As a long-time New Yorker I’m probably among the least qualified to comment on the state of our State manners. After all, rude people generally don’t think they’re rude. And so it is with me and New Yorkers. I don’t find us particularly discourteous, but Friday’s bitchy rant got me thinking a bit more about the topic.
Now it’s completely possible that I’m missing something, but it seems to me that the “New Yorkers are rude” critique misunderstands something important about life in the city of New York. There’s a simple explanation for why we act the way we do. There are more than 8 million of us packed into an area smaller than some U.S. farms. That doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but it does change what it means to be rude, at least in some instances.
Take the neighborly wave, for example. In small towns and suburbs across the country it’s commonplace for strangers to exchange some form of acknowledgement, a wave of the hand or a nod of the head, whenever passing one another. It’s simply polite to say hello. It’s also something New York City dwellers generally don’t do. Not because we’re impolite, but because there are far too many strangers to acknowledge.
It is one thing to smile and wave at the third person you pass on the way into work. It’s another thing entirely to do the same to the three hundredth. We simply can’t do it, so we don’t.
Something similar is true for sales clerks. We’ve met plenty of chatty store owners around the country who genuinely want to talk to us, hear our story and share theirs. That’s great, as long as the store is empty. But when there’s a line of customers waiting to check out, that same chatty behavior stops being friendly and starts being inconsiderate.
In a small town it’s nice that everyone knows your name. But in a high-traffic area like New York, the most considerate thing a store owner can do is keep the line moving.
For that reason we New Yorkers not only appreciate brisk efficiency, we understand that without it we’d get little more accomplished in a day than procuring our first cup of coffee.
So when we walk past you without making eye contact or when that brusque salesperson whisks you through a line with grim efficiency, don’t be insulted. But don’t thank us either. We don’t have time for pleasantries.