Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The kindness of strangers

New Yorkers are known for being some of the rudest people on Earth.

While it is true in some cases, I have to say that my experiences point to the contrary. I have met some of the loveliest, most helpful and open-minded strangers in my time here and feel compelled to share some of these encounters.

I once ordered Thai food from a local restaurant to be delivered to my flat. When the delivery man arrived, I was very embarrassed to find out that they only took cash as I had none on me. I apologized profusely but he apologized even more than I did and graciously followed me outside to the nearest ATM. He detected that my accent was not entirely British and upon telling him that I was French, he got really excited. He was originally from Laos and had a passion for France, which is surprising considering our appaling track record in that part of the world. He told me how happy he was to meet a real French person, insisted that we speak French to each other and kissed my hand to say goodbye, which was so embarrassingly endearing.

I can not describe accurately enough the genuine neighbourhood culture of New York but one of its manifestations is that you get to know your "local service providers" very quickly and they always ask how I am with a warm handshake or a hug. Zafar, my concierge, always makes me promise to come back when I leave to go on a trip and when I recently came back from France, tired and crumpled from traveling for almost 20 hours (via an extended stop over in London), Mohammed the street stall owner told me that I had been away for exactly 13 days ... although he probably only counted because my cigarette habit alone pays for his mortgage!

In my building, everyone in the lifts makes small talk and strokes any dogs that happen to be in tow. I may not know their name and they don't know mine but there is at least acknowledgment that we live in the same place. I remember one of my friends telling me a story about 2 people who lived in the same building in London for 40 years and only talked to each other for the first time when a fire got them out of bed at 3am one night. I'm sure this happens in New York too of course.

If I ever look remotely lost or confused on the subway, usually when I am going to the Lower East Side as the subway maze to get there is mind-boggling, there is always someone who will ask me if I'm OK and need help to get to my destination. Every single time.

Sometimes, the kindness does go a little too far. I have been asked out on dates by various taxi drivers, the most notable one being an older gentleman who openly told me about having 2 daughters and a wife back in India. Mostly, my taxi drivers have been from all corners of the world and speak many more languages than I could ever hope to master.

I think that New Yorkers are only rude if you have the wrong attitude. If you are open and willing to accept that you don't know everything, New Yorkers will be the most helpful and friendliest people you could ever hope to meet.

1 comment:

Elisa said...

New Yorkers are fun. Unless you are standing in the middle of the sidewalk and they are in a hurry ;-)