Becoming a New Yorker

Recently, I went on a date with an artist from Brooklyn. Halfway through the date — I was telling a story about walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and how it was fraught with peril — he stopped me. “Wait. How long have you been here?”

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge with Alex, Sean, and Tako was one of the first things I did in NYC, so I think that’s what tipped my date off that I’m still pretty new.

He meant NYC, not the poorly-lit Brooklyn pub where we were occupying the only quiet corner table, so I said, “About six months.”

And he said, “Huh.”

I laughed a little (because it’s a funny reaction to get in real life) and asked, “What does ‘huh’ mean?”

“I don’t think I realized you were so new.”

I asked him if that would have made a difference; if he wouldn’t have asked me out if he knew I was such a recent transplant. He thought about it before saying no, so I’m pretty sure he was telling the truth. (To be fair, he didn’t ask me on a second date, so maybe he wasn’t.)

It’s not the first time I’ve received feedback along those lines, though. People always seem surprised I’ve been here for such a short time. I had this guy cornered, so I went ahead and asked the uncomfortable question:

How long would it take before I could call myself a New Yorker?

I’ve done the touristy things. Tako has mastered the subway. I’ve perfected my RBF. So when am I a local?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, and I’ve asked a few other people and received a variety of answers.

One said once I start using the terminology correctly. For example, “You wanna grab a slice?” not “You want to get some pizza?” But I already do this, I think. Or maybe there’s other terminology that I’m not yet aware of…such as Brooklyn Boy (see below).

A coworker told me two years and changed the subject, while a guy from Jersey (a friend’s brother) said I would never be a New Yorker. So they were both really helpful.

Some guy I met at a bar told me when I don’t even blink at a guy getting naked on the subway. Which…I mean, please. I’m from San Francisco. Nude dudes are totally rote.

A female friend said, “When you can tell the difference between a Brooklyn Boy and a Queens Guy by accent alone.” The capitals were hers, not mine, and there’s a lot to unpack in this statement. But I think the point about the accents is legitimate because I honestly can’t tell the difference between Brooklyn and Queens. I didn’t even know there was a difference, and I feel pretty stupid that I still can’t hear it.

The best answer I got, though, the one that resonated with me most, was the answer my date gave me. He said I would be a New Yorker when I finally understood the joy of doing absolutely nothing. And this makes sense to me.

New York, especially Manhattan, is jam-packed with people all the time.

You don’t really understand the meaning of the city that never sleeps until you try to take the subway home at 2, 3, or 4am. I won’t spoil the experience for you (mostly because there’s just no way to describe it that doesn’t sound insane), but let me give you one piece of advice.

A subway car will only appear empty for one of three reasons (or any combination of these reasons):

  1. a toxic spill or smell so foul you can’t breathe through it
  2. the air-conditioning or heat isn’t working
  3. a crazy person is lying down on one of the seats

Ever. No exceptions.

In New York, you have absolutely no way of escaping being around people. And that’s fine, for the most part. Sometimes, though, I feel this wave of tension rising around me, like every single one of those people is just waiting for a reason to scream. Not at me per se. Just near me. It’s like the tension is contagious, passing from one person to the next, and I just want to take cover somewhere until it all blows over.

The New York Minute is very real.

Whole days disappear in the blink of an eye as I rush from work to a lunch date back to work then to drinks and finally to dinner or an event. I spend most of my afternoon breaks worrying about how I’m going to squeeze in time to get home to walk Tako in between. The need to step out of that rush and take a breath can be a physical urge.

Tourists seem to be everywhere.

I was a tourist when I first got here, so I get it. New York is amazing. I think everyone should visit. I just think they should do it more politely.

Now that the weather is nice again, it feels like tourists are pouring down every street, and they treat the city like Disneyland. We’re talking clogging the whole sidewalk by walking at a snail’s pace, lined up four in a row. They stop in the middle of crosswalks to take pictures down the avenues. I agree that the view makes a nice photo, but is it worth death by taxi?

These people just step off the sidewalks with their noses buried in their phones or, worse, those free maps they give out around the city, assuming… Well, I don’t even know what they’re assuming. That the maps are a magical protective shield that prevents being hit by a bus trying to squeeze through the delay on the lights? Yes, I jaywalk, so I won’t cast stones for that, but at least I look both ways first.

Also, why are there so many in Midtown East every day? Are they lost? (Rockefeller is west, people. Head towards the Hudson.) Maybe the hotels are cheaper? I don’t know, but I do know that getting to work is awfully difficult these days.

So I understand how overwhelming living in New York can be, and I can see how that might drive someone to hermitry for a weekend. But doing nothing (unless I’m ill) just isn’t part of my personality. I need to be busy, trying new things, meeting new people, or at least having some fun with the people I already know.

So if that’s the criteria for being a New Yorker, maybe my friend’s brother was right. I might be doomed to be a California Girl all my life.

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