Why, thank you!

New York City is known for a lot of things, but politeness is not one of them. Perhaps it should be. Readers Digest performing the kinds of tests Michelin does in hotels, suggests that New York is “the most polite city in the world.” By seeing whether people would hold doors, help with dropped papers, and the like, they found that New Yorkers are generally pretty eager to help a random stranger.

At the high end (though trailing New York) were Zurich, Toronto, Berlin, Sao Paulo, and Zagreb. At the bottom of the pile were Mumbai, Bucharest, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, and Singapore. Of course, I can’t help but assume that some cultural issues are at play here. And besides, in at least a couple of the examples at the bottom, they may be concerned about the air conditioning! Nonetheless, I think this provides some evidence that the stereotype of New York as an unforgiving city it probably wrong. As a recent visitor noted in a article in the Times: “Everyone has their stereotypes of being cold and heartless, I’ve only felt warm feelings from everyone.” Oh, and this from someone from Houston who was touring New York for a day before being randomly stabbed in the heart. I think the city boosters should run with this. “Even people who get stabbed here love us.”

I’ve touched on this before, but I think that New Yorkers tend to have less of an outer polished shell, and have not yet perfected the fake smile that seems to lubricate especially business relationships elsewhere in the US. I was in Connecticut earlier this month, and started to get creeped out by the polite workers at gas stations and restaurants. It just seemed weird. And then I remembered that this was the reaction of a lot of visitors to the West Coast from New York. (Ze Frank mentions this on a recent trip as well.) I guess people in New York are polite but not necessarily nice… or more to the point, they are jaded enough that they don’t feel the need to be nice to you just because you are paying for something. Of course, the restaurants, etc., we tend to return to are staffed by nice people, but it’s possible to do well in this city without ever being nice.

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  1. Posted 6/21/2006 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    I’ll have to jump to my hometown’s defense here and add that the 3 point difference between NYC and Zurich is easily explained by the type of kindness exhibited. The Swiss value genuineness over courtesy sometimes. So while New Yorkers may seem more polite at times, they will often not have their hearts in the matter. There is of course also far more in the way of cultural and sociological differences at hand here, which would need to be studied properly, as in by professionals and not by journalists.

  2. Posted 6/21/2006 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    And I’ll respond in defense of my newly adopted home. As I suggested above, I think that New Yorkers are, very much, genuine in their approach. They are known for wearing their hearts on their sleaves, which results in the image of the New Yorker as jaded and a bit less refined, I think. This differs from many of the other places I’ve lived in the US, where politeness is what is expected, even when it covers up genuine feelings.

    Mind you, I’m not faulting other places. I also like the West Coast superficiality. And I’ll take a superficial, obsequious, effecient, and somewhat distanced California waiter over a genuine New York waiter–who might greet you at a diner with a complaint about another table–any day. I think the superficiality of everyday interactions makes California more like Japan, in some ways. Or maybe more like Kanto. Or something.

  3. Posted 6/21/2006 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    haha Kuala Lumpur at the bottom bit. I suppose as a Malaysian, I have to confirm that. Sometimes even the people we pay to be nice to us (waiters, etc) are rude and ingenuine. Oh well… Malaysians are still pretty friendly, I can say that much.

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