One minute in New York City, a stranger on a subway staircase is barking -- "Excuse me!" -- because he perceives that you are standing directly in his way, on his way to some Very Important Business, and he's just about prepared to run you over. The next, someone stops, engages, makes conversation, and it is genuine and the engagement is mutual.
People who were born and raised here say the famous rudeness of New Yorkers is just a matter of a misperception. In a city this fast, competitive, overcrowded, and cold, "being fast is being polite." The look in people's eyes when you approach them is: "Whatta ya need whatta ya need whatta need."
The winter's been hard. People just say "brutal" and shake their head, in a sustained disbelief. You can see it in their faces. It's been so cold this week (except Monday) and it seems like the winter just isn't over. They just want to get home and get into bed. You gotta be quick. A friend said this morning about the snap-snap-snap: "It's neighborly, it's helping everyone out, keep it going."
Since I've been here I've been asking nahua-looking faces, 'De donde eres?' They say Mexico -- with one Guatemala so far. Puebla, Neza, el Estado. They're mostly behind the counter, hustling. They wanna answer in English but I'll jostle the conversation back into Spanish, just to keep hearing the dialect in this outer-world context.
Last night with a buzz on the L back into Brooklyn I asked another guy who was having a conversation with another guy. I basically interrupted. I asked him where he was from. He was leaning against the standing pole and holding it with his hands, over his head. He looked at me like I was crazy. Like, 'Mexico, duh, pendejo.'
Where in Mexico? He rolled his eyes. Like, 'Where else?' "Poblanos," he said. Just straight-up rude. I backed off.
OK. You guys are fully integrated.
Links: "WNYC: Know Your Neighbor: Lucia, the Frequent Flyer to Mexico." "WNYC: Dominican Bachata Founder Spices Up Tiny Washington Heights Restaurant." "Nueva York, by Carolina Gonzalez and Seth Kugel." "New York Times Video: Playing the Subways." "Mexican New York, by Robert Courtney Smith."