What makes someone a “real” New Yorker? How I Met Your Mother suggests the criteria are killing a cockroach with your bare hand, crying shamelessly in the subway, seeing Woody Allen and stealing a taxi from someone who needs it more than you. To me, that list seems way too simple.
When I visited New York a month before I moved in, I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I definitely cried shamelessly in the subway. Does that mean I’m a step closer to being a true resident? When I first moved here about a month ago, I wanted to be that real New Yorker. Some people say you have to live in the city for at least 10 years. Other people told me there is no such thing. As a journalist (and a dreamer), I don’t take no for an answer.
I just graduated from Penn State University in State College — smack-dab in the center of the state — surrounded by tractors and cows. I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, with limited exposure to city life, but I love it. I love public transportation. I love walking around. I love how the city never sleeps. Even after studying abroad in Paris, city life is still new to me. Luckily, though, I have no shame. I’ve opened up one of those huge subway maps while hurtling along underground in the train, much to the dismay of my neighbors seated beside me, and I still managed to get off at the wrong stop.
When I moved in, I got lost everywhere, even on my own street. I got on the wrong trains and got off at even more wrong stops on the bus. Every day, though, my geography is improving without using a map, and that makes me one step closer to becoming a true New Yorker. One day when a girl asked me for directions, I literally bobbed up and down in excitement when replying, “I know where that is!”
Even before moving here, I was sold by the romantic version of New York life on TV. On Friends, Monica and Rachel had a spacious apartment with their own respective rooms and a gorgeous view, yet often seemed to have very little income. In most scenes where characters travel in New York, they do so by car or taxi, which is pretty expensive for the average lifestyle. Not to mention the bars or restaurant hangouts always featured in these shows. The first week I lived in the city, I found “my bar” — only to stop going after a week because of how expensive it became.
Just from observing people around the city, I’ve come up with my own definition of what makes a “real” New Yorker that won’t take 10 years to achieve. To me, the real New Yorker is someone that’s compassionate enough to stop on the sidewalk to make sure a man lying against the building wall is still breathing, but firm enough to ignore jingling change cups. The real New Yorker has a bagel place, and a bar they regularly visit, though he or she doesn’t go every day. They’re not fazed by cockroaches (but sometimes rats). They’re kind enough to give a passerby directions, but stern enough to push over gawking tourists. They relish the beauty of the city, while at the same time hating the noise, smell and lack of space. The real New Yorker is a mess of contradictions. I’d like to think I’m on my way to being “real.”