Phil Dreizen

kindness in NYC

I was on the subway yesterday. A woman and her daughter left a backpack at their seat as they were exiting the train, and a guy sitting across from them rushed to get the bag, ran to the doors, got the woman's attention and handed her the bag. But once she expressed gratitude for it, the guy simply gave her a curt head nod, and sat down and seemed to avoid making eye contact with her. She really wanted him to acknowledge that she was grateful for getting the bag back to her, and as the subway pulled away from the station, she waved at the guy, who responded with a weak lifting of his arm - vaguely acknowledging her while seeming to brush her off. He never smiled at her. He never said "no problem." Was he annoyed that he "had" to help her, and resented her for it? I don't know (but I don't think that's it either).

I see this kind of behavior in New York fairly often. It's an odd mix of rudeness and extreme helpfulness. I see gruff New Yorker's volunteering to give stranger's directions all the time. Sometimes, I'm that way myself. New Yorker's have a reputation for being rude, and perhaps that's accurate, but I don't think it should be confused for a lack of helpfulness or kindness.

But I am curious. Why the hell are people in New York like this?



June 3, 2013, 11:41 pm

It could be a lot of things. Maybe he was annoyed at having to help. Or maybe it was just a reflex. I had that happen not too long ago. I dropped some knitting tool and a guy got up and handed it to me. No smile, just handed it to me. Like it was just what you do, not because you did it to be a nice person, it's just what you do. Which I suppose in a way makes it even more genuine. They weren't helping in order to have some moment of kind feeling, they just did it because that's what you do when someone drops something. And I can say I feel like the majority of the time, on the subway, there's this code of no interaction. If you accidentally meet eyes with a stranger, it's embarrassing, it's like you committed some faux pas. Other people get to be separated by individual cars during their commute, in NYC we subway commuters all shoved together in this little box and the only way we can deal with it is by respecting that each one of us is an individual who, just like the car people, just wants to be left alone. I know there are lots of exceptions, but I think that is just part of the NYC thing.