Keeping it Real, New York Style

When I announced I would be moving to New York City for graduate school, I received the predictable responses. “It’s so dangerous!” “You’ll get mugged!” “You’ll get shot!” And of course, “New Yorkers are so rude!”

Once transplanted, it didn’t take me long to discover that New Yorkers are in fact, not rude. They’re simply direct. They tell it like it is, no sugar coating.

My husband got to witness this first hand, in one of my favorite examples. We were in line at the neighborhood bagel shop. The little old man in front of us placed his order, and the employee walked away to get it. The man then shouted, “And put some buttuh on it!” In most places, this would have been considered completely rude, but in NY, it was just the way it is.

I like to describe it like this: a New Yorker will call you an *sshole to your face, then buy you a beer. Tell it like it is, no hard feelings. Being a no-BS kind of person, I flourished in this environment. Being direct is efficient and avoids miscommunication and misunderstanding. Everyone knows where everyone else stands.

Returning to the West, this directness has occasionally bitten me in the butt. In Alaska not so much, but now that I’m in Nevada/California, it’s gotten me into trouble. My new coworkers didn’t know what to make of me. I think they were somewhat appalled by my lack of small talk. But I was just being direct. I know they’re busy — why would I waste their time talking about the weather?

I like to think that now that they know me better, they appreciate it. They don’t have to worry about where I stand or where they stand with me — they know I’ll tell them if something’s amiss. They are learning to trust that if I didn’t mention something, it’s not important.

Now, I’m not saying we should all rush out there and start being New Yorkers — that’s a little harsh for most. But we would all be well served to adopt certain elements of this. To me, being direct means being honest. No beating around the bush. No hints, no subtleties that can be misinterpreted.

What, you ask, does this have to do with being a gov’t employee? Just imagine if everyone communicated clearly at your office. Wouldn’t things run better? Wouldn’t you understand your work assignments better? And I don’t know about you, but I don’t need water-cooler conversation unless I’m actually standing at the water cooler. Just tell me what you need and be on your way.

The thing that actually got me thinking about this was the recent conversations about online anonymity (see Adriel Hampton’s blog). One of the points made was that regardless of our online names, we need to keep it real. Be ourselves, be true. Be a New Yorker.

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Adriel Hampton

Man, New Yorkers and Californian’s are as different as cats and dogs. One of my good friends bleeds New York and he just offends the heck out of us California’s with his bluntness. You’ve seen this? http://www.bondon.com/sunscreen_song.html
“Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.”


I think everyone should live in NYC for one year. Kind of like a term of service. It was so enlightening, on many levels. Cats and dogs, for sure — having spent my whole live in California, and never really traveling outside it, it was an eye opener to discover that there was a completely different culture alive and well in our country.

I don’t think it made me hard, at least not to the core. But you definitely develop a shell. Like walking past a homeless person without looking. My first lesson on how NY changed me was on a visit back to Santa Cruz. As I walked past a homeless guy, he said “You could at least smile.” Same trip, I found myself recoiling as a salesperson chatted me up — I thought, why the he** is she talking to me? It definitely took some adapting to pull back from that. But I guess I succeeded, because several years later, when I visited NY again, a deli guy said “First time in NY?” I was so offended!!!!! : )