The World According to Keitho

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Provincialism: New York story

Posted by keithosaunders on May 13, 2011

…so I packed up and moved to New York.  It turned out it was just like I pictured it — skyscrapers and everything!  I found an apartment on the Upper West Side, started exploring the city, began meeting musicians, and eventually began to gig.

It was great.  I liked the city and contrary to what I had been told, I found that people were friendly and welcoming.  There was just one problem:  They hated Californians.  Let me rephrase that, as hate is too strong a word.  They looked down on Californians.  They joked about, ridiculed, and were generally unpleasent towards people of the west coast persuasion.  Californians were too laid back, flaky, vain, and above all, didn’t swing. (the unkindest cut of all for a jazz musician) 

My Great Aunt Ellie was like a grandmother to me.  She and my Uncle Herb took me under their wing, taught me how to play bridge, showed me Coney Island, Flatbush, and Sheepshead Bay.  For someone such as myself, who had grown up without grandparents, it was invaluable to have this window into what my family history looked like. 

 Every Sunday I would watch the Mets game (or whatever sport happened to be in season) at Ellie and Herb’s apartment in downtown Brooklyn, feasting on Herb’s renowned tuna salad for lunch, and take out from Su Su’s Yum Yum, their local chinese restaurant, for dinner. 

One day we watching the Mets play the Dodgers from Los Angeles.  For those of you not familiar with Dodger Stadium, just beyond the right field bleachers there are a group of palm trees which are visible from certain camera angles.  Midway through the game, apropos of nothing, Ellie remarked, “Those palm trees look dusty.” 

I knew Ellie hated California, but this was too much.  The palm trees looked dusty?!  What hope did I have of ever fitting in with my adopted city if even my own Aunt, who I loved dearly, could not accept California?  And who insluts palm trees?!

The thing is, there is a grain of truth in New Yorker’s feelings about the west coast.  There is a certain vanity out west, as well as a complacency.  What I could never understand, however, was how people could feel free to bash  California in front of someone who was from there.  It was as if my being in New York meant that I had rejected the west coast, and thus would be receptive and understanding of the insults. 

Even within the city there exists a kind of micro-provincialism.  Manhattanites think that the boundaries of New York end at the periphery of their 13 mile long, and 2.3 mile wide island.  Anyone with a 718 area code knows what it’s like to be condescended to by the proud owner of a 212 code.     

It took me a long time to get used to it, but eventually I did.  It was remarkable how universally scorned California was.  I saw this as a shortcoming of New Yorkers.  New York is the greatest city in the world.  Why bother insulting other places when it’s a moot point?  

But I have to admit — I was guilty of it myself.  The longer I lived in New York, the more it felt like home to me.  Truth be told, I would occasionally insult California too.  Once in a while.  

Next post I’ll come full circle with San Francisco provincialism.  Then we’ll go over weights and measures.

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2 Responses to “Provincialism: New York story”

  1. My In-Laws are from Queens. They never miss an opportunity to insult something that they know might be offensive to me, and virtually everyone else. Archie Bunker is their Patron Saint. Believe me, I am intimately acquainted with the New York state of mind. Also, I grew up just an hour away from The City, so I absorbed some of this myself.
    Incidentally, nice reference to Stevie Wonder’s “Living For the City,” in your second sentence.
    Regards, Bill

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