Sunday, June 11, 2006

Some NYC Thoughts

Is it just me or does New York City seem like a foreign country to you? I know that sounds naive, but it is the only place that I have traveled to within the US where I feel like I don't speak the language, know the rules, and where there is a high possibility that I will get lost. Of course I use my fancy American dollars to buy the very American Starbucks coffee that seems to lurk on every corner of Midtown, yet I know as soon as I leave the familiar surroundings of that chain, things get complicated.

As I traversed the cross-streets and traffic lights of Manhattan, I observed for the first time what I saw as Ugly American Syndrome. It was at this moment that I solidified my "foreign country" theory about NYC. This was the first trip to NYC that I stayed completely in Manhattan without venturing off to Brooklyn. Most of my time was spent in Midtown where the Broadway shows and high interest tourist destinations dwell and I think that is why I saw so much UAS-Ugly American Syndrome.

The symptoms of this range from the look of disgust and fear in a person's eyes as they pass a street performer playing a song or the peace you see come over their face as they pass through the doors of Starbucks. In such a Starbucks, they can be with their "own kind". As I waited for my hazelnut latte, a woman wearing a NYC sweatshirt came up to me and asked in her thick southern accent, "Where y'all from?"

Was it written all over my face that I was not a native of the island? Of course it was. I was standing in a Starbucks because I wanted to make sure I got what I wanted. As I explained my geographical location to this friendly woman, she proceeded to tell me all that she had done the day before. She continued our conversation about the lack of bathrooms in the city and where she was from, you could just use any old bathroom without a problem. It's not that I am not a friendly person and don't enjoy some chit-chat once in awhile, but it crossed my mind that no where else, North Dakota-Iowa-Philadelphia, would a woman come up to me and start telling me what she had accomplished and her bathroom activities from the day before .

Her behavior wasn't that UGLY, but I think it is safe to say that I could imagine her saying to her friends back home, "Well, New York City was great, but...well...the people there just weren't friendly." Of course they were not friendly, because you only spoke to tourists. The conversations that I heard as I waited in line for the many destinations that we visited, people kept complaining about this and that about New York. I just don't get it. They come to New York, a place where people live and work and expect it to change for them, some folks from Nebraska. I think the same rule applies for NYC as does any foreign country or tourist destination, the tourist must adapt to their culture rather than the culture adapt to that one tourist. I might have even forgot that rule as I stood in line at Starbucks.


Eyes said...

I agree with you -- tourists need to adapt and when you watch the amazing race -- it can be horribly painful how self-centered American's can be. That show can send me over the edge! It's the rare couple who cares to leave Americans in a good light.

Courtney said...

Not to pick words apart, but I think that adapt would be a slight overstatement. I agree that you can't adapt the culture of a tourist destination to yourself, but I think it's important to experience the culture as it is. You can, however, make this more enjoyable by picking and choosing what you will do...focusing on things that are more pertinent to you.

I also think that once you realize you feel "foreign" in a place, it's hard to recover the presence of mind to immerse yourself because you just feel out of place.

Can't wait to hear stories!

Anonymous said...

Has Amanda ever told you our NYC story? It ironically involves Starbucks and bathrooms. To sum up the story, we toured NYC literally for 24 hours from 5am-5am, in that time we needed to use bathrooms, so we would buy a coffee at Starbucks and use their bathroom, then we would need a bathroom again, so we would buy a Starbuck's and use their bathroom. We did this at least 3 or 4 times during the day- it was out little joke. Your blog today brought back the memories of that day!

Anonymous said...

My recommendation on NY and bathrooms is to use your "tourist look" to your advantage. Basically, you can just walk into any hotel and pretend like you belong there because you are, in fact, a tourist. You can use whatever bathroom is in their lobby area. This only works really well in Midtown, but it's saved many a bladder in my experience.


Anonymous said...

Very good post, Sara.