Big City "Manners"

I have become aware of something frightening recently: I am becoming a New Yorker. Well, not entirely, and I am fighting it, but I'm afraid it is going to take some work. I first became aware of this about two months ago when walking across the street and talking on my cell phone to my mother. I was in a suburban neighborhood where people normally stop if someone is in the crosswalk. A car didn't stop (something I would not have thought twice about in Richmond) and I was infuriated enough that I started yelling at the driver. There was stunned silence on the other end of the phone. I don't know if it is being tired, impatient, or just indoctrinated, but my manners have gone to the dogs. The truth is that when your daily commute looks like this
you have to find ways of protecting your privacy. In many ways it makes sense- when you are facing this after a 10 hour day, you don't really want to chat. In many ways it is POLITE in New York to avoid eye contact and more than the minimum amount of verbal interaction. Unfortunately, it means that I have really lost any ability to interact with people on a normal basis. When trying to get by someone who has stepped aside for me I inevitably mumble "sorry" rather than saying "thank you". A nice tourist stopped me in the grocery store the other day and I just stared at him confused. Finally I realized he was asking if grocery stores stock wine, since he wanted to buy some for his wife. I was very helpful, but at the end of the interaction I realized that I hadn't smiled once and when he thanked me at the end I just nodded. UGH!!! I can't even say "you're welcome" anymore!!
When I started to realize this I chatted about it with a friend who has been in Philadelphia for about five years. A lifelong Virginian (until Philly), she has retained her southern accent but admits to having changed in some other ways. The truth is, I don't really know if the south is even a polite place anymore. Some people tell me it isn't. Some people remind me that even when I was there I wasn't the most bubbly person : ) However, I would like to believe that Virginians are polite, and that I can one day return to being someone who says "please" and "thank you" without having to think about it.

5 comments:

MC said...

I work with a lot of recent transplants to the South and they are always talking about how odd it is when strangers smile at them and make eye contact. They'll talk for hours about how "nice" people are here.

annabelle said...

I think it's a big city/small place thing. People are open and polite in Missoula and they were in Cville. Not so much in Flagstaff, but I have pretty low standards for everything in Arizona.
LG, you might have look at them funny in Ukrops too!

Lindsey said...

LG - as you well know, this "philly girl" has never really embraced my new "home." but i believe that at the end of the day, you and i have both retained much more than our accents. i KNOW i'm more polite than most people i encounter on a daily basis. i'm maybe just not AS polite as i used to be when i lived in virginia. or MAYBE, i'm just way MORE polite than the average person in this world and have higher standards for myself (as i bet you do!) i guess we all just adjust a little to our environment at some point! i'm sure you're nicer than you think! :)

LG said...

To clarify, this was more of a rant about the effects of living in Manhattan than residents of the state of New York. After all, my fiance is from NY and I think he's a-ok : ) Also, the way my Philadelphia friend has changed has very little to do with how she interacts with others (polite and hospitable), but I won't go into it further to protect the innocent (!). Suffice to say she is not yelling at people in crosswalks like yours truly.

Politics to Peaches said...

After living in Atlanta for about a year and a half, I'll say that generally people are nicer and more polite in the south. There are always exceptions but most people say please and thank you, exchange small talk in the elevator and men hold doors open for women - much like growing up in Virginia! It's been a nice change from DC where people look at you suspiciously if you say hello!