You don’t have to travel outside of the United States to get culture shock.
I got it just last week on a trip to NYC.
As a California native, and as someone who has spent the last few years of my life in Washington state, I’m used to a rather laid-back, polite, easy-going lifestyle. And if that is what you’re used to, then New York is a city that will wake you up to a whole new world.
I was there for four days for a radio conference and awards show. And while there I got to meet other college student pursuing broadcasting careers much in the same way that I am. And it was pleasant. But beyond the confines of our confrence lay a whole world, filled with millions of people who didn’t care if they bumped into you, didn’t exchange pleasantries and were intensely focused on not making eye contact with any strangers.
After my third day of wandering around the Big Apple, I began to question what made this city so different from where I was from. Why did the people seem so disinterested in being polite, and for goodness sake why did everyone seem to always be running into each other?
I was lucky enough to be on a subway this past Saturday morning and in my effort to continue my west coast kindness, apologized to a man for blocking his view of the subway map. He looked at me, almost puzzled by my words and asked me where I was from. I said I was from Washington state and he told me that he was from the midwest. We got to talking and I asked him about the differences he had noticed since living in NYC. He explained to me that the people on the East coast weren’t really rude, and had no intention of coming off that way, but to put it simply everyone was to busy or to focused on where they were going that they didn’t have a moment to stop and say hello, or say “thanks” and “you’re welcome.”
And in that moment it sort of dawned on me that the high pace lifestyle it takes to survive in New York isn’t like Seattle, or Portland, or even Los Angeles. It’s so incredibly different that the people who live there are so hyper focused on their own lives that they stop taking the time to be pleasant to the world around them.
People in New York City aren’t rude, and it’s not my intention to say that they are. But they’re blunt, up front, and determined to use as little words as possible to communicate their message. But it’s because they’re busy. Life is fleeting and politeness is a luxury that those of us from the West coast take for granted.
My simple “thank you” and “please” threw people off in New York because they were no longer accustomed to it. And so the culture shock of New York is real, being on the East coast is like being in another country with people who speak the same language as you, talk like you, but don’t express themselves in the same way. And at the end of the day, if you plan to travel there, be ready for your pleasantries to be ignored. Not because you did anything wrong, but because those things aren’t expected.
When someone hands you your meal, don’t be surprised when your “thank you” solicits an eye roll, or when walking through Times Square and you say “excuse me” after running into someone that they just keep on walking. Life there is different, and it certainly takes some getting used to. But once you’re there you understand the Empire State way and realize that what you may perceive as rudeness, is just everyday life in the Big Apple.