I never thought that New York would be an unfriendly place, but I never knew just how affable these New Yorkers can be. I say ‘New Yorkers’; how many true natives I have actually met I can probably count on one hand; I think I have met more Californians, and certainly more Brits. We seem to have a built-in Brit radar that attracts us to each other at a hundred paces. Regardless, whoever I have met, my overall impression has been that of a truly welcoming neighbourhood.
Coming straight from ten years in London, I am no stranger to rude and grumpy people. Sure, if it rained 360 days a year (don’t quote me on that), you’d be grumpy too. I don’t think that Londoners are as miserable as many say, though. I’m a firm believer that people react in a positive way if you are friendly to them; it’s just that many people in London don’t want to make the first move to be friendly – that British reticence, you know – so they are undercover friendly people, disguised as grumpy ones. Only when you get them talking are they actually rather nice.
New Yorkers, however, need no encouragement, no enticing out of their shell. Other parents talk to me in the park, introduce me to their friends, and overload me with recommendations for restaurants and children’s activities. Perfect strangers comment on the children and ruffle their hair; such unsolicited skin-to-skin contact would send many Brits darting for the nearest policeman if this happened in England. Where little children provoke a weak ‘ah how sweet’ smile back in Britain, here people stop dead in their tracks, mouth agape, and act as if they have never before clapped eyes on a human being aged three or under. They stop short only at asking for the child’s autograph. It’s lovely and it’s uplifting when you’re a stay-at-home mother; somehow, people appreciating your children makes you feel appreciated too.
I live in Brooklyn, but Manhattanites aren’t that different. Obviously the ‘rat race’ types don’t have much time or inclination to stop, but they’re pleasant enough. Some hair-ruffles have been known to occur there. My neighbourhood is a busy, exciting, yet cosy place to live, and I think this rubs off on people’s mood. I have only had one (rather satisfying) run-in, with a rude shop owner who resented children being in her store, and that isn’t bad considering I’ve been here a few months.
It’s fabulous living in a place where most people seem genuinely pleased to be a part of the neighbourhood. One of our local cafes has a ‘100 reasons to be happy’ box where people can write on a card what makes them happy and post it into the box. The box is always full and the card pile is always running low. Not a bad exercise to do when you’re living in a city with knee-deep snow in the winter and temperatures in the mid-90s during the summer – yes, there’s plenty to grumble about, but Brooklynites do tend to see the sunnier side of things, and they make sure newcomers feel the same way.