Monday, March 21, 2016

Is "New Yorker" a DNA thing?

Am I like a little duckling that was imprinted at birth? I was born in Brooklyn but while I have no memory of it, does it somehow reside in my DNA? How else can I explain this overwhelming feeling that I am surrounded by “my people”?

I never even had a thick New York accent (except when angry, under the influence, or on the phone with my mother), but I understand every word that’s said to me. I can even understand the public announcements on the subway when they’re made by the operator with marbles in his mouth and static in the system.

I walk down the street and everyone is so gloriously, unabashedly ETHNIC. All colors, all kinds of clothes, but they are somehow all New Yorkers, and I fit right in. I dress a little differently than they do, but there’s something in me that feels like I’m swimming in the same school of fish. Something in me feels like I’m not sticking out. The Italians here are REALLY Italian, the Greeks are REALLY Greek, the Puerto Ricans REALLY Puerto Rican.
I walk down the street positive that my hair is frizzy, the way it was when I was younger and when my self-image must have been stabilizing. I feel like I look like the other people around me, big boobs and all, and not just the Jewish people. When I talk to a burly Italian guy in the Hayden Planetarium, I feel like we’re related. When I joke with the African American woman in the elevator, I feel like we’re sisters.

This is such a bizarre feeling. It’s like feeling part of a majority culture that includes me, a New Yorker culture.
I went to a comedy show tonight, and the woman was riffing about rude strangers. When a stranger tells her to “Move!” she wants to move to another state. But I seem to find smiling people, people at the same event who start conversations, store employees who engage me. I wonder if it’s because I’m not in any rush and am just so observant of everything around me? Still, I used to say New Yorkers were the kind of people who, if you sat next to one on the Long Island Railroad, you had their life story by the time you got to Penn Station. They don’t just like my hair; they want to know the name of the dye I use. Their boundaries are just so deliciously fluid.

Okay, there IS one big qualifier here, and it has to do with class. (In my world view, everything has to do with class….) I don’t share any DNA with rich New Yorkers, and this trip is the first time I’ve seen where they live. I’ve passed stores named after the clothes I’ve only heard about from the Oscar’s red carpet. The friendliest thing about those people are their nannies.

Yes, it’s true, there are still New Yorkers walking around the streets talking to themselves, but this time, they have wires dangling from their ears….
Yesterday, I went to a second program at the Library. As I walked in, the woman at the information desk looked up and said, “Oh, it’s our visiting library lover. How is it going for you?” I felt remembered! In a city of eight million, I wasn’t even anonymous.


  1. Agreed. It is DNA. I feel it when I go to NYC. And I noticed it in a "I-miss-NuYawk" funk this past week. I was in the St Pat's Parade here in London, and the vaguely-enthusistic crowds lining the streets wore mostly black. (And the most joyous group in the parade were the Hare Krishnas -- and thy don't even drink!) On the day itself, on my long commute to work among thousands and thousands of people (which includes a huge number of Irish-born or heritage) I only spotted 2 people (other than me) wearing green. Went to an Italian saint day celebration at an Italian community center and the food and ambiance was worse than disappointing. It wouldn't be like that in NY. And if you try to start up a conversation with a stranger you will be assumed to be mentally unwell. One does not DO that in London. I ♥ NYC

  2. Yes, I know! I walked outside on St. Patrick's Day and didn't recognize the City: everyone was green. Babies were green, moms with strollers, kids in marching bands. NYC on St. Patrick's is like New Orleans on Mardi Gras or San Francisco on Halloween!


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