The Bubble Illusion, OR Sometimes You Have to Let People Surprise You

One thing people like to tell you after they’ve been to New York City once or twice is that the people stubbornly and fiercely keep to themselves. I used to hear it all the time from the occasional tourist. You know the sort — a family friend who’s an Instagram addict and makes it a point to go to three ~new places~ a year. They think that having spent seven or so days in the city qualifies them to assess the personality of the city — as if it’s one big restaurant of people that can be reviewed, and they’re testing it for quality of service.

That admittedly is not one of my most graceful similes. And the sad part is I tried.

What I meant to comment on — before my mild sleep deprivation decided to make itself so prominently apparent — is the tendency for quite a few people I’ve known to fly into the city, spend a whirlwind week there, and come back to the suburbs to complain about how much they think New Yorkers just suck. Supposedly it’s the lack of smiling, the rapid walking, the pushing and the shoving, the avoided eye contact, the feeling of there being a defensive bubble around every single person on the sidewalks. Mostly I hear that New Yorkers just aren’t interested in other people. That it’s every man absolutely for himself. That everyone’s selfish, self-absorbed, self-just about anything else you can think of.


I’m here to say that this hasn’t been my experience at all, even though it’s what I flew into the city expecting to find. Every now and then I meet a New Yorker with a spark of energy, with clear curiosity about others, and the guts to speak.

Yeah, guts. It really takes guts in New York to speak to strangers, mostly because we’re socialized to consider every new person we encounter as public enemy number one. Either that, or we’re prematurely cutting ourselves short because we assume no one will give a shit about what we have to say. And when everyone’s too scared to speak, no one speaks. You get a roomful of people and their individual bubbles of defense.

Sometimes it’s really just an illusion. There are fewer bubbles than we think. That security guard downstairs? He’ll lend a sympathetic ear to even the most out-there of teenage girl rants, as I’ve seen him do. The owner of the halal food cart on the corner? He’s delightful and will call you “my darling” if you stop to chat with him every evening you see him turn up on the sidewalk again. There was once even a woman in a midtown McDonalds with whom I struck up an entire conversation about the supreme suckiness of all the too-small bathrooms in the city. (That one was especially surprising, particularly because I’d initially read her frowny face as a marker of general unapproachability. All it took was an offhanded comment about long lines, and she just went off on her own rant.)

I probably sound like a massive creeper.

This is a risk I’m willing to take.

And now to break up this wall of text — Brooklyn.

A school friend of mine visited for the entire afternoon and evening of July 21st, and after a bit of shopping in Soho (during which we were unable to locate the perfect pair of slim burgundy chinos for him), he decided we should be spontaneous. Said act of spontaneity took the form of an impromptu walk completely across the Brooklyn Bridge. (We also did a bit of dining and shopping in West Village, because hello, West Village. Only my favorite place in Manhattan.)

We ended up slightly lost on the other side because both of us have the sense of direction of a shitty young adult romance novel. (Ideally I’d use a specific example, but I’ll refrain.)

– – – – –

On heavy rotation: “Payphone” by Maroon 5, and I don’t even like Maroon 5. I think I’ve listened to this song 80 times in a single day. I may have a problem.


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