In Defense of Indifference

Your Monday-morning controversy, served up hot:

Conversation in class the other day. The professor said she was waiting at a bus stop along with a few other people. One was a young lady, shivering in the late evening chill. A man who was also waiting pulled out his fleece zip-up and offered it to the shivering woman, for use til the bus came.

The professor raised an eyebrow and commented, “You must be from the south.”

The man answered, “Richmond.”

This naturally started a conversation about how rude and obnoxious everyone in the city is. One student proudly announced that she always says good morning to everyone, even though she usually gets nasty glares back.

That’s from me. It’s not a nasty glare, per se. It’s a mix of startled and annoyed. I mean, here I am, strolling down the street, completely absorbed in the task of teasing out a difficult idea for a blog post, when suddenly you rap on the window of my mental study with your chirpy little “Good morning!” and a grin like you’ve just done the world’s greatest good deed of the day. Pardon me for not agreeing.

We’re not rude in the city. We’re considerate. Our private lives are public. We can see into each other’s windows and hear each other fighting over who has to do the dishes.

In kind, our public lives are private. The woman putting on makeup on the train or doing her daughter’s hair is mentally in her bedroom. And we politely perpetuate that improbability by ignoring her, staying ensconced in the private little world of our thoughts, books, or music. The homeless guy snoring across three seats is in his living room. We all play along by not bothering him, even though there’s nowhere else to sit.

Well, maybe that’s not the only reason, but still. Bear with me.

When people get invasive, we get annoyed. Blaring music or talking on the phone as if you’re in your kitchen is not okay, because you’re in our kitchens as well. Saying good morning to me when I’m at my mental desk is invasive because I never opened the front door for you—not the little crack permitted to salesmen and missionaries, let alone full access to the interior.

At the same time, I will agree, this purposeful indifference does engender callousness. After all, what goes on in someone else’s house is none of my business.  The actual stimulus for this post was finding an old woman nodding off halfway up a flight of subway stairs while people dashed up and down around her.

It’s not lack of caring, I thought, as I paused on the step underneath, ready to catch her if she tipped over. It’s just that we first have to look out our windows. Notice something’s wrong. Ascertain whether and how we can help. And then, hardest of all, grind down on the inertia that carries us down the sidewalk at a brisk walking pace and stop, turn, and hold our hand to a perfect stranger, who may or may not be interested. Oh, and do it all before we’ve zipped past.

I don’t think New Yorkers are callous. I think we’re just not the cognitive sprinters we’d have to be to dash through all that thought at the necessary speed. I don’t think anyone is, even that guy from Richmond.

 

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41 thoughts on “In Defense of Indifference

  1. Being from the south, we say hello..thank you..have a great day..to perfect strangers. Believe me, i knew the city is differnent but i will never forget the lady at starbucks..I gave her a cheery “thank you have a great day..” she looked at me like i fell from some alien planet..there is something wrong with that!

  2. great defense of ny’ers. its like the whole “good shabbos” controversy. i think its rude to expect everyone to stop their conversation every time they pass someone in the street so that they can wish a good shabbos. in some locations that can be numerous times in one block.

  3. Nicely written rationale for the behavior of native New Yorkers, but it doesn’t take genetics into consideration. It is not only those from the South who routinely say hello to strangers: humans living in the Southwest, the West, the Northwest, the Northcentral and the Central areas of the country exhibit the same behavior. That being the case, a scientist could posit without fear that it is the common trait of humans to say hello to each other, even to strangers. That would make New Yorkers a different breed of being and/or an anomoly to the human species.

  4. Why have I never heard anyone use this argument before? I think you have a great point. Will be happy to bring it up in conversation next time I hear complaints about city dwellers!

  5. I’m a native New Yorker. I say good morning to people, smile at strangers, say good shabbos to everyone I meet on my walks, and just generally act “out of town” by your estimation.
    A lot of people are very friendly in response.
    I found your rationale interesting, but the net effect if everyone did that would be a whole lot of rudeness.

  6. You might want to read Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust by Yaffa Eliach. It’s the reason I say ‘good morning’ to everyone I meet.

    Unlike you, many busdrivers, cabdrivers, subway salesmen and other New Yorkers have appreciated that greeting over the years.

    I think that when you weigh the people who don’t want to engage in possible mental gymnastics against the way in which you can brighten someone’s day by making them feel noticed, the latter is far more important.

  7. I would suggest that NYers may not be so friendly to all and sundry because there are, what, 8 million people in NYC? A lot of them are crazies, I might add. A long commute if you say good morning to everyone.

    But saying “Thank you,” or “Have a nice day” to the MTA folk or the guy that gives you the Starbucks should be practiced. It makes Jews look good, as a perk. Saying “Gut Shabbos” to people on the street (not having a conversation) should be encouraged.

    Everyone is becoming so consumed with their electrical devices that common courtesy is dying out like the dodo.

  8. Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for saying good morning – if you make eye contact as you pass. But I don’t think it’s a good deed to insist that everyone you pass have a good morning whether they’re interested or not.
    Chana: I’m not talking about the barista or the guard or anyone you actually meet. I’m talking about people who are just passing, don’t know you, and who you aren’t even looking at.

    Question, ProfK: one fine late Sunday evening OOT I was on a bus trying very hard to fall asleep on my backpack after a long and wearisome weekend. The friendly fellow across the aisle kept trying to make cheery conversation about my trip. Am I wrong for being abrupt with him or is he wrong for persistently bothering me? And how is that different from saying “good morning” to someone absorbed in their thoughts and staring through the sidewalk?

    Ezzie – I’d ask you if you always stop to help anyone in need but it’s a dumb question. If you’re like most city folk, you don’t notice people in need and therefore don’t know that you didn’t stop for them. Eg: the homeless guy who bled to death on the sidewalk last summer because everyone took the cognitive shortcut of assuming he was just passed out on the sidewalk – standard homeless guy behavior. Can you really say you would not have walked past? It’s easier to criticize than to actually do.

  9. I think people exaggerate both the rudeness of New Yorkers and the surprised reaction people in New York give if you are polite to them. Sure, it happens. But for every story like that, there is at least one, if not more, story that’s the total opposite. Really – there are just a lot of people in NYC of all different kinds, both rude and terribly nice. People just like to find ways to criticize New York, so the rude stories stand out in their heads and they jump to point to them so they can further build on the idea that New Yorkers are not nice people.

  10. This attitude is exactly why I seriously dislike being an “in towner.” Someone has gone out of their way to be nice to you and your response is to be annoyed at them? I understand where you’re coming from in the sense that when I’m on the subway or walking somewhere, I don’t want to be disturbed. I dislike how people in NYC are always trying to hand you pamphlets that you don’t want to take, for example. In that case I understand the annoyance. I am also not saying that you need to say hello to every person you see, because that would be crazy. But if someone says hello to you, the least you can do is respond in some way.

    New Yorkers should acknowledge the fact that other people around them exist. Any action you do that sends the message, “I acknowledge your presence” is, at a bare minimum, good enough, whether that is a smile, a nod, a grunt, a full word, or even an entire sentence. (An entire sentence? Shocking! I know.) If someone (who is not trying to sell you something or hand you something) attempts to communicate with you, even if you do not want to communicate with them, at least be nice about it. Ignoring people or staring at them like they are crazy or glaring at them like they are evil, is just not nice. I’m not saying that you do that, I’m saying that other New Yorkers who have this attitude end up being mean unintentionally. It is so refreshing to leave the New York area…

  11. This reminds me of a fantastic video for Improv Everywhere! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKx0aek1T0w
    While I am from New York I never really understood why people just can’t stop their fast-paced lifestyles just to make someone feel good. There are so many stories that happened in New York because no one would stop what they were doing to stop it. But then again this may explain why people text so much while they drive…
    Also, Bad4 I agree with G6 that you have gone too far.

  12. Ah, classic Social Psycholgy may I suggest Stanley Milgram paper Experience in Living in Cities where he describes why we are the way we are

  13. “Am I wrong for being abrupt with him or is he wrong for persistently bothering me? And how is that different from saying “good morning” to someone absorbed in their thoughts and staring through the sidewalk?”

    Situation #1: the fellow probably thought that you might welcome some conversation on a dreary, boring bus ride. If you wanted to sleep, there was no reason to be abrupt with him–simply telling him the truth in brief and politely should have sufficed–“I’d love to talk some other time but right now I’m so exhausted I have to catch some sleep. Sorry.” And then you go to sleep. Doesn’t require getting miffed but just a bit of Emily Post.

    Situation#2: How is this different from the bus ride? Saying good morning is not an invitation to a further conversation. It is an acknowledgement that while we might all be strangers to each other we still are sharing the same streets and the same space at the same time. All that is required is the good morning. It should come automatically, and does not disturb any other thinking being done. Do it often enough and it becomes ingrained and automatic–a programmed body response to a stimulus.

  14. Okay, I think I got a little snippy and took this in the wrong direction.

    My point was to those people who say hello to all and sundry as they pass on the sidewalk: what you get is not an angry glare. What you get is a startled look, because you’ve yanked someone out of their private bubble. You might even get your return greeting – if you weren’t walking past at great speed. And personally, I don’t think you should be yanking people out of their bubbles unless they actually engage you in some way – such as eye contact.

    Call it “going too far” but I happen to think it’s just being respectful of people who want to be able to space out while they’re forced to get from Point A to Point B.

    My real point was that people don’t always notice what’s going on around them because they aren’t mentally there. I’m not justifying walking past old women about to tumble down the stairs, only trying to explain why it happens. (If I thought it was okay to walk away from old women tumbling down the stairs, I would have kept walking instead of stopping.)

    Which, for those who didn’t actually read the post, but just skipped ahead to snark about the “good morning” issue, was the point for the piece.

    What I think happened in this case was that everyone simply took the cognitive shortcut of “beggar” (there was a coffee cup in front of her) and didn’t notice that she was in an odd location and nodding off. It’s easy to say “people should take the time to [insert here]” but people have to notice in order to take the time. I’m suggesting that people just don’t notice.

  15. SternGrad – It’s funny, but I don’t mind the pamphlets. I take them all and trash them two street corners down. It’s just some poor guy trying to eke out minimum wage. The least you can do is take the piece of paper and help him out, so he doesn’t have to beg in subway cars.

  16. Bad4, there are huge numbers of studies that have been done about the difference between how a person may act in a public/large group situation and how they may act in a private or single person situation. That poor woman in the subway? When incidents like that occur in a public space with lots of people around many/most/all individuals viewing that person can shrug off any responsibility they feel by assuring themselves that “somebody” will take cdare of the person, somebody else. They sort of absolve themselves from any responsibility because someone else will pick up the slack. That this is rarely the case doesn’t seem to matter.

    Come across someone lying on the sidewalk as you exit your home and the reaction will be different. When no one else is around you don’t have the option of believing that someone else will take care of things.

    Over the past 7 years three different people in our community collapsed on the street near their homes. In all three cases the person who found them was the person to call for help and stay with them until that help arrived. Had those people collapsed in the Subway area or in the midst of a larghe group of strangers the outcome might have been quite different.

    Not excusing what I see as indifference but just saying that it seems to be an element of group behavior.

  17. ProfK – while I know that everyone’s business is nobody’s business, I don’t think that’s always the case. At least, I have trouble imagining that anyone can see someone in immediate trouble and also see everyone ignoring it and assume that someone is taking care of it. More likely they don’t think it’s an issue. Obviously, I haven’t done a study, but this was just a theory I was throwing out. Sadly, it got somewhat lost in the reaction to the introduction.

  18. “I have trouble imagining that anyone can see someone in immediate trouble and also see everyone ignoring it and assume that someone is taking care of it.” I have that same trouble despite having it proven to me that it can happen. I arrived in NY the year of the Kitty Genovese murder, a most horrid example of “let the other guy do it.” Unfortunately, it’s not the only example by a long shot.
    http://streetlights.tripod.com/queens/kitty-genovese.html

  19. Bad4 – I think you missed most people’s points: Whether one notices or places themselves into a situation to acknowledge others or not is a choice, and you’re making it clear that you think not doing so is a fine choice because {insert rationalization}.

    You seem to be saying “sure, say hi… if you make eye contact” – yet what’s so ridiculous is how many people specifically avoid making eye contact because they’re self-absorbed. It lets them avoid having to acknowledge others’ presences (awk), which in turn lets them avoid any guilt for not offering help or otherwise acting properly toward others. It’s the equivalent of ignoring the guy in the car next to you by just not turning your head when he is trying to signal to have you let him into your lane – “I’m not being rude, I just didn’t realize that he wanted to get let in.”

    Most importantly, you don’t have to be a ‘cognitive sprinter’ – just don’t be in such a rush to avoid the world. Once people do that, suddenly they start noticing the people around them, and usually become more inclined to be kind to one another. Unfortunately, people in many places know this and think it’ll slow them down too much, so they choose not to notice – and that’s what is so sad.

  20. I know about the Kitty G story, but in that case nobody could see that nobody was doing anything. So they’re thinking “someone else must have called already.” In these cases, it’s quite obvious that nobody has done anything, so each person would have to actively think “Let someone else take care of it.” Assuming they were cognizant that something needed taking care of. And considering that most of them are walking rapidly, eyes down, minds far away (think The Phantom Tollbooth city), it seems likelier to believe that they simply don’t notice.

    Ezzie – you’re saying that everyone who doesn’t make eye contact and exchange greetings with everyone else they pass is choosing not to. Moreover, everyone who fails to let someone into the lane in front of him is choosing not to see their signal. What a horrible world that must be.

    What I’m saying is that people don’t exchange greetings because they don’t notice. Because they are not all there. Moreover, that the majority of the city prefers not to be noticed; that this is a normal way of dealing with living in an overcrowded city.

    It is justifiable? Sometimes no, sometimes yes. I think we all agree that you don’t have to greet everyone in your subway car and that you should greet the security guard. It’s the space in between that we’re arguing. And that could very well just be a culture difference.

  21. you’re saying that everyone who doesn’t make eye contact and exchange greetings with everyone else they pass is choosing not to. Moreover, everyone who fails to let someone into the lane in front of him is choosing not to see their signal.

    Not even close to what I said.

    People who express annoyance at the idea that someone is invading their personal space are choosing not to notice others. The similar analogy are those who pointedly look ahead when they sense a car to their side may wish to get into their lane.

    When you refer to people saying good morning as invasive, that’s just silly.

    What I’m saying is that people don’t exchange greetings because they don’t notice. Because they are not all there. Moreover, that the majority of the city prefers not to be noticed; that this is a normal way of dealing with living in an overcrowded city.

    You’re twisting that a bit – are people sometimes not all there? Distracted? Sure. But most of the time, most people are specifically choosing not just “not to be noticed”, but “not to notice”. This is considered a “normal way of dealing with living in an overcrowded city” because when it comes down to it, those people don’t want to start notice the people around them because then it might compel them to think about and treat them positively, which would result in a slowing down of the person’s day to day life: The horrors as said above of saying good morning to so many or perhaps even stopping to pick up someone’s dropped items. You may even end up giving a tourist directions!

    Better to just pretend not to see – or even better yet, make sure one doesn’t notice – so as not to get stuck in those hairy dilemmas.

    For kicks, how about trying every morning one week (especially good if you go about the same time/way each day) to go to school or wherever with your head constantly up and looking at people as they walk toward you and saying hello to each one with a smile. You’d be amazed how many people will actually smile. Many will be startled – this is NYC, after all – but I’m betting far more smiles than upset people.

  22. Classic. I loved this and laughed out loud.

    I think some people here have taken your satire a bit too seriously.

    You made a point which isn’t meant to be an absolute. Now folks, just use your judgment about when to apply it.

    Best4

  23. It’s interesting that people don’t have the “mental space” to give a smile, but that they can still manage to look you up and down, side to side. I would think that takes more mental energy than a quick smile.

    I gotta say I was dissapointed with this post. There’s something called decency, and something called self-absorbed.

  24. nevercomment – seriously? The people who don’t say good morning to you are giving you the elevator eyes?

    Sometimes I wonder if we all live in the same city. Cuz the people in mine are nowhere near as obnoxious.

    Also, I’m afraid someone is going to have to define for me where decency becomes self-absorbed, because I’m not getting it. Yeah, it would be nice if the entire train car sat down and had a kumzitz together, but I don’t see why it’s self-absorbed to assume that half the car is simply not interested. And Ezzie – this morning I looked around the train car to see if anyone wanted a smile. I saw people reading, listening, and sleeping while standing up. I didn’t see anyone who seemed to be looking for a smile. I gave it a good five minutes.

    Let me put it this way: if “everyone” is rude in evincing disinterest, then nobody is rude, because that’s the local culture. It has its good points and its bad points, like any culture. Like considering an east-Asian shifty because he won’t meet your eyes, or out to get his superior because he won’t criticize him. Or them considering you rude and uncouth for being so forward and loud.

    Honestly? The difference is that I refuse to pass judgement, and you don’t seem to hesitate. I’d rather come up with a decent reason for people to fail to notice their surroundings than assume that everyone is self-centered and uncaring. To each their own.

  25. Let me put it this way: if “everyone” is rude in evincing disinterest, then nobody is rude, because that’s the local culture.

    Sometimes I wonder if we all live in the same city. Cuz the people in mine are nowhere near as obnoxious.

    Perhaps obnoxious people don’t realize how obnoxious they are because everyone else around them is just as bad. 🙂

    And Ezzie – this morning I looked around the train car to see if anyone wanted a smile. I saw people reading, listening, and sleeping while standing up. I didn’t see anyone who seemed to be looking for a smile. I gave it a good five minutes.

    Like I said – take initiative. Perhaps they’re all just like you, waiting. If they react negatively, great – you’re right. If not, keep doing it. What do you have to lose?

    Honestly? The difference is that I refuse to pass judgement, and you don’t seem to hesitate. I’d rather come up with a decent reason for people to fail to notice their surroundings than assume that everyone is self-centered and uncaring. To each their own.

    Snort. Like I said originally – people can rationalize anything.

    Personally? I think it’s an embedded culture in places such as NYC because over time people have slowly and unconsciously rationalized they don’t have time and/or the reasons you’ve said because being nice would inconvenience them in such a crowded city. It doesn’t mean that the people here are more obnoxious than their brethren – just moreso than people in other places who care to spend the time. Most telling is when people from different places travel – you don’t hear much from NYers about how rude “OOTers” are, yet you hear the reverse; yet you do hear NYers complain how “slow” people do things “OOT” do things, as if there’s a big rush. So yes – comparatively, there is a qualitative difference between the two.

    It won’t matter much if you live your whole life here – as you said, nobody expects you to not be obnoxious. But I think you’ve written how you’d like to move somewhere small, perhaps thinking that you can ignore people more easily there – if so, you’ll have a rough go of it.

    So no – I don’t think people consciously choose to be rude. They’ve simply become accustomed to it as they don’t know any better. That doesn’t make them nice, but nor is it a defense. It’s mostly just sad.

    Best4 – I usually find the satire here quite good, despite numerous comments that suggest otherwise on a rather regular basis – I think that there’s just some people who don’t get the blog or your sis’ intent. But satire typically fails when most people think it’s not as satirical, when it’s in line with similar statements the writer makes regularly, and when the writer continues to defend the points via logic (however poor) afterward. As for when to apply it? I’d say never. 🙂

    Now the Q is whether you think I’m being satirical or not. 😉

  26. Nope. What this boils down to is your making a judgement of what’s good and bad based on your personal preference. That’s cultural absolutism or something and very unfashionable.

    And Ezzie – if I’m an obnoxious NYer, then I can assure that obnoxious NYers do not: 1 – glare angrily at people who say good morning to them. As I said, it’s a startled look. and 2 – give elevator eyes to the people who do.
    So, are you going to accept me as a representative of obnoxious NYers? Because if so, then you have to accept that I know what goes on in their heads better than you do.

    This reminds me of high school, actually, when there was a baseline assumption of what teenage females should like to do. Those of us who didn’t like those things were physically forced to, based on the assumption that we really did want to deep down, we were just too shy to join in. You’re making assumptions about what NYers think, want, and do, and saying that if they seem to disagree it’s because they’re too shy or too rude… which is a tautology, if we’re going to argue faulty logic.

    As for complaining about how rude OOTs are: I just did, twice, and got it shoved back down my throat. Luckily, it’s not just me.
    I recall a back page article in the Smithsonian a couple months ago in which a European woman complained that friendly Seattle natives stripped her of her privacy in the course of a single elevator ride simply by being interested in her. In the end she told them that she didn’t want to continue the conversation, which got them affronted, because they were only being friendly, which is Good.
    Sounds awfully like this conversation, actually.

  27. Nope. What this boils down to is your making a judgement of what’s good and bad based on your personal preference. That’s cultural absolutism or something and very unfashionable.

    Or you doing the exact same (and surprisingly losing your English skills in the process! <- {joke}). I'll err on the side of being friendly over not if I have to pick which culture, though. (Havei mekabel es kal adam b'seiver panim yafos.)

    And Ezzie – if I’m an obnoxious NYer, then I can assure that obnoxious NYers do not: 1 – glare angrily at people who say good morning to them. As I said, it’s a startled look. and 2 – give elevator eyes to the people who do.

    I don’t recall saying any of those in any way. I actually agree it’s more of a startled or usually just a blank look, as if they have no clue what to do. Which is sad. (Hint: Say hi and smile back.)

    As for the rest, you’ve made an assumption as to what I think NYers do despite me not saying anything like it, then making assumptions based on that. Ironic, in that you then complain about making assumptions.

    In fact: You’re making assumptions about what NYers think, want, and do, and saying that if they seem to disagree it’s because they’re too shy or too rude… which is a tautology, if we’re going to argue faulty logic.

    I didn’t say too shy or too rude; I actually said “it’s an embedded culture in places such as NYC because over time people have slowly and unconsciously rationalized they don’t have time and/or the reasons you’ve said because being nice would inconvenience them in such a crowded city. It doesn’t mean that the people here are more obnoxious than their brethren – just moreso than people in other places who care to spend the time.”

    I recall a back page article in the Smithsonian a couple months ago in which a European woman complained that friendly Seattle natives stripped her of her privacy in the course of a single elevator ride simply by being interested in her. In the end she told them that she didn’t want to continue the conversation, which got them affronted, because they were only being friendly, which is Good.

    I’d love to see the article, or have been there. There are certainly people everywhere who don’t know boundaries, and there are also people who are highly sensitive for no reason. Again, I’ll play the odds on the friendly side.

    Sounds awfully like this conversation, actually.

    Well, I don’t think I’m being overly friendly, so if my two choices above are right, that would make you… highly sensitive? 🙂

  28. Okay, let’s do it point by point.

    Here’s what I think your point is, followed by my response.

    We both agree that NYers walk around in a bubble. I call it personal privacy. You call it self absorption. (I call both of those assumptions. What do you call them? In fact, most sentences that you begin with “I think” include assumptions.)

    You (or others) say that
    1 – this bubble is never acceptable. No reason necessary.

    To which I reply that you are providing a moral judgment for a cultural phenomenon.

    Moreover, I maintain, a person has a right to personal privacy in public places. If someone makes it obvious that they do not wish to be acknowledged, then their wishes should be respected. This is polite.

    2 – That this is a means of distancing oneself from those around to remove any feeling of responsibility for them. (An assumption?)

    To which I reply that this might be a valid argument if it weren’t for the evidence to the contrary. The Readers Digest study a number of years back found NYers to be the most polite, holding open the most doors and providing the most directions. (Actually, giving directions sometimes feels like the citywide past time.) They probably weren’t smiling when they did, though.

    As an illustration, as to provide yet another complaint against OOT, I offer the following a story. A friend moved OOT. At one point, she fainted on a public thoroughfare. The friendly denizens of OOT smiled and cheerfully asked her if she was okay. She nodded and they smilingly passed on. Quothe she: “If you want people who smile and pretend to care about you, move OOT. If you want people to actually help you, stick with NYers.”

    I was reminded of what she said just last week because I passed a woman who had fainted on the street. She had a couple of NYers coaching her on the recovery process. I bet they didn’t smile and ask if she was okay – they just barged in and took care of things.

    So, if we accept the evidence-based argument that NYers respond to those in need as often as any other group of people, we have to discard the “emotional distance” theory. And that leaves us with the question: why do NYers sometimes completely fail to respond at all?

    To which I suggest: they are taking cognitive shortcuts that miss certain details. This is because they move too fast to take in all those details.

    To which you reply

    3. There’s no reason to move all that fast.

    I refer you to my answer to point 1. NYC is a city full of aggressive, fast-moving people. That is the city culture. It is also the reason that NYC is the capital of the world, and it is also the reason that you – and so many others – gravitate here. For the jobs provided by these aggressive people.

    You may not like this. It may not be what you’re used to. But that doesn’t make it wrong.

    As for the elevator story: they just asked where she was from, how she came to America, and what she was doing. In the process they essentially requested her background, her husband’s job, her job. She put her foot down on the “Oh you live down that way? I live down that way! Where do you live?” question.

    And yeah, you did basically call me obnoxious… it’s all about context, even if you don’t say it outright.

  29. I’m a little confused after reading this, and having trouble following the conversation, but here’s my two cents.

    I don’t think it’s appropriate to say something to every random stranger you happen to pass one day on the street. It’s invasive, and most people are NOT interested. I’ve never seen it OOT either by the way, because it’s just normal.

    However, if you pass the same random stranger every day in the same spot, the proper response would be to acknowledge them in some way.

    If we say something to every person we pass, where does it stop? Do we only nod? Say hello? Shake their hands? High five? Group hug? Seriously, most people just are not interested!

    Polite, yes. Grateful to those who help you or service you in some way? Of course. But a cheery “Good morning!” to everyone you pass on the street? Going to far.

  30. In reverse order:

    3D Separate yourself from what you write – usually you have no problem doing so. The post = obnoxious, as seems pretty clear from comments 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14…

    3C Elevator story: Sounds like they were being friendly, while she interpreted as nosy. Still would love to read in context. Maybe they were going to offer tips on the neighborhood; most people appreciate these things. Also – did she ask them politely to excuse her, or was she snappy? Were they supposed to be able to tell she wasn’t interested? Again, context is always important.

    3A There is no reason to move all that fast. You’re contradicting yourself: NYC is aggressive and fast, and people therefore are self-absorbed… but really they’re not? NYC isn’t the capital of the world by any means, and most of the people who live here are either a) quite wealthy, and can do whatever they like at their pace regardless or b) quite poor, but the supplements they receive from the city allow them to live and to find work (or so they think). Most of the rest are stuck for various reasons, including mounting middle-class debt which they feel they couldn’t get rid of on an “OOT” salary but *maybe* their next break is around the corner in NYC where salaries are higher. (Unfortunately, this is usually false.) Check out economic studies of NYC. You also have a lot of people who’ve only lived in NYC and simply can’t imagine going anywhere else, thanks to a steady diet of NYC is capital of the world.

    3B Most importantly, you completely missed the point – whether it’s right or wrong doesn’t make it nicer or less obnoxious. Someone can be completely right and still be completely obnoxious (no doubt how you view my comments here, albeit minus the right part). In fact, if you understood what I actually said on this thread, you’d see that I’m giving a perfectly valid reason for why NYers act as they do – and yet, I find it completely obnoxious on the whole.

    2 The Reader’s Digest piece which you quote is, if I’m not mistaken, a study of NYC vs. about 20 other cities – every single one of them NOT in the United States. Correct? If so, you’re really misrepresenting here. I don’t think most people find Europeans much nicer than NYers. I’d love for RD to run the same study within the USA and base it on percentage of people who respond positively.

    If we’re trading completely irrelevant individual anecdotes, my old neighbor from Cleveland got married and moved to Brooklyn. She was passing another young frum girl in the hallway and said hello and introduced herself. The other girl said “I’m sorry, I already have enough friends” and walked away. My neighbor has since moved back to Cleveland, obviously. My father was coming out of shul in NJ, and after repeated “Good Shabbos”es to others with no reply, he finally grabbed someone and said “Hi, Good Shabbos. My name is David and where I come from, we say Good Shabbos.” My wife was in Brooklyn for a Shabbos and after repeated attempts of the same finally said to a non-replier “Sorry, I thought you were Jewish.” And of course there are the countless people who’ve commented how nice it is that when they come to shul in Cleveland so many people come over to introduce themselves after shul and welcome them and ask them if they need anything. (On the flip side, more than one male friend noted he gets similar positive treatment in our shul in KGH, though numerous single women in KGH have complained that nobody seems to note their existence in most of the shuls here.)

    As for your friend’s story – that’s ridiculous. You expect people to respect others’ privacy, and yet when the individual specifically says she’s okay, you’d rather they ignore her wishes and ‘take charge’ of what she should do?!

    It seems we agree that NYers take shortcuts. The question is why they take those shortcuts. You’re saying it’s because NY is fast-moving, which is begging the question. Why is NY fast-moving? Because NYers are taking shortcuts. Why are they taking shortcuts? They feel there’s so much to do, etc. etc. What is the cost associated with those shortcuts? Noticing what goes on around you. By choosing one over the other, the person is essentially choosing him or herself over everyone around them on a constant basis. Is this an oversimplification? Yes. But I’ve yet to see demonstrably that there is some kind of gain to living this way vs. living a slower, less self-absorbed life. In specific circumstances? Yes. As a general rule? Absolutely not.

    Like I said – try slowing your life down and being actively (not passively) friendly to people all week long. See how many people react positively vs. how many react negatively. I’m betting more of the former than the latter. For kicks, I’ve been paying attention myself when I walk to pick up my daughters each day – a mix of smiles/hellos/friendly nods, some conversations if we’re not moving past one another and a couple even if we are, and a decent amount of blank stares. Not a single negative reaction yet.

    Final side note: In fact, most sentences that you begin with “I think” include assumptions. Since in general it bothers me to write the word “I”, which is why most of what you’ll see written is more topical than personal, I (groan) was surprised to see you write this, so I checked. A very cursory glance says that I’ve said “I” about 5-6 times in all my comments on this thread to correct what you’re claiming I said (just like in this sentence); once to say I do NOT think; and once to say I think you’re making an assumption. In your latest comment alone, you said I maintain/reply/bet/suggest/call (which are your opinions) 7 times.

  31. Morah Mamela – Agreed! I don’t think anybody thinks they have to shout “Hello!!” to every random person – as with anything, there’s a need for Balance. But a polite acknowledgment of someone’s existence or a quick conversation if you’re in an elevator or waiting in line at a store are polite and tend to brighten people’s days, while erring on the side of “I don’t want to invade this person’s privacy” is more likely to end up negative than positive. People typically like to feel like people, not just objects along another person’s way.

    To clarify perhaps, it’s the pointed attitude of “I’m going to ignore the world and I’ll even rationalize it as better” attitude such as in the post that seems rather sickening.

  32. Great post Bad4! Thanks for trying to explain us New Yorkers. We’re not rude, we’re just in a hurry (and I’m not sure why that’s a bad thing). I’ve asked plenty of NYers for directions, and have never gotten a dirty look. Most are happy to help. You just have to talk fast and let the other person get on their way.

    Also, if you hate NYers so much? Live somewhere else.

  33. I like the idea Bad4 put forth – about the development of behavior based on living conditions. I think I have read something similar before, maybe about large families, or crowded villages, where contrary to what we would assume, people go out of their way to allow others privacy-in-public.

    Also, I have read a “defense” of NYers. About how NYers are indeed friendly and cheerful and most of all helpful. I don’t think it’s everyone’s experience, but there are dissenting opinions and it’s nice to know that there are.

    I also dislike giving my life’s story to casual strangers being friendly.

    On the flipside:
    Yes, Cleveland is different from Brooklyn. Surprise, surprise. It is indeed nice to have people come over to you and introduce themselves – although not everyone, of course. That would be opressive.

    Also, I do respond to a cheery “Good morning” with one in kind. So what if my mental office is being invaded, for this I can take a break. It is also my experience that usually if you go up to someone and actually say “Good Shabbos” their face shifts from vapid stare to actually noticing you and wishing you a good Shabbos in return. Not all will follow up with “Are you new in town?” but the experiences of the husband and wife in comment #33 seem a little extreme.

  34. “NYC is a city full of aggressive, fast-moving people. That is the city culture. It is also the reason that NYC is the capital of the world, and it is also the reason that you – and so many others – gravitate here. For the jobs provided by these aggressive people.”

    Far afield from the point being made in the posting, but since you raise this point, let’s dissect it. “Capital of the world.” Using what standards to verify this? Job growth? Higher in other cities and areas of the country. Job stability? Higher in other cities and areas of the country. Cost of living? Well, there NY wins hands down. Any tabulation that shows that salaries are higher in NY will also show that that difference is eaten up by the highest living costs in the US. Percentage of the population that has a high school degree? Again, NY is not #1 nor edging towards #1. And about 20% of its high school grads have GED credentials rather than regular high school diplomas. Percentage of the population that has a college degree? Again, NY is not #1. Sheer number of people living in NY? Yup, that NYC is #1 in, at least in the US. Sheer gaivoh? Well, NY seems to be winning that competition.

    If you point out readers here who prefer oot to NY, and make the point that they are here, not oot, because NY is the capital of the world, it would be best to have some real facts to base that on. Looking only at the frum demographic, many are here because the frum population size also produces many amenities available here in abundance, such as yeshivot and colleges under frum auspices. They may come here to be educated, and many may return oot after that education has been gotten. Some of those oot people are not here because of the “vast” opportunities available but because of family dynamics/politics that have them stuck here, at least for a while. And if we are being really politically correct, for the frum olam the capital of the world is Yerushalyim, not NY. You know, the place all those new high school grads flock to because that is the heart of the Jewish people?

    It’s nice for residents of a place to have good feelings for the place they are living in, but carrying that partisanship to the point of declaring NY as the capital of the world defies logic and causes the rest of the world to look at New Yorkers as being ba’al gaivohniks.

  35. Doesn’t it say something in Pirkei Avos about greeting everyone with a smile? I’m far from perfect when it comes to this, but I just thought it should be mentioned.

  36. “The actual stimulus for this post was finding an old woman nodding off halfway up a flight of subway stairs while people dashed up and down around her.”

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