Throughout an often tumultuous 25 year career on Wall Street, there was always one constant: Expatriates from Europe and the Far East would come to me for advice on how to deal with New York and New Yorkers.
Somehow, these folk realized I was different from these other Americans without knowing anything about the South. Like other expats, I was subject to stereotyping. The English were asked if they met the Queen. The French are greeted with a hearty “sacre bleu!” – an anachronism equivalent to “Golly!” As a Southerner, I was treated to a rendition of Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck” jokes. Witnessing these exchanges, my fellow expatriates knew before I did that I was one of them.
There are plenty of derogatory articles from Yankees who moved to, say Charlotte, North Carolina, for a couple of years and claim to know everything about the South. I find their opinions are little more than regurgitated stereotypes from popular culture. I’ve been up here long enough to know all about Gotham, and just enough time to have lost some of my Southern reserve.
Here are the top 13 things to hate about New York from the expatriates of the world.
1) New Yorkers mocking our accents. Southern accents are often described as “courtly”, the British accent quaint, and French sensual. The most common reaction to a New York accent is “duck!” My advice is to hide your accent by shouting, gesticulating wildly and punctuating your sentences with “f-bombs.” As long as you say it loudly with conviction you don’t need to know what you’re talking about. Hey – it works for CNN and FOX doesn’t it?
2) New York cuisine. New York has contributed hot dogs, cheesecake, and Manhattan Claim Crowder to America. Note: even New Yorkers prefer the creamy Boston-style chowder. Other than that, the food is some variety of wheat dough. Pizza restaurants make up one-third of the restaurants in NYC according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. (I know you’re thinking I made that up name up. Nope, but I wish I had). If you believe I’m exaggerating about pizza, try to find a NYC guide that doesn’t mention pizza. Since you’ll be eating a lot of pizza, you must know the sacred words for it:
- Slice – just a slice of plain cheese pizza.
- Plain slice – also a slice.
- Pie – refers to a whole pizza.
- Rays – the generic term for pizza, like “coke “ for a soft drink.
- Calzone – pizza in folded form, like a giant turnover
- Stromboli – pizza in a rectangular fold. Or is that a Calzone? Whatever.
3) Insincerely greeting. I was asked by expats every day, “Why do New Yorkers say: ‘How are you?’ if they don’t want to know?” It’s because the greeting is a phatic expression – one that has lost its literal meaning, but serves a social purpose. Think of the phrase as less of an inquiry of one’s health and more of a command to speak. New Yorkers aren’t the only culture who use phatic expressions. Here are examples from other countries:
- Georgia: “Let you win.”
- Mauritania: “On you no evil.”
- Micronesia: “It was good.”
- Iceland: “Happy.”
On the other end of phatic indifference is something far worse, the New York custom of catcalling. My advice is: don’t make eye contact or smile, ever. Also avoid construction sites, professional sports, and Restaurant Week.
4) New Yorkers cannot hold their liquor. Actually that is not quite true. The goal is different for New Yorkers, which is to get hammered, not socialize. The terms for alcohol amongst the natives bear witness. The common terms are: hootch, booze, and nutcracker (a homemade beverage typically sold on trains or in parks out of a cooler).
The Washington Post wrote this about Southern drinking:
“You may not believe this but I have found the atmosphere at Saints games to be quite pleasant and the fans to be most cordial. For those who have ever strolled down Bourbon Street or are familiar with the Big Easy’s reputation for drunken debauchery, this may come as a surprise.”
Note to Yankees: No Southerner out of college goes to Bourbon Street.
The Post goes on to say that, “…drinking is a way of life for most down here and Saints games are no exception. Mix that in with a little Southern hospitality, add a dash of friendly football banter and you’ve got the cocktail recipe for the perfect Sunday afternoon…”
I could not have said it better myself. HYDR!
5) New Yorkers are obnoxiously loud. The art form you know as conversation does not exist in New York. You might have been used to the give and take similar to a tennis volley: One person speaks, the other listens. Repeat. In New York, conversation is about subduing your opponent, like two people shooting a fire hose at each other. This “duel to the deaf” most likely involves which of the 10,000 pizza places is best, why Notre Dame Football is underrated, or a similar topics the rest of the world cares nothing about.
6) Opinionated and Meddling. If America’s troubles in the world could be distilled into a word, it would be meddling. Two great forces merged to cause this irritation: (1) the predisposition of folks in the northeast to extrapolate their sheltered liberal education to the real world and (2) the power of NY-based media. Unfortunately, the only advice I have is to grin and bear it. Whether in line for a bagel, sweating on the subway, or trying to quietly enjoy HottyToddy.com, a New Yorker is going to advise you on how you’re doing it wrong.
7) New Yorkers export the “trash culture.” Six media companies control 90 percent of the US market. Five are in the New York metro area: Comcast, Newscorp, Viacom, TimeWarner and CBS. CMT, which broadcasts such gems as Party Down South, My Big Redneck Wedding and Redneck Island, is owned by Viacom of New York City. I think the correct Southern-ism here is: “My dog sleeps in the garage, but that doesn’t make him a truck.”
8) New Yorkers are narcissistic. Best advice here is to avoid people who are self-indulgently quirky. That very sentence conjures up a New Yorker – thin, pale, dressed in black. Narcissists are everywhere, but you’re most likely to spot them doing something like calling in a grilled-cheese delivery, or standing in an hour long line for a cupcake. It is estimated that the Narcissistic Personality Disorder affects one percent of the population, and 100 percent of Wall Street. According to eFiancial.com: “Research suggests that investment banks may be prone to hiring narcissists for their graduate recruitment schemes. If you exhibit narcissistic behaviors in your interview, you will increase your chances of getting a job offer.” Listen up Wall Street hopefuls.
9) New Yorkers dress shabbily. I might give them a break here. Indifferent dress is likely a survival tactic. The US Consulate advises visitors to blend in to the urban landscape because criminals select victims based on appearance. To achieve this urban look, leave the Brooks Brothers, Lilly and L.L. Bean at home. The preferred logos in NYC are the Jets, Mets, and Devils. Or Giants, Yankees, and Rangers. Or Eagles, Phillies, and Flyers.
Note: Do not mix logos! There is no such thing as an Eagles, Devils, Yankees fan. You’ll be mugged for sure.
10) New Yorkers are willfully ignorant of history, geography and other cultures. A universal theme with locals is the belief that NYC is the best in the world, even if they’ve never lived in another city. Also, a third of New York City’s residents are foreign born, so American history is a mystery as well. In general, New Yorkers are well informed about pop music, celebrities, and pro-sports. This lead us to a question which you are certain be asked.
New Yorker: “Where are you from?”
New Yorker: “I know someone from Charlotte, do you know (person)?”
You may be thinking, “That’s half way across the county.” My advice is: Be patient. The locals take great pride in having never ventured further south than Macy’s perfume counter. They seem to believe the whole country is a couple of blocks wide.
11) Quality education is only for the wealthy. New York City is filled with maniacal parents in a panic about getting their kids into top pre-schools. This is driven by the fear that failure to do so will ruin their kids’ chances at getting into Harvard before they can burble, “Yale sucks.” Since there is a limited number of spots in Manhattan’s elite pre-schools, my advice is to start on applications the day of conception.
From there it’s pretty straightforward. Be sure to meet the application deadlines, volunteer for KP duty, and coach the nap team. During the interview, ask leading questions that make the school look good, and be honest about the weaknesses of your child’s friends if they are also applying. Be sure to write a thank you note, preferably on a title deed. If you’re wait-listed, badmouth the school to other applicants to give your child a better chance.
12) Tipping Is Compulsory in NYC. Fun fact: The custom of tipping is an overlooked consequence of the North winning the War. Prior to the Civil War, Americans did not tip. After the war, the nouveau riche yankees brought the tipping custom home from their tours abroad to show off their newfound respectably. By the 1900s, Americans considered tipping to be the norm, and were frequently criticized for over-tipping by Europeans.
13) Pigeon hole diversity. Everyone in NYC has a classification: race, religion, and companion orientation. New Yorkers need to find out what you are so they can fix it for you. The discovery process may take some doing. There are 800 languages spoken in Gotham. The religions all have subgroups who battle with each other. You’ll be quizzed, so be prepared. Here’s my routine.
New Yorker: “What kind of name is ‘Heaton’ anyway?“
I answer: “American, what else?”
New Yorker: “Married?”
Puzzled, but undeterred, they ask: “Religion? “
Me: “Druid. I take Arbor Day off.”
For some reason the inquiry stops there. I would say I was Southern, but that would just extend the inquiry with more Jeff Foxworthy jokes.
Tim Heaton is a HottyToddy.com contributor and can be reached at email@example.com. His new book, Bless Your Heart, You Freakin’ Idiot: Southern Sayings Translated is available on Amazon as well as Momma n’ Em Said: The Treasury of Southern Sayings.