Having morphed into a consummate New Yorker in just six months I wasn’t too sure how I would feel about being reunited with my ex-city. But stepping off the Heathrow Express onto the grey cobbled backstreets of Paddington, I was overwhelmed with a fondness bred out of familiarity. Rush hour was in full swing, with commuters in their Burberry trenchs muttering customary ‘pardon mes’ as they scurried past. Luckily the men are never in so much of a hurry that they forget their manners – I had one heaving my suitcase up the stairs before I’d had a chance to feign weakness. Ah, gracious home to chivalry and, what’s that smell!? Pie! The pervasive whiff of Cornish pasties made me mourn all the other great British products (mainly Waitrose, Asos and the BBC) now lacking in my everyday life.
For the next few days I re-kindled my love for London. I found myself lured back into the same smelly pubs and Kings Rd clubs crawling with Public School boys that made me want to leave the city in the first place. But this time my experience was brightened by nostalgia. Here, in the land of my father’s birth, I was understood without any repetition or clarification required. It was liberating to be able to drop a sarcastic witticism without its literal meaning being dissected (typically the response to my brand of humour in New York).
Besides the cultural nuances, there are some distinct differences between London and New York and how their people live. Some of these, I believe are purely a result of the physical environment: Manhattan is small and compact compared to sprawling London, meaning you can cover more ground in a day or even an evening. You can walk to most places or hop in a taxi if you are rushing (you often are, given you can fit more into the day). This means that while New Yorkers are busy, busy, busy, they tend to be left with more energy than Londoners, who are fatigued before they even surface from the tube.
A good illustration of this is a typical Friday night in London versus New York:
In London you emerge exhausted from a long week of work, fall into the nearest pub with your colleagues and have a good old moan over five white wine spritzers before staggering home again at 8pm, most likely to your boyfriend who has just performed a parallel ritual in some other part of town.
In New York you emerge exhausted from a long week of work. But you might workout (its literally survival of the fittest in this town) or if you’re feeling defiant you might pop home for a nap. Then you’ll take some time to transform yourself into a fresh un-work look for a whole new chapter of Friday – the Night, which consists of dinner, drinks and possibly dancing. If you have a boyfriend (unlikely given the competition) he too will be out. In New York in my experience, couples also venture out to socialize on a Friday night – I suspect they are just more likely to have opted for a nap first.
Maybe it’s this relative ease of existence that translates into another stark contrast between Londoners and New Yorkers. Londoners are notorious for moaning about their city – the sticky tube, the gloomy weather, the silly mayor. New Yorkers LOVE New York . I love NYC logo is not just for tourists, it’s proudly displayed on everything from dry-cleaning to the plastic bags used for take out. When people ask me how I like it here and I say ‘I LOVE New York’, their eyes sparkle – right freakin’ answer!
Maybe it’s because of these two features – an abundance of energy and a fanatical love of their city, that New Yorkers pride themselves in being walking Time Out guides. Any New Yorker worth his salt (artisanal preferably) knows what exhibitions have just opened, what restaurants are ‘trending’, what restaurateur they were opened by (and the chronological order of the places he opened before that), where to buy the best local organic grass-fed nitrate-free uncured bacon and what dj is playing in what hidden warehouse in Williamsburg. If you don’t know these things or worse, don’t find them of interest, you will struggle to obtain authentic New Yorker status. In London, all you have to know is who got knocked off X Factor at the w end, in New York the stakes are a bit higher. But then so too are the rewards.