How to Be a New Yorker

Terribly useful rules for life

In my early years in the city, I would head to the East Village on weekends to bar-hop with friends. I remember cabbies questioning whether I really wanted to go to "Alphabet City"; that area wasn't the safest, they'd explain. Of course, I went anyway. Later I moved downtown and lived on those same blocks, suddenly heavily populated with twentysomethings, small dogs, chain stores, and even the occasional high-end baby carriage. Cab drivers would laugh to themselves as they dropped me off: "You wouldn't believe what it was like here 10 years ago," they'd say. Oh, but I would.

Maybe we're losing our edge, our character, our authenticity. Or maybe we're just being New Yorkers. As Whitehead writes: "To put off the inevitable, we try to fix the city in place, remember it as it was, doing to the city what we would never allow to be done to ourselves. . . . New York City does not hold our former selves against us. Perhaps we can extend the same courtesy."

Do no harm. Jeremiah Moss, the writer behind Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, expresses a frequent complaint: "Newcomers to New York want backyards, bicycles, and barbecues. They want Greenwich Village to be like their hometowns in Wisconsin," he says. "Underneath this—and not very far underneath—there's 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."

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.

In some ways, New York is the Madonna (Ciccone, not the Virgin) of cities, constantly re-envisioning itself—sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, and always in a way that draws a crowd of people who follow their city's lead and reimagine themselves as well. "What's new," says NYU professor of English Bryan Waterman, "is the rate at which the old is being wiped away and replaced with this homogenized reality with a really high entry point."

Progress is varied and debatable, as is what we have to lose through change, and the two will be in conflict until the end of time. Until then, it's up to us to defend the stories and histories we see as integral to our future, whether that means standing up for art, architecture, businesses, neighborhoods, culture, people, politics, and ways of life, or simply not doing anything to hurt them. Let the layers of history exist. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that the most anti–New York behavior of all would be stagnation.

"The thing about New York is it's based on the idea of change," Glaser says. "It doesn't cling to its own history and has been free to invent new ones. Some changes are horrible, others lead us somewhere. They're discomfiting because no one likes change, but eventually, you end up somewhere else, and you discover you like that place. You may hate Starbucks, but it's done something, and eventually it, too, will disappear. This endless capacity for reinventing itself defines the city and also the opportunity that exists here."

Have no other choice. Perhaps you think of someday owning a cottage in Maine or a flat in Paris overlooking the Eiffel Tower, or of going back to rule your suburban town with an iron fist and a ranch house. In fact, those are options. You could move. But while you might think or talk about it, just to test the waters, even getting out of town for a weekend is a rarity that can send you into an emotional tailspin. Where will you find a 24-hour bodega to buy whatever you need, whenever you need it, should whatever need it be happens to arise? What if you require an escape and, gulp, there are no cabs or subways or buses? What if it is too quiet to sleep? 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. (Note: The Riches recommend developing "the proper mental attitude" toward thin walls.)

For a New Yorker, our urban landscape becomes the norm, and anything else is bewildering and foreign. Ardai says: "I literally can't imagine living anywhere else. I view concrete the way other people view soil, buildings the way other people view mountains. New York is humankind's greatest triumph over the natural world, a testament to human resourcefulness and persistence and sacrifice and desire. . . . That I get to live inside it is one of my greatest pleasures in life."

Write the Riches: "We're hooked. We're New Yorkers. We'd move to San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Louisville, but we know we'd never be able to stand all the rude people."

Disagree at will. A New Yorker will immediately claim the prerogative to argue with any and all of these rules, "I'm a New Yorker" being an intensely metropolitan brand of fighting words. As Waterman says, "When you hear someone say they're a New Yorker, you kind of get suspicious of them."

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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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