Wednesday, January 25, 2012

GET LOST: A New York Tour Guide's Guide to New York #2


There's a certain type of tourist I encounter now and then that makes my job less than satisfying and enjoyable. Often they're teenagers--who come with their own hormonal issues, to be fair--but adults are sometimes guilty of it, also. They've come to my city with a chip on their shoulder.

People from very small, rural towns already know cities like this one are bigger, faster, and crazier than where they come from (and I place no value judgments on that). They're often so flabbergasted and overwhelmed that they don't particularly have time to cop an attitude. People from other large cities sometimes have a "seen it all before" face, which can be annoying (and I do sometimes encounter the rivalry with Los Angeles, but not often). For the most part, however, these folks seem to feel a sort of urban kinship with New York and can simply appreciate how things may be different here, if not any more or less impressive than in their home city.

The attitude seems to appear most often in people from a town of a size in between these two. Their home town is large enough to have its own cultural identity, but not big enough to compete with a place like New York, Berlin, Tokyo, etc. New York has been way too hyped up for them, and in a way, they don't want to like it here. If they do, in their minds, it means there's something lacking, something wrong with the place they come from, and they would be insulting themselves by admitting it. In my own opinion, I think there is a great deal to be said for a place where life moves more slowly, people know one another, and nature is pristine and easily accessed. These are all things that we miss in New York. Visitors from places like that perhaps think that we're ignorant of these differences and believe New York has it all. Not all of us are, but it's the best explanation I've been able to devise.

The European attitude is a bit different. It can often be much more condescending. This attitude is not as much determined to be unimpressed, but gives the impression they think everything and everyone here is just very ridiculous. Yes, I know, the city you come from is 1500 years old and you have cultural history oozing from your every orifice. I respectfully marvel at the beauty of your European cities for that very reason. Oddly, this is not the attitude I get from visitors from Asia or the Middle East, who have all of us in the west far surpassed in that regard. I am fully aware that New York doesn't have the long, historical background that other places do, but we love it here despite that and, in some cases, because of it.

This city came of age in the past century. If you can't respect a city that was the pinnacle of everything that defines the twentieth century in the western world, kindly stay home. Whatever it may lack otherwise, New York celebrates technology and newness. We have gorgeous, gleaming skyscrapers and some of the most important, innovative buildings ever built during the peak of its development (around mid-century). We were the birthplace for numerous forms of music beloved throughout the world. I'll be the first to admit we may now have lost it, but from around the 1940s to at least the late-1980s, New York led the world in art, culture, and perhaps fashion. I'm not saying that's necessarily a good thing or bad. For one thing, I'd like to apologize to the planet for my country littering it with McDonald's restaurants. All I ask is that we collectively agree that the places we live and love all have something that makes them great. Visit here looking for that. Don't come here looking for things to piss on.

A bad attitude toward me and other people who live here will give you exactly the reaction you're expecting. People will be rude, unfriendly, unhelpful, and annoyed. I can assure you that the guests I encounter who are open-minded, willing to talk to me, and share my enthusiasm for my city get infinitely more out of their visit than the people who aren't. I go out of my way to show them the coolest stuff I can, because I can tell they'll be receptive and enjoy it. That's exactly the mindset I'm going to bring with me if I visit the place where you live. I'm going to want to see all the best it has to offer, especially if it's different from life here.

I just want to be rid of the people with bad attitudes. While I am never anything but completely professional with everyone, of course, these types get the barest minimum out of me. It only reinforces for them the "this place isn't so great" opinion they had before they even arrived. Would you walk into a person's house who has graciously invited you to be a guest and say, "your house isn't so great. I've seen better?" Maybe if you were raised by wolves. Most people recognize that as the very height of bad manners: a lousy guest. Well, that's exactly how it looks when you arrive here and act like my city bores you. You're insulting my home. As far as I'm concerned, you can take your attitude and get on the next plane out of here. Everyone else is completely welcome.

©2012, Ryan Witte

3. Eye Contact

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