How to Be a New Yorker

Terribly useful rules for life

A New Yorker's response: "How can you not?"

Parker continues: "Other places may give you a sweet and soothing sense of level; but in New York there is always the feeling of 'Something's going to happen.' It isn't peace. But, you know, you do get used to peace, and so quickly. And you never get used to New York."

Dysfunctional families being what they are, this might be why most New Yorkers seem to be in therapy.

Les and Joan Rich on their wedding day, in 1961. “She was the most beautiful girl,” wrote Les.
Courtesy Steve Rich
Les and Joan Rich on their wedding day, in 1961. “She was the most beautiful girl,” wrote Les.
Les Rich mugging for the camera with Joan in the early 1960s.
Courtesy Steve Rich
Les Rich mugging for the camera with Joan in the early 1960s.

Be unflappable. The interests, behaviors, and banal possessions of the rest of the world do not interest you. Frankly, you've seen it all, and nothing is that shocking. This worldly affect must be employed in all cases, whether you are shopping for cheese next to Willem Dafoe; experiencing an earthquake, hurricane, or other natural disaster; confronting a man in assless chaps who is wearing a rat that is wearing a baby rat for a hat; crossing heedlessly in front of a speeding Mack Truck; or being stopped on a subway train for a few minutes longer than expected. Celebrities and weirdos and the pedestrian dangers of life are not in the least bit interesting; you see them all the time. (Covers mouth to yawn.)

Exceptions must be made, however, for in-home washers and dryers, dishwashers, people who own cars, air conditioners managing to stay in windows (or not), zoo animals flying the coop, snow in October, and any and all YouTube videos featuring any of the above as well as subway fights. A real New Yorker stares and whispers in awed tones, "Only in New York!" only in the privacy of his own Internet connection. If you see something, say something—but keep it between you and people you don't hang out with in real life. Or, as the Riches put it, have a personal panic-prevention program in case the subway does stop. (#1: "Whip out your Times and read, for the first time in your life, every word of Arthur Krock's column." #4: "Look around and try to guess which of your fellow passengers will be the first to panic.")

In that first New York City apartment, not once but twice, cops came to bust brothels operating on our floor. When they attempted to batter down our door instead of our neighbors', we opened up, pointed them in the right direction, and explained cheerily, "Oh, we're not hookers!" To our great satisfaction, the mystery of why that man was always washing sheets in the shared laundry room had finally been solved.

Make your neighborhood your own small town. What separates the "real" New Yorkers from the tourists? You care, and in caring, your neighborhood becomes your own, with the familiarity of small-town living: There's your coffee shop or bodega, where they adorably pretend never to know your order; your local bar, where a drink is on the house seeing as how you left your wallet there last week, and they confiscated the cash; your restaurants, where they will generously not grind the steak into the floor with their heel before serving it to you well-done; and the charming folks in your building who always want to socialize with delightful tales of yore: "Did you know that a man died in the elevator in the late '70s? He was there for three days before they found him!"

The ultimate in putting down roots, of course, is to have your own family here and to share your hometown and all its idiosyncrasies with them. Charles Ardai, entrepreneur, writer, and lifetime New Yorker, says: "People told my parents they were crazy to raise two kids here. No one says that to me now that I'm raising my daughter here. I wish they would. I want to raise my child somewhere no sane person would raise a child. That's how you make a New Yorker."

The secret to raising a kid in the city, say the Riches: "Have a brilliant child. . . . He won't mind spending long hours at home on your small terrace, because he'll be busy out there taking samples and working on the city's air pollution problem."

Lament the way things change, even as you know it is inevitable. Despite our hard-edged reputation, we are, in fact, a bunch of nostalgic saps. Tough guys on the outside, pure mush in the middle. And we hate change, we really hate it, even though change has been a New York constant since before New York was born. In How to Be a New Yorker, the Riches write: "Long ago we realized that New York is the only place for heart-on-the-sleeve romantics like us, who shed tears over old monstrosities coming down, like Pennsylvania Station, and new ones going up, like the World Trade Center. Far from choosing Manhattan for its rigors and challenges, we live here because it's the only place we've ever found that's sentimental enough for us."

To be a New Yorker is to complain about how things are not the same as they used to be, whether you're Theodore Dreiser writing in the 1900s or Sandee Brawarsky writing about the Bowery in an essay titled, precisely, "Oh, It's Not What It Used to Be" in The New York Times in 2000. (Now, in 2011, it is even further from what it used to be.) As Colson Whitehead puts it in "City Limits," his intro to The Colossus of New York, "You are a New Yorker when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now."

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31 comments
J_O_R
J_O_R

Being an alcoholic slut in New York does not make you a New Yorker. It just makes you an alcoholic slut. Nice to have mommy and daddy funding your stay in New York. You're here to stay, I wish you didn't. Thanks for ruining the EV, NYC, and the Village Voice with your annoying presence. Now you're off to jump ship, much like a rat and the locusts that have invaded NYC. You calling yourself a New Yorker is an insult to New Yorkers.

Vasily Volkov
Vasily Volkov

Great text, really enjoyable reading... and so true! Thank you Jen!

George Vreeland Hill
George Vreeland Hill

I am a native New Yorker. I now live in Beverly Hills. I have had a lucky life.

George Vreeland Hill

Mmeshaj
Mmeshaj

For those of you with "negative" comments towards the realities of this article... CLEARLY you are not New Yorkers, you don't get it and no matter how long you rape and pillage our city, you never will!!

We thank you for passing through as it's wonderful entertainment to the true New Yorkers in this city ;)

Well done Jen, I couldn'tve said it better myself.

Malichi Daniels
Malichi Daniels

How To Be A White New Yorker. By Jen Doll, An Alabama Transplant.

This Article Illustrates How Privilege And Willful Ignorance Are Used To Whiten NYC. The Apartheid Culture That Has Been Created in New York Will Be Challenged. #DecolonizeNYC

telavivvacationapartment
telavivvacationapartment

New York is really a beautiful country i like to visit here lots of beautiful spots are in this place its great to spend vacation here

Spiderman
Spiderman

Cool. Thanks for the fuzzy. Yo rock NYC>

Rob
Rob

Essential top tips on how to be a New Yorker.You must:1. Massively overreact to any adverse situation no matter how minimal. You must engage in a spectacular public meltdown/freakout/rage at the lateness of the subway train, the person who accidentally bumps into you on the street, the quality of your sex life, etc.2. Be in about 10 bands, involved in 15 art projects, be a carpenter, run your own authentic pizzeria, grow a beard, have some shite tattoos, get a stall at Brooklyn Flea...all at the same time.3. Be able to send a glass eye ball to sleep with your tales of how NYC was best in the 80's/90's when homeless people shat in Tompkins Park and crack ravaged the city.4. Smoke crack and take steroids and ride your bike as fast as you can....into people.5. Talk absolute shite in an highly articulate/highfalutin manner.6. Masturbate in public.

redstone
redstone

If I moved to Alabama, I wouldn't be a Southerner. My kids wouldn't be Southerners except to my relatives back in the city. My grandkids might be accepted as Southerners by their peers; so your answer, Jen, is "no."

Jose
Jose

Christ, I vomited all over my new mac!

Obama
Obama

I'm a new yorker all my life and crap like this comes off as pretenscious and is why everyone hates us.

Samsaleh71
Samsaleh71

So the author moved here in 98 when alphabet city was dangerous she says, that's laughable!! By 98 the east village and LES had already gone through there very thorough ethnic cleansing and were completely gentrified.

You could say new york is always changing all you want but this time its very different. Whole swaths of the city are becoming accessible to only the monied crowd and this is all aided and abetted by the city, law enforcement and state agencies. Only someone who moved here in 98 would think NYC still has any character left

HarlemBrown
HarlemBrown

"After all, the country is where scary Children of the Corn–type shit happens. In the city, if you scream, someone will surely hear you and call 311 to complain."

Precisely the reason I have yet to move

Hmm268
Hmm268

I'm sorry but when you Manhattanites continue to say New York you guys seem to refer solely about that one particular boro. You forget that there are 4 other boros in the CITY! That's what makes it NEW YORK. One question to the writer of the article, have you ever gone to the Bronx (besides Yankee Stadium)? Or have been to Coney Island? Or the Rockaways? Or the north shore of Staten Island? Or Flushing? If you do you'll discover that New Yorkers have different ways and attitudes than what you find in Manhattan. But I do agree with the passage "know how to turn your shoulders sideways, so you don't bump shoulders when you're passing someone on the sidewalk" that is how you can tell someone is a real NY'er versus a transplant.

Matthew Bevilacqua
Matthew Bevilacqua

"In some ways, New York is the Madonna (Ciccone, not the Virgin) of cities..."

Missed pun opportunity: "In some ways, New York is the Madonna (not the Virgin, but LIKE a virgin!)"

Love the cover this week, by the way.

Ed Kollin
Ed Kollin

Went to LA in the late 1980s for a wedding at the height of the bad old days here. Was in this fast food yogurt place when I got the "how can you live there" statement from the places owner or manager. I am usually not one for Schadenfreude but in the years following my visit LA was hit by earthquakes, floods, fires and riots. Each time another disaster happened I kept on thinking of that guy and a smile crossed my face. I am smiling now just thinking about it.

Myster Baad
Myster Baad

Jeremiah Moss is part right and part wrong when he says the newcomer has "a seething hatred of urban life. They don't like the dirt or the smells. They don't like the kvetching and the neuroticism. They don't like the layers of history. They want to tear it all down and make it clean and new."

No one - besides Mr. Moss, I imagine - actually _likes_ dirt, smell, kvetching, and neuroticism. The difference between a New Yorker and the rest of us is that the New Yorker understands that they're not going away - and beyond that, they probably shouldn't. As Mr. Moss intuits, they nourish those precious layers of history. They are the fertile substrate for creative human freedom, just as good topsoil is for crops. (Feed _that_ to your dairy herds, Wisconsinites!)

A New Yorker is someone who knows that negative energy always accompanies positive energy, and opens themselves to it all.

justonpayne
justonpayne

Real New Yorkers don't mind being seen naked by people in the building across the way.

Ctienan
Ctienan

Anyone who calls themselves a New Yorker that was not born here is not a New Yorker in mind and thus we are left with the high-line, cup cakes etc and yes Wisconsin. I have been here for 35 yrs. and still a hick from the Midwest but I hated the mid west and do love NY but it is so hard to see now. New York City just seems to exit in photos and it is not in Brooklyn either but perhaps in Queens were no trend loving person would dare go to without the ok from fill in the blanks...of bourgeoisie papers or blog. I lived in the days of the Robert Christgau and Sylvia Plachy and the art for art sake of a seemly bygone era. Now it is just to much like all the other crap cities it is a cartoon version of some city has little substance to back it up.

Godardoverrated
Godardoverrated

I think New York is not as interesting as it thinks it is.I've lived here 14 years, and observed a city that is looking more and more like other cities. It attracts fewer creative people in favor of those in finance. Finally, so much of it has been corporatized...

What's interesting about being a New Yorker? Who cares?

Kiko Jones
Kiko Jones

You just described wannabes; not actual NYers.

Natalie
Natalie

Well that's the MASSIVE difference b/w the south and NYC. My moms' family has roots here from when the US wasn't even a country yet, and my dad moved here from Wisconsin to go to grad school. I thought that living here all my life could qualify me as a New Yorker, but apparently my blood is contaminated by my "foreign" dad.

Zoe, Magic Garden
Zoe, Magic Garden

While I enjoyed this article, and the many points I disagreed with, Jen, you are not a New Yorker. You might love New York, and live here, but the sentiments of someone who grew up here will never match those of someone who moved here after, say, age 13. I have been throwing a monthly party for native New Yorkers for almost 11 years, and it's amazing what a small town NYC really is. We are townies, through and through, and there's nowhere for us to go - nowhere is as good and interesting as NYC, and no one is as good and interesting as a native New Yorker. Check out my party at: www.nycmagicgarden.com

Suzinne
Suzinne

Exactly. Real New Yorkers were born here. Agree w/ all your sentiments and, of course, your nostalgia for The Village Voice in all its glory. Sadly, New York City has grown so homogenized, it's downright offensive. Give me the old Times Square and Greenwich Village any day.

peter
peter

Unfortunately, the ridiculous cost of living in NYC has driven a lot of creative people away. To pay the rents, you have to get a job that usually doesn't leave much time for creating. 30-35 years ago, it was easier for creative types to find really cheap housing (usually in the lower east side), get part time work, and do their art.

Also, the internet has leveled the playing field of culture and creativity--one person uploads an idea or ideas and the next day, thousands of people are regurgitating the same idea or ideas and that has resulted in much more homogeneity in the culture.

From a former new yorker.

 
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