They say New Yorkers are rude. I couldn’t disagree more.
I was raised in the ‘yes ma’am,’ manners-filled south. And while folks below the Mason-Dixon Line tend to do a lot more waving and chatting with strangers than we do ‘up north’ they also think if you say bless his/her heart at the end of a sentence you can say whatever nasty thing you want about a person. “After she had the baby she was fat as a cow, bless her heart.” Or another trick, add a term of endearment to the beginning of a sentence. One of my all time favorite quotes was said by costumer extraordinaire Giva Taylor to a student making a rehearsal skirt, “Now honey, don’t fuck it up.”
New Yorkers are fast paced, blunt, and the only ones blessing people are priests, but they are by no means less nice or helpful than our neighbors to the south. All you have to do is spend a little time on the subway to see this in action. If a group of tourists are gathered around a map trying to figure out how to get to Katz’s Deli I guarantee you some New Yorker is going to ask them where they are going and then tell them the best way to get there (and suggest they should also check out Harry & Ida’s while they are on the Lower East Side.) I’ve seen people run down a sidewalk to give someone the money, metrocard, glove, etc. they dropped. New Yorkers help strangers carry baby strollers up and down stairs and will body block the subway door for you when they see you running at breakneck speed down the stairs to catch the train.
But the real reason I bring all of this up is to share a little story about one New Yorker in particular. In December my in-laws were visiting us for a weekend. Not wanting to schlep it on the plane, my mother-in-law shipped a box of Christmas gifts to our apartment so it would be here for their visit. When she arrived she asked us if we’d received a box – we had! Unfortunately, it was not the one she’d sent but one from another family member. She was disappointed to see her box had not arrived as scheduled. Later that evening our doorbell rang and a man was at the door with the missing box. His address is nearly identical to ours, but he lives on 180th Street and we live on 181st Street. I wasn’t home when he brought the package, but Shawn and his parents reported he said, “I assumed it was a Christmas gift and I wanted to make sure it got to you on time.” (How nice is that guy?) When I got home and heard the story I was stunned to know someone had found a package at their door and not only did he not keep it, but he brought it to us. Now, I wouldn’t have kept it either, but I probably would have just put it out by the building mailboxes, circled the address and called it a day (all while thinking the mailman is an idiot and really should learn to read, bless his heart.)
Sometime in January I wrote the gift deliverer a thank you card. Shawn didn’t remember his name (typical) but obviously I knew his address. And then he wrote me a note back telling me his name and that it was no problem and he was happy to help. For all I know I see this guy every day but I have no idea what he looks like. However, every time I walk the dogs past his building I am reminded that even when it feels like we are slogging through this world on our own there are nice strangers all around us.