Thursday, March 28, 2013

A post about NYC and my expectations

Now that New York City is 8 months in the past, I feel like I need to write a post to properly process some of my thoughts and feelings.

You might want to get yourself a nice cup of tea :)

New York City had always, always been on my bucket list and I'll even admit that my answer to those questions, "what would you do if you knew you only had a month to live" was to go spend that month in NYC :)


Because of the energy and the vibe.

I love cities, I love vibe and I love hustle and bustle.

So imagine what I felt when I arrived and was confused, frustrated and just plain overwhelmed.

I want to share one experience with you.

I had to get an adaptor so that I could plug my phone and ipad chargers into the sockets.

At the airport, I had 5 hours before the flight to Charlotte so I went to a shop that sold travel stuff.

Fresh in the USA and feeling excited that I (1) got through customs without a hitch (I always have these worse-case scenarios in my mind) and (2) had 5 hours to shop and occupy myself, I was my normal (confident) self so I went to a sales assistant and asked if she could help me find an adaptor.

Well now. First she was much louder than I'm used to and it felt like she was shouting to everybody in the shop about this adaptor/ converter (I think this is what the Americans call it?) and I just felt... STUPID. Picture this - all the people in the shop looking at me and this lady obviously thinking, "stupid tourist". My ex-ex boss laughed when I told him this story but it was SOOOOO not funny. I was mortified. And I'm not stupid. 

What did that teach me?

If you're looking for something, think twice before asking in case the person embarrasses you again.

That wasn't the only thing that happened.

You all know about my problems with the internet and phones when I was over there. A word to the travellers - sort out your technology before you leave and don't assume it will be easy to do once you're there (wherever there may be).

But all of those experiences left me with a dent in my self-confidence.

My time in Concord where I felt so very alone (except for God) was of course hugely smoothed over by meeting up with the Mandys and Beth in Charlotte.

That time was so special to me in so many ways - I hope you two know that!

And then back to NYC.

Grand Central Station just before midnight

These are some of the things that were really difficult for me about New York.

I know everybody says you can't get lost because Manhattan's a grid. Hello - I got lost a lot! The first time I got lost I decided to ask a New Yorker (a guy at a food cart). He was so abrupt and kind-of rude to me I really didn't want to ask anyone else the next time. So my trick was to stay still and observe people for a bit and find someone who didn't look like they were in a huge hurry (very rare in NYC even on those beautiful summer days that are perfect for meandering - they can catch some tips from us Africans :)) and then ask that person. Even so I found myself being Not Me (all apologetic and almost begging for help in my demeanor).

Are you asking where was D during this time?

D and I had to go our separate ways for an hour or so on two of those days because he wanted to see a lot more bookshops than I did, and I wanted to stop and take photos a lot more than he did :)

Pace of the city

Oh my word. I thought I was fast but no way. You walk your little legs off in that place otherwise you'll get kind-of trampled.

I kept thinking, there's no way I can bring the babies here...

Everything is fast - the people walk fast, the queues go fast, you have to be fast with getting out the right money and then taking your stuff and getting out of the way, making decisions, etc. Fast, fast, fast.

The scary thing is.... I am fast! And I couldn't cope in this fast place.

People overwhelm

When we went on the city tour, the lady gave us the stats on the number of people who come into Manhattan to work on a daily basis and what the average number of people per square metre is. It was about 240 times the most dense place (India or China).... she joked and said, "no wonder people in NYC don't look happy" and that is the truth.

No wonder they walk fast, talk fast, and are impatient with foreign ladies from South Africa.

When we met Pufferfish, I just stared at her and exhaled as I relaxed for the first time in NYC. She's calm, peaceful, not at all rushed and just so centred. It was an oasis for me :)

I suppose that's why I loved Bryant Park so much too - that was also an oasis within the city.

I don't want this post to come across like I didn't like New York. I loved it BUT I thought I would love it more.

Does that make sense?

My one friend from London and I chatted about this and she said, "New York is LOVELY for a holiday but no way would I want to live there" and that's how I feel too. Her husband could get a transfer to NYC so he took her on a look-see (without telling her that's what their holiday was for) and she said only after she was telling him this, did he confess that he secretly was testing the waters. LOL And they're from London. But for me, London was more of a reserved unfriendliness, whereas NYC was quite assertive in its unfriendliness. Do you know what I mean?

I'm certainly aware that South Africa sets the friendliness and helpfulness standards very high (for me, Scotland was a close second - now those were very friendly people) and that my bar is probably unreasonable.

Although, in North Carolina, I also found the service staff very friendly in the hotels, shops and  restaurants.

I read something on Laura Vanderkam's blog once about memories and travel.

Something along the lines of ... you may not enjoy the actual hours and minutes of something like travel (like travelling with kids!) but afterwards, the remembered memories are MUCH better.

That is so true.

I look back on all the photos I took and I can't remember the frustration I felt or being close to tears when I got lost yet again.

And of course the absolute best part for me of NYC was meeting my blog friends Heather and Pufferfish. Close behind that, of course, was Staples and Aunty Annie's pretzels :)

I love how you can see all 4 of us - D, me, Tom and Heather in the reflection
 I said all that to say this - I think I'm about over all the crazy because I'm actually starting to think about my next trip!

This time I will have zero expectations - I'll go in ready to be the slow, misunderstood one and just prepare my suitcase for lots of staples goodies :)

Have you been to New York?
Have you had any of these feelings? Or are K (my London friend) and I the only ones?


  1. Lesley1:47 am

    Never been to NYC.
    Been to Scotland though and if you've got an English accent, not so friendly, - BUT very friendly to husband with an Irish one, lol - AND I'd always wanted to live there! How annoying!

  2. I love NYC. LOVE it. Everything about it. The food! The shows! The people watching! The views!

    I took the twins for the first time when they were three. They loved it, but it is not a stroller-friendly city and they had to get used to walking long distances. We are going back this summer, and I know it will be so much easier with five year olds!

    That said, I don't think I could live there. It is very fast paced. We don't often encounter ill-behaved people, but everyone does seem to be in more of a hurry than back home.

    Australia has been the friendliest place on earth for us... not just one city, but everywhere we went. :)

  3. This is exactly what I meant by NYC being too much for me. I know not to bother those people so I'm one to aimlessly wander till I find my way. And yes, London is much more reserved! America isn't very united on much of anything!

    So where is your next trip??

  4. Oh, that is SO incredibly sweet of you to say this. How happy it makes me feel to know I was an oasis of calm in the middle of the chaos. It really is a fast-paced city and can feel like it's running you over until you get into the groove. I've been here almost 16 years, so it's easy to forget. But, it's a place you either know it's "for you" or just a place to "visit". I remember my first trip here and we were driving from the airport--only in Queens, not even in Manhattan yet--and I KNEW I wanted to live here:)
    I do hope if you return the 2nd time around will be better all around.
    For me, the city is 100% child friendly and mostly stroller-friendly. I love being able to walk everywhere and not loading and unloading the twins in carseats multiple times a day. But, this is all I know!
    So....where is the next trip?? Are you coming back for round 2 NYC???

  5. I completely understand your feelings. I can almost *feel* them, just reading your post!

    I think NYC can be a very rushed place. It's amazing, the rushing, but it's not necessarily "relaxing"...and I know it can be intimidating if you don't know your way around.

    I traveled there enough for business that I can get around pretty well. It makes me really love the hustle the bustle, and appreciate the occasional oasis...whether that be a neat little coffee shop, a park, or a great meal in a great restaurant.

    I will say that it's a very different experience being there with J, than me there by myself (or with colleagues). He doesn't enjoy the hustle and bustle, and he gets kind of offended when people aren't as friendly as he thinks they should be. He's also a big "let's ask directions" kind of guy, whereas I prefer to figure things out on my own, when I can.

    I cannot wait to take the girls to NYC, but I know we'll have to plan it carefully. They certainly won't enjoy the hustle and bustle. ;)

    Still, I'm SO glad to hear you're ready to come back! When you are in NYC, it's a DATE!!!

  6. I know I am terrible at coming over to comment, but I just wanted to say I am American and I totally find NYC a nice place to visit, but WAY too fast paced and aggressive for me to ever consider living there! It really is a lot to take in, and makes you feel very out of your comfort zone. My best friend is from there and even when I as there with her, I was overwhelmed!

    What you need is a nice trip to the south :) Friendly people, slower pace, lots of great food, and ME!

    (actually I am in Kentucky, which is debatable on it's southern location when you look at a map but the culture is VERY southern around here, even in the city)

  7. i think that Amerians in general are not as polite and friendly as they should be. the south is friendly...but i still think that it should be friendlier! when i travel abroad i'm always so surprised at how friendly people are (i mean seriously! in japan people would change their plans and travel WITH us when we asked for directions!!!). the thing that is interesting about US is the every area kind of has it's own vibe. west coast is one way, south is one way, midwest is another, and east coast generally has the reputation for being very fast pasted and stuff. i could go on and on about this, but won't take up comment space for it.

    next time you're in US you should think about another area to explore! :) i could give you ideas. chicago is a fun town, similiar to new york, but slower and friendlier! and on a lake instead of the ocean!!

  8. Not been there yet but I suspect I will find it overwhelming too. Am not that big on cities to be honest. More of a beach and country girl. I want landscapes and open spaces and fresh air. I would like to go and it's on the to-do list. Must ask Friend E if he found it overwhelming. He LOVES cities.

  9. Being an architect New York, New York (have to say it twice) is so on my list, second ion the USA (really Chicago is an architects must see). SO I can not really comment on this but maybe I can relay a different little tale - about Rome. Gosh, I always wanted to do to Rome and then I found myself in Rome and the city was just so huge. It is so far between things - you travle and walk yourself to death. And its those small little Italian cars that drive everywhere (apart from the St Peters square) even on pavements. I found it chaotic and very busy. I was terribly disappointed that the city did not match the dream. After a few other visits we went to Florence and boy, did I love that city - totally unexpected. It was just everything I though Rome would be - the one historic place almost next to the other. The same with Venice (which I hated - it stinks - I am smell sensitive, the people are rude) and then Verona (which was unexpectedly stunning with wonderful people)

    I guess the crux is that in travel maybe one should lower the expectations and let the place lead you.

  10. New York is also one of the very few places on my bucket list. I really hope to get there one day (soonish) but feel that I will probably have the same experiences as you.
    Funnily I had the exact opposite reaction but in some ways very similar to you about New Zealand. I had always wanted to got there (well ever since I lived with Kiwi's in London). I had such huge expectations about the place and the people - and don't get me wrong it was stunningly beautiful, I did meet some really wonderful people but I also had a sense of let down. My expectation did not meet the reality - it was too slow...... I felt like it was backwards and rural. I had never wanted to go to Australia - but went there after New Zealand and LOVED it!! It was fast, and busy and progressive and open and I could go on and on. I was in Sydney though so that does explain it.


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