that is very evident here.
Hearing people from outside the city react to something many of us New Yorkers have grown used to has opened my eyes to it even more.
The truth of the matter is, whether we acknowledge it or not, we expect to see people laying on the sidewalk, and expect to be asked for money at a crosswalk.
More often than not, I ignore all of it. Not because I don't care or feel empathetic, but because it is something that I see so often, it has become part of my routine. And I know that I'm not alone in this.
At first, when my visitors commented, I saw it as strange and immature that they would be so taken aback by homelessness. Have they not seen this before? Don't they know things like this exist?
Maybe some people are naive, depending on where they are from. In truth, I think it is arguably more natural for them to be affected in such a way, and actually strange of me not to be. One should be affected when they see a woman sleeping in the doorway of a building in the middle of March. That should make you sad, no matter how many times you see it.
I didn't realize just how much I had gotten used to it.
"People here are sort of cold."
The classic, "New Yorkers are all a bunch of tough, cursing, hard asses" mantra.
This is something I hear ALL the time, especially when I was going to school in the South where people pride themselves on superficially "nice."
Behaviors (though not ALWAYS genuine) like waving, smiling, and holding doors, (even when the person you're holding it for is far enough away that they have to start sprinting) are a staple of southern culture.
I tend to think that New Yorkers aren't so much cold, as they are authentic and honest in their actions. Those people who storm down the sidewalk with their resting, serious expression, they may not always give you a cheeky smile as they pass by, but more often than not I've found that they show up when it matters most.
**Cue the man who I at first thought hated my guts, as I went to sit next to him on a bench outside of my office. I noticed the bench was wet from rain and began to walk away, when he said "wait, hold on," and wiped off all the water from the seat WITH HIS SLEEVE.**
Or the cab driver who gave my hysterical friend - after saying goodbye to her boyfriend at the airport - a heartfelt pep talk and then got her pizza.
And on another note, there is a big difference between being mean, and being unapologetic. People around here know what they're after; they're excited and they're busy. They're less interested in spending time on all the fluff.
I for one, appreciate the candor, and the lack of fluff.
Around a month ago when I was walking to Penn Station, nearing the chaotic crowds around MSG, with my earphones in, some man suddenly lunged towards me and yelled loud and dramatically in my face, then continued on his way. I stumbled into another woman walking beside me who pretty much caught me from falling. Everyone around me seemed completely unfazed. They kept walking like nothing had happened.
My heart was beating really fast for a while, but I wouldn't have it any other way.[Feature Image Courtesy flickr]