Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don't be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time... except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who've lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is "not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness." We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.

This week's question comes from a transplant who doesn't understand New Yorkers' parochialism.

Native New Yorker,

I'm not originally from New York, but I'm also not a recent transplant. In my time here, I've lived in three boroughs and explored a majority of NYC. One thing I've noticed about my friends who are natives is that while they are very knowledgeable about the area where they grew up, they may not know very much about the city as a whole. I've been to many places in the city in my seven years here that people who have lived in NYC all their lives have not been.

Is it a common trait for New York natives to only have an interest in their immediate neighborhood, or is this just an aberration shared by a few of my friends? If this is somewhat common, is it something that shows up in all of the boroughs?

Thanks,

Yeah I'm From Ohio

A Native New Yorker responds:


Dear YIFO,

I object to your contention in the strongest possible terms! Just because I missed that one school trip in second grade because I was sick (and not, I repeat, not because I was scared of boats) and missed a visit to the Statue of Liberty, and somehow, thirty years later, still haven't visited it, does not mean that I am not interested in visiting the Statue of Liberty, and wouldn't go now if the National Parks Service would just simply give in to my repeated request to be allowed to camp overnight in the torch.

All natives have lacuna somewhere in their experience of New York. Some of these will never be filled. As Borges wrote: "There is a line in Verlaine I shall not recall again / There is a street close by forbidden to my feet / There's a mirror that's seen me for the very last time / There is a door that I have locked till the end of the world." Some places fall into a strange category of being popular with tourists but remain unvisited by people who spend their whole lives here. I have met many natives who have never been to Ellis Island, for instance. And then there are places like the Staten Island Mall, where once visited you spend a lifetime fighting to avoid ever visiting again.

Also, every native has a deep-seated belief that their neighborhood is vastly superior to the other 300 in New York. This can lead to some specific types of local parochialism. Growing up in Park Slope, for instance, most of my friends rarely made it to Queens. When my best friend started dating a girl from Long Island City I thought she was from Long Island and wondered how he was getting to her house without a car. Likewise, once in freshman year of high school a girl I had a crush on asked me to study at her house and I turned her down because I didn't know how to get home from the Upper West Side alone. Also I was already 20 the first time I walked on St. Marks Place, and I didn't visit Williamsburg for the first time until I had graduated from college. You can laugh, but everyone who grew up here can tell you stories like this.

The parochial tendency varies over time and geography. Every neighborhood was more self-contained in the bad old days, when getting out of the subway at the wrong stop was a great way to get stabbed in the face. And as you'd expect, areas very far from the center of the city, or ones that are segregated geographically or economically tend to be more self-contained. Browsnville, for instance, or Broad Channel. Sometimes you hear rumors about people on City Island who haven't left in thirty years, or someone from Tottenville who has never set foot in Manhattan. There is something romantic about the idea that our neighborhoods are so complete, so much cities-unto-themselves, that if you wanted to you could spend a whole life in them without ever getting on the subway.

But the direction of history goes against this. The internet has brought us "services" like Facebook, which keep us in contact with "friends" who have moved far away, like to Greenpoint or Sunset Park. Sites like Gothamist and its competitors have devoted themselves to exploring and explicating every part of the city, and Foursquare and Yelp have ranked every venue. So now you have no excuse for not knowing the best dosa place in Jackson Heights, no matter where you live. Also, the decrease in crime and rising dispersion of destination restaurants, art galleries, and bars caused by sky-high retail rents in Manhattan has forced even the laziest New Yorkers into neighborhoods they never had to visit before. Thus the line of people from Soho standing outside Roberta's in Bushwick, and similar phenomenon.

A related misapprehension is that New Yorkers aren't interested in places outside the city limits, and have thus deprived themselves of valuable life experience. This is false in two ways. First, it is demonstratively true that New Yorkers are interested in travel outside the city: we have among the highest rates of passport possession in the United States, and if you've ever wondered why so many tourist destinations advertise on the subway, it's because New Yorkers are among the highest spenders on destination travel. Second, even those New Yorkers who have never set foot outside the five boroughs have been exposed to a more varied cultural experience than most seasoned world travelers. With our 800 languages, just trying to buy cigarettes at the corner bodega is a cross-cultural encounter.

What I'm trying to say is that we New Yorkers love this place not because we haven't been exposed to anywhere else, but because we have, and realized that there's just nothing out there that matters. Is that a parochial attitude? Does any real New Yorker give a flying fuck?

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