After spending a week in New York City over Labor Day (in order to get out of Labor Day in The Hamptons), I found myself thinking about the way we behave in different places.
In the city people held doors for me as I came and went. “Thank you” I said to everyone who treated me with civility (which was almost everyone I encountered). “You’re welcome” every single person said.
A woman running a small vegetable stand was hit by a man when she tried to stop him from stealing some fruit. A passerby grabbed the man and held him while another person called the police. A woman who was probably a nurse rushed over to help the woman on the ground; someone called for an ambulance on his cell phone.
People walking up and down Fifth Avenue stopped to give money to street musicians and artists; to men and women with signs asking for help with shelter and food.
People waited patiently for traffic lights to change so they could cross. No one ran against the light or tried to outrun on-coming traffic. People stopped to pet dogs and admire children. On the bus, people gave up their seats to anyone who looked tired or was burdened with packages. Conversations took place between strangers. People who didn’t know one another talked about a play, a movie; laughed, smiled at one another, got on and off the bus.
Waiting for a movie to begin, I had a lengthy and interesting conversation with a woman who lived in SoHo then moved to 142nd Street and began life again. She bought a four-story house and turned the second story into a space where neighborhood musicians could perform Sunday concerts. “People come to hear the music,” she told me, “to meet their neighbors, stay for wine and cheese and talk. We’ve formed our own small community and now we all look after one another.”
No other city has as many people or as much congestion as New York City. So large a population of people from everywhere in such a small space. And it is understood, though it’s not written anywhere, that people will be available to one another. That everyone will assume not the worst of one another, but the best in order to get along. Truth is, New Yorkers are the friendliest and most helpful people in the country.
But after Labor Day, I went to Rowdy Hall for lunch. A waiter I’ve known for years came over, kissed me on both cheeks and said how wonderful it was to have the year-round people back. “This was the worst summer in 20 years,” he said. “People were angrier, meaner, ruder, more entitled than ever. One woman who was sure she was the most beautiful woman in the room, couldn’t be bothered to read the menu and told me to read it to her.”
Earlier in the summer when I held doors open for people here, no one thanked me, nor did they say “Excuse me” when they pushed ahead of me in line. No one in a long, long line of traffic heading east from the city (so long no one was actually going anywhere) stopped to let me come out of The Diner Restaurant and turn west to get back onto 27.
The city people and second home owners who are here for the summer never resent paying the landscapers and contractors, real estate brokers, waiters and waitresses, the housekeepers, babysitters and cooks for their services, and the year-round people are happy to be paid, but the rage and rudeness both the locals and the New Yorkers often exhibit over the summer seems to indicate that both groups resent one another’s presence. “Why can’t you local people shop during the week?” one very expensive woman said to a friend of mine while they were both waiting in line at the Amagansett IGA.
How can the city people be so gracious and helpful and funny in their own town, and so angry when they’re summering in The Hamptons? And why can’t those of us who live here year-round be more tolerant and gracious? Where’s OUR sense of humor?
NYC and The Hamptons are small areas; desirable for different reasons in different seasons. I am always happy to be in the city; grateful it exists only 60 miles away. Almost everyone is courteous and funny and helpful, even in a rush. Those of us who live here wish all visitors and second home owners treated us the same courteous way they treat us when we’re in the city. And we should treat them the way we treat one another nine months of the year.
If the unspoken rules of civility broke down in New York City, it would be a disaster. We’d have bedlam … chaos… we’d have… what The Hamptons turn into over the summer.
We all just need to slow down and show some manners. “Thank you” goes a long, long way toward everyone getting along.