The inverse law of New York City

For most of my life it was generally received wisdom within the United States of America that New York City was a terrible place to live. That is, of course, unless you lived in New York City. New Yorkers have always loved their city with a fierce pride, a zealous passion akin to that which possessed the ancient citizens of Imperial Rome.

But if you didn’t actually live in the Big Apple, you knew it only from movies and TV shows, which invariably showed it to be a crazy scary brutal place where catching a cab is hard, but getting shot by a drug dealer is easy. Or if you did visit, you probably did what all tourists did, and headed straight for ridiculous places like Times Square (a part of the city actual New Yorkers try to avoid).

But then, nine years ago, New York City got attacked. Yes, I know — technically everyone in the U.S. got attacked — but believe me, it was different if you were there, and people you were actually connected to died, and for months after you had to breath in that sick smell of death and rubble. For us it was a violation more personal than political. And of course it was difficult to stay calm and gracious when so many well meaning visitors wanted to “check out Ground Zero and then head up to see Les Miz”.

A number of my friends found it all too depressing, and moved away from NY during those years. But the flip side was that people all around the United States suddenly liked New Yorkers. We were warmly embraced by our fellow Americans, supported, even honored, and all of that snide anti-New York attitude seemed to fade away.

Until recently. Lately I’ve noticed that the anti-New York sentiment seems to be coming back. Somehow we have once more come to represent, in some circles, everything that is wrong with this country. Yet as it happens, a recent poll has shown that New Yorkers are quite happy — that we are in fact more content and satisfied and enthused about our city than we have been in years.

And so it seems there is some law of conservation at work: The more depressed New Yorkers get, the more they are embraced and celebrated by their fellow Americans. Whereas the happier people are to live in New York, the more convinced the rest of the country is that it’s a terrible place to live.

I wonder, why is that?

3 thoughts on “The inverse law of New York City”

  1. I heard an anti-French joke: “France is such a nice country God had to put French people in there to balance it out”. But we know great French people 🙂

  2. Yes, I have quite a few French friends, and every one of them is kind, thoughtful, and generous. Not at all like the stereotype.

    Which suggests a theory: New York and Paris are both very popular tourist destinations for Americans, and many of those tourists (in my experience talking with tourists) do not, on some level, think of these cities are “real”, but rather as extensions of the fictional places they’ve seen in movies.

    I suspect that Parisians and New Yorkers pick up on this. Even when the natives try to be polite to tourists, the tourists sense an undertone of resentment (all people — not just Parisians and New Yorkers — become resentful when reduced to an stereotype).

    So perhaps there is an unfortunate feedback loop at work: Tourists expect to find “New Yorkers” and “Parisians” → The people they meet who run shops and restaurants pick up on this and feel uneasy → That unease is sensed by the tourists as an underlying hostility, thus confirming their prejudice.

  3. I think the relationship between tourist shops and tourists, is a love/hate relationship. They can’t stand each other (store keepers: “why aren’t I the one on vacation?” tourists: “I’m PAYING, why are they so rude?”) but they need each other… especially in a city such as New York or Paris…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *