Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bagel? Check. Cawfee? Check. Attitood? Check. Welcome to NYC!

They say that you’re not a New Yorker until you’ve lived here five years. Well, then I’m a New Yorker.

While I have lived here for over five years, I don’t think that’s what did it for me. I think part of me was always a New Yorker. I love the smell, the feel, the taste of it. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be.

I was born in Liverpool and both my grandfather and father worked on ships that sailed over to New York. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon but we did have Campbell’s meatballs before anyone else on our street.

Then came television. So many programmes beamed images from this alluring city right into our front room: Batman, I Love Lucy, The Odd Couple. To this day, New York looks good on film and I certainly was seduced in my adolescence by films such as The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Annie Hall and, of course, a love story to the city, Manhattan.

So, here I am. An Englishman in New York. No…not a legal alien. Just an English Man in New York. And how best to reconcile these two facts? Well, I’ve been here for five years so what about some Top 5 lists?

Let’s start with the top 5 things I miss about the UK.

1) My kids. Of course. But they also love spending time in NYC.

2) Pubs. We are all drinking a lot less now and you can’t smoke in them any more, but there’s nothing quite like an English pub. Summer nights in Soho, crowds of revelers spilling into the roads and blocking the traffic. The Green Man, The Sun and Thirteen, The Dog and Duck….ah, what images these names conjure up!

3) Curry. I’m sorry New York…I love you but I just cannot find anything to compare with a classic English (Indian) Curry. You don’t even make proper English Popadoms…can’t be that difficult, can it?

4) Football. That’s football…not soccer. And I don’t mean televised football. You can see even more live games here than you can in England. No, I mean going to the game. Nothing quite like it. A pre-match drink (see 2) and then being herded into the ground (stadium) amongst fat, sweaty supporters but you don’t mind because they are wearing the right scarves. And half of them are threatening to do unspeakable things to other supporters…who are wearing the wrong scarves. But of course they don’t. This isn’t the 1970s.

5) Weather. Or more specifically, I miss talking about the weather. In truth, I don’t miss the weather at all (apart from a few skin-freezing cold weeks in a New York Winter when I’d settle for some low grey clouds and miserable rain). No, I miss the banter. “Nice day!”…”Could be worse…” ..”Bit warmer than last week”….”Looks like it might rain again”…”Maybe it’ll brighten up?”….”Maybe…”….”Hmmm”.

Yep, it’s what put the Great into Great Britain.

And the Top 5 things I like about New York…?:

1) Landmarks. Of course, let’s start with the obvious. They’re iconic: The Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Chrysler Building. Like I said we grew up watching them on Film and TV. They were as familiar to me as a kid as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace or…Big Ben.

2) It’s Cosmopolitan! London is supposed to be the city in which the most variety of languages are spoken. But the point is that there is a bedrock of society in London that believes “if you ain’t got a pearly whistle in your closet then you’ll get a swift kick in the orchestra stalls and told to sling your hook”.

Frankly, that’s a language no-one can understand.

But New York is welcoming to anyone pitching up with good energy. And you don’t even have to stop at Ellis Island any more!

3) Food. Not the quality – though it is undeniably first class. I’m talking about the sheer volume of it. At last! Finally, I can get the majority of a small cow stuffed enticingly into a sandwich with only just enough room left for a thin spread of mustard. Oh…and cheese. And tomatoes. And maybe…no. Oh go on then, I’ll have some ham on it as well. Genius. It’s a five course meal between two slices of bread…!

4) Grid system. Another brilliant idea. Apparently, two hundred years ago the streets were very much like London. Manhattan – or, as it was called then, New London - was an island of hills and undulations and the roads followed their twists and turns. The streets had names such as “Sharp Hairpin Drive”, “Bendy Street” and “Reasonably Straight Avenue”. Of course, the 20th century brought the rise of the motor car and the island was razed to the ground and the grid system was introduced so that cabbies stood a chance of knowing where they were supposed to be going. It almost worked.

5) Never having to say you’re sorry. What could better illustrate the difference in cultures than the word sorry? The English never stop using it…and New Yorkers never use it. Modern England is founded on a Society of Manners. These days sorry is used for everything – if you can’t hear someone, if you want someone to pass you something, even if you bump into somebody else. And of course - heaven forbid – if you make a mistake. One sorry would certainly not be enough in this instance. Many ‘sorrys’ would be uttered - at least one preceded by an ‘awfully’. Not so in New York. After all, Dick Cheney shot a friend in the face and he didn’t even say sorry. So you certainly won’t hear the word if you have to take something back to a shop or complain about service or find yourself in any situation in which someone has done you wrong. The word implies culpability. And this is New York. We ain’t admitting to nothing.

Unless it’s the claim that this is the Best City in the World…and then we are guilty as charged.