I am an NYC-dweller who has the outside perspective of one who has spent half her life in another place (Virginia, to be exact). I was heading home on the subway yesterday after a not-fun day at work, and I was in a terrible mood due to something blog-related, so my fuse was shorter than normal. It was then that I found myself a foot away from a four-person group of tourists.
I’m not unfairly labeling here; they actually labeled themselves as such. Over my headphones I could hear them (especially the guy I ended up identifying as the family’s grown son) say such things as, “We’re not from here,” and “Where we come from…” in that upbeat but condescending way that has never endeared anyone to a native of anywhere, ever. The main thesis of their loud talking (not just to one another; they were trying to engage the people around them) was that they couldn’t believe that there are this many people on the subway car, and none of them are talking to each other!
This is a common weapon in the Us vs. Them arsenal. People from smaller towns say this about cityfolk, everyone else in America says this about East Coasters. Meanwhile, the cityfolk and East Coasters say that everyone else talks too much and should just leave them the hell alone. I think this all simply stems from the fact that big cities specifically, and the East Coast in general, are just more densely populated. That leads to both increased anonymity in public and general frustration with people that aren’t present in quieter, more tree-lined places.
Still, that doesn’t stop people from crowing about unfriendly New York City subway riders in the presence of dozens of them during evening rush hour. In the end, all I actually did yesterday was silently fume with my outrage meter cranked up to 11. However, here is the response I would have given, out loud, if I’d had either the ovaries to do it or the spontaneous eloquence to have had these words right then:
Look, there are a lot of reasons no one talks to each other on the subway. First of all, we’re all hesitant to interact unnecessarily with other subway strangers because of the decent possibility that they are a subway-weirdo who will try to convert us to their religion, break out in song and/or dance, or just be generally creepy and strange.
Second, once the novelty wears off, the subway is really unpleasant. It’s too crowded, it smells, most of the stations feature gangs of rats, stagnant garbage water, and uncirculated hot air. Everyone tolerates it because it’s the most efficient way to get around the city, but the time that you’re actually riding it is nearly unbearable. Also, the subway system is huge. Some people have to ride that shit for an hour or more in one go. So anyone who was in a good mood when they started is cranky within minutes of boarding.
Third, have you looked out the windows? See all those abandoned warehouses and run-down homes all around you? We are in a crappy part of a crappy borough in a city with unevenly distributed wealth. Most people here probably worked their asses off at work today and are going home to stressful, cash–strapped household. Or possibly even a second job.
So yeah, sorry. This isn’t a wacky adventure for any of us; this is our lives. You’re on vacation right now, but none of us are, probably because we can’t afford it. And if I were to take a vacation this summer, I certainly wouldn’t spend it going to other cities and then loudly criticizing its residents for not living their lives the same way I do.
Inspired by Olivia’s European perspective on tourists. And those subway jerks.