The writer Delia Ephron has a quote attributed to her that reads, “New Yorkers are born all over the country, and then they come to New York City and it hits them: Oh, that’s who I am.” If I could revise it, I would change the word “country” to “world,” but other than that, I think she’s spot on. Being a “real” New Yorker is more than an accident of birth or spending an arbitrary amount of time within the city’s geographic boundaries. What makes someone a real New Yorker is one’s attitude, one’s outlook on life in the city. But don’t misunderstand me: by no means do real New Yorkers all think or act the same. We’re not all carbon copies of Fran Lebowitz, but “real” New Yorkers do have these eight traits in common.
Real New Yorkers are open to trying new things.
You know the stereotypical opinionated New Yorker who would get into a shouting match with someone over which pizzeria is the best in the neighborhood? Would you believe me if I told you that person is the model of trying new things? Because how would they know which pizzeria is the best in the neighborhood if they haven’t tried them all?
I’ll admit that this example was a bit of a reach, but my point still stands: real New Yorkers try new things. With all that the city has to offer, from global cuisines to world class museums, you’re missing out on the best parts of life here if you’re not willing to try any of it. If you want to just sit at home every day, go live in Kansas.
Real New Yorkers are tolerant.
NYC has been a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society from its earliest days as a Dutch colony all the way to today. A city this diverse would not have made it this far without its inhabitants adopting a general attitude of tolerance. Yes, there have been times when locals have tossed tolerance into the Hudson River (Remember the Conspiracy of 1741, the Draft Riots of 1863, and the Crown Heights Riot of 1991?) But for the most part, we put up with each other’s existence. If you’re not able to tolerate people from all walks of life, regardless of their race, sexuality, or penchant for wearing outrageous clothing, you may find yourself tossed in the river too.
Real New Yorkers don’t scare easy.
Real New Yorkers laugh in the face of rats and roaches. Not literally, as it would be disgusting to get all up in their little faces. Regardless, seeing vermin doesn’t get under a real New Yorker’s skin, nor does crossing the street in front of oncoming traffic, nor being approached by strangers, or any other so-called scary big city facts of life. (For things that actually scare New Yorkers, check out this article on 20 Things New Yorkers are Most Afraid Of.)
Real New Yorkers are jaded to human suffering.
This one is sad but true. In a city this large, it’s not uncommon to encounter multiple instances of human suffering per day, whether that is seeing homeless people on the street, a mentally ill person in need of treatment, or an impoverished person begging for assistance. New Yorkers know that if you try to respond to everyone in need here, you’ll emotionally exhaust yourself and/or you’ll run out of money. (Not to mention, you might put yourself in a dangerous situation.)
But you don’t have to be completely heartless to live in NYC. In actuality, New Yorkers oscillate between indifference to the human suffering around them and being readily willing to jump in to assist strangers depending on the situation. It’s inconsistent, but it keeps you sane.
Real New Yorkers walk fast.
Yes, walking fast is not just an action in New York; it is a defining character trait. When you walk fast, it shows that you respect your time and the time of those around you because you’re getting out of their way. If you want to amble or you can’t keep up, stay on the edges of the sidewalk so you don’t obstruct anyone else.
Real New Yorkers are hustlers.
From its inception, New York has been a money-making venture. That was its residents’ raison d’être back in the 1600s and still is today. Whether you’re hustling to achieve your dreams or just to make enough money to pay your bills, every New Yorker knows that if you don’t work hard here, you won’t survive.
Real New Yorkers are able to tolerate cramped spaces.
New York City is a claustrophobic person’s nightmare. Unless you have enough money to buy a penthouse in the sky and take private cars everywhere, you’ll have to get comfortable with having a minimal amount personal space as the city has a population density of 27,000 people per square mile. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been close enough to other passengers on the train or the bus that I could read their texts, not to mention the things I’ve heard my neighbors say since we live on top of each other like Jenga blocks.
Real New Yorkers are dreamers.
There are a lot of things about New York that are overhyped, but it being a city full of people with big dreams and high ambitions is not one of them. Everybody that has become somebody has lived here at one point because New York City is a concentration of energy, industries, access to capital, and like-minded people.
What do you think makes you a real New Yorker? Would you add other traits to this list, or do you have an entirely different definition of what makes someone a “real” New Yorker?
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