Jan 5, 2011

I Hate New York...but I have to live here, so

One of my resolutions for the new year is to not let New York get to me. In the three years I have lived here I have unfortunately found that this city — so universally loved by everyone but me, it seems — just brings out the worst in me. An afternoon spent running simple errands makes me positively hostile and misanthropic in a way I haven't experienced since my waitressing days (and then only when dealing with the worst customers, who are few but memorable). I wish this year to become the sort of unflappable person who can shrug off all the day's tiny rudenesses.

Five days in and I am failing. And winter is my favourite season here, so I'm really going to have to work hard if I want to make living in this city work for 2011. I thought maybe one way to help would be to get it all out of my system. Spring clean my hatred for NYC by naming and accepting and then releasing each thing that makes me crazy about living here:

-The rent is too damn high. According to the Real Estate Group NY's most recent Manhattan Rental Market Report (Dec. 2010), the mean rent for a one-bedroom apartment in a non-doorman building in Manhattan is $2,794. A two-bedroom (what you would expect a small family like ours to live in) costs $3,732. Of course that number is skewed to the exorbitant because of luxury rentals downtown,  but even looking at the average for Harlem (the closest neighbourhood to ours that is included in the report) is depressing: $1,574 for a one-bedroom in a non-doorman building, and $2,035 for a two-bedroom. In addition, rental companies here usually require proof that your income is 40-50 times the monthly rent. So to rent the average one-bedroom in a non-doorman building, you would have to prove income of $111,760. Of course when we signed our lease we had to fudge the numbers, which I think everyone does. So what you have is a whole bunch of landlords saying, "See? This rent isn't unaffordable! All of my tenants make $75,000-$100,000." Meanwhile all the tenants are struggling to pay their rent, which means many people can't afford health insurance (1.3 million New Yorkers are uninsured). And you know what you get for $1,500/month? You get moldy bathrooms, creaking floorboards, roaches, and radiators that sound like evil hissing, screeching witches' cauldrons. What you don't get is a balcony or any any storage space, both features you would take for granted anywhere else. And don't tell me to move to Brooklyn. It's just as expensive there now.
-The summers are too darn hot.
-The trees are too allergenic. And it's the city's own damn fault: When Dutch Elm disease killed off street trees in the 1960s, they planted hardier varieties that also happen to be big-time pollen producers. Oh, and arborists favour male trees over female because the male trees don't drop seed pods in the spring, meaning less clean-up for city workers but an absurd overabundance of pollen in the air for the entire month of April.
-Rats. And not just on-the-subway-tracks rats, or run-right-in-front-of-you-while-you're-walking-in-the-park rats. But come-up-through-the-pipes-into-your-toilet rats. Thanks alot, Ira Glass. Now I   have to put the lid down and then compulsively check the bowl everytime before I sit.
-Roaches. Enough said.
-Bed bugs. They're everywhere: the movie theatres. Ambercrombie & Fitch. My school. Even the Empire State Building. Plus they have no respect for diplomatic immunity: they were found at the UN building.
-The black smoke that puffs out of the smokestacks on top of apartment buildings in my neighbourhood makes the city look like Dickens-era London on a cold winter day. Oh, and it gives kids asthma.
-They keep raising the cost of public transportation even as they cut service and stations are falling to pieces on people's heads.
-The supermarket aisles are so damn narrow. And they're always filled with boxes because restocking is constant. Plus, I'm beginning to suspect my stroller may be invisible.
-Banking here is like dealing with Third World bureaucracy, with ridiculous waiting periods and extortion-like fees. Plus the tellers are so dumb they're often unaware that Canada has its own currency. That is no joke.
-Everyone here is more important than you, and they will let you know it. Also: they hate your kid. And you, for having her and daring to get in anyone's way. (The NY Times' "Complaint Box" series pretty much alternates between complaining about kids and then their parents. See also: this, this and this).
-It really is that dirty. Not because the sanitation dept. doesn't do its job, but people don't seem to care a fig about their neighbourhood. I constantly see people just throw their receipts on the ground outside the grocery store. The litter in my neighbourhood is positively apocalyptic in the summertime. One year we were up early to drive to the airport the day after Dominican Republic Day, and the trash in the streets was a foot deep in places. It was, I'm sure, exactly what my mom would picture New York to look like.
-People really are that rude here. And this is the one thing about NYC I have the hardest time accepting. When I buy groceries in my neighbourhood the cashier almost never tells me what I owe. Strangers come up to you on the street and criticize how you care for your child ("She should have a hat on"... "He's crying because he wants to walk. Why don't you let him walk?" ..that was on a busy street to a friend who was carrying her nine-month-old, who was about three months shy of being able to walk on his own). When I was nine months pregnant, a lady shoved past me on the stairs so she could catch the A train about to leave the station. When I said, "Be careful!" She yelled at me: "Move faster then!" So I yell, "Do I look like I can move any faster?!" The train leaves, she on it. Me in station. Tears. I almost fell down 40 steps with a full-term baby in my belly. And she was mad at me for being in her way. Why are people here so rude? I think it's two things: 1) When you live in a huge city that allows for total anonymity, you never have to be accountable for your actions. You can treat people like shit, and it will very rarely come back to you — unlike if you lived in a small town or even a small city, where if you shoved a pregnant lady out of the way to get to the train, it's possible your mom would hear about it, and then you would get shit from her. 2) People here are not happy. You don't come to New York to be happy. You come here to make it. For money, fame, success, or to at least live in close proximity to those three things. And then once you've made it, you leave to be happy elsewhere. You know how on reality TV shows there's always someone saying, "I'm not here to make friends. I came to win!" That's New York: 8 million people who didn't come here to make friends all trying to win.

So I have to learn to accept all these things for the time being. Shrug it off when someone cuts in front of me at Duane Reade. Order my groceries online. Leave town for the month of April when my allergies become unbearable. And be happy I don't speak Spanish when the next abuela scolds me for not forcing my kid to wear her mittens (How do you say, "Believe me,  I've tried" in Spanish?).


  1. Claro que si! Estoy tratarlo mucho veces.

  2. Thanks for the translation! (Was that you, Lizzi?)

  3. Ugh. As a recent transplant to NYC, I share your pain. Doing what is easy elsewhere, is very hard here. The rudeness sucks but for me, the worst manifestation of it is the honking. Today, someone outside my window laid on their horn for literally a full minute. You would NEVER have this happen in a small town. I think you hit the nail on the head with the accountability angle.
    And I am in Brooklyn! It's no better or cheaper here.
    Best to you.

  4. I was really grateful to read this post today, I know i'm years out of date, but as someone who has a great many friends who have moved out to new york city as of late, your translation of new york and why people are there really makes me feel better about not being there. NYC has changed my friends into things I no longer recognize, and I couldn't really fathom the change until I read your insightful post. Thank you for clearing it up for me, its really given me a new perspective on the city. Also, I love your blog! Hope to hear new things from you soon!



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