How to Be A New Yorker Wherever You Are
So for Christmas, my big sister got me that book, "How to be Parisian Wherever You Are." I've been dying to read it for a while, mostly because I am a huge, slobbering Caroline de Maigret fan, but I also didn't want to buy it for myself, because it felt like a weird admission of guilt - both that I am that obsessed with Paris, and then also like, "I WILL be Parisian IN PARIS one day, fuck." So thanks, Breanna, for sparing me that emotional anguish ;) It's definitely a fun read, but it seems more derivative and idealized - it lacked a certain honesty, and at any rate, it didn't really line up with anyone I know in real life. Which, you know, is probably kind of the point. It's fluffy fun.
But it made me want to turn the lens on myself, on my friends, on our lives. In the states I never get away with telling people I'm a New Yorker ("STFU, you grew up in Buffalo") but when I travel, I find myself saying that a lot, for several reasons: 1) I mean, really, I do live here; 2) I am, technically, from the state of New York; 3) No one knows where the fuck Buffalo is; 4) It makes me sound cooler. New York culture, like American culture in general, can be hard to define until you see it outlined against life elsewhere. And that means the question is constantly in the back of my mind - I know I'm not (x), but what does that make me? Comment peut-on être new-yorkaise?
The Sunday night I got back to the city, I met up with my best friend Maggie, who was my freshman year roommate and with whom I really shared the process of coming of age in New York. I planned to ask her about this listicle-style blog post I had floating in my head, based on our real experiences in four years in New York. My ideas were basically things like "You wear a lot of clothing you've stolen from men, but not for sentimental reasons, but because it's a fantastic shirt" or "In any neighborhood, you know where to find an acceptable public restroom." Fun shit, stupid shit, I don't know. I needed Maggie's opinion because she lives in Brooklyn and pays rent to a landlord, whereas I get paid in rent and am therefore marginally less of a Big Girl.
And then on the way to meet her, I slipped on the sidewalk and sprained my wrist in the lamest way possible. I refused to admit I was injured and proceeded downtown, because there was no fucking way I was going to let falling on a sidewalk damper my evening like that. Something happened, maybe someone bumped my elbow on the train and I started crying, maybe I called my mom to ask her how one would know if an arm was broken, whatever. I met up with Maggie and we tried to go to the gallery opening but it was lame and I gave up and we went to Emergency Care, where I found out it was just a sprain and was given some advil and a cast. And then, what? It was only 10 PM on a Sunday night. Back downtown for drinks and tacos.
I really like this story because it's so ridiculous (I mean, it's not that ridiculous but) and yet also so typical of both my friendship with Maggie and also, in some ways, the past four years of living in New York. There's constant sense of adventure, I think. New York is not an easy city to live in. I think there's a certain accepted idea here that life is difficult - your commute sucks and you work long hours and the rent is steep - but somehow it's still all an adventure. It's something in between a battle and a game of wits. There's a certain rough-and-tumble savoir-vivre to living in New York that suggests a certain individualism. "Make it work." I don't know.
I realize this anecdote makes my point sound very "college student with no real responsibilities" and I understand where you'd get that. I'm not sure that I get to speak for New Yorkers in general. I've lived there for almost four years, but I'm still a student, and my permanent address is still in Buffalo. I get paid in rent - so as much as I work for my housing, my budget is not at the whim of the housing market quite the way it is for others. On the flip side of the coin, I know exactly what it's like to have like seven fucking jobs, and to carry groceries 10 blocks, uphill both ways, in the snow.
But I'm also not suggesting that this sense of adventure is limited to stupid college-buddy stories. Like I said, I know what it's like to work to be here, and that's why I'm not really afraid to speak as a student. The definition of being a New Yorker can't mean struggling for it - but at the same time, there's something about the city that demands a certain sacrifice of the self. It will never mold to you, but you will mold to it. Keep swimming or drown, and find yourself enjoying it. It's textbook Stockholm Syndrome.
Still, if you can afford it, New York is paradise. Manhattan is a veritable pleasure island of spoils. I can't imagine a place that makes it easier to be alive - 24 hours of anything in the world you could possibly want, any food in the world, all easy to get to or sent right to you, if that's what you want. To be real honest, as much as I want to move to Paris, that's what makes me the most nervous - what do you mean I have to plan ahead and can't just go buy food at 4 am?
I ended up asking Maggie that question - what makes us New Yorkers? I never got a real answer, because we ended up waxing nostalgic, as we tend to do. About how as freshman, we'd gotten lost trying to do the simplest things. On the grid! On the goddamn grid. But we also discussed how there was a such a difference between idealized versions of living in New York and our actual lives. Like, when we say that we live in New York and work in fashion or in art, there's this certain idea people have - and it's definitely not shoving a sandwhich into my mouth on the train between jobs or watching the sun come up while writing a paper and still having to look okay the next day. Which is, you know, who cares? It's part of the game, it's the sacrifice you make.
Disappointing ending to this one, but I don't know what makes someone who lives in New York different than someone anywhere else. When I was trying to write that list, I kept coming up with things like "You see nothing wrong having a jacket and your laptop and a snack and some reading material with you at all times. At all times." and I think ultimately it all kind of points to this idea that we're oriented towards life outside of our apartments, but more than that. We're like Boy Scouts. We're prepared for life, we're prepared for an adventure, at any time. It takes us ten minutes to walk ten blocks. We know where the public bathrooms are. It's that weird combination of practicality and ridiculous impracticality and adventure that I think ultimately defines us.