December 30, 2007

Lately there seems to be a lot being written about New York women. The other day I was in a taxi and I mentioned to the British driver I was from Manhattan. He stared at me in the rearview mirror. "So you're a real New Yorker. Born and bred?" I nodded.

What's a real New Yorker? I couldn't help but feel "born and bred" was a euphemism for "pain in the ass".

I've noticed that here in the UK, there is a false impression of New Yorkers. Or more specifically, women from New York, particularly, women from Manhattan. Ever since Sex and The City, there is a lazy assumption that all women from New York fall into one of those four characters' categories. Anyone leftover is their mother.

When did the stereotypical New York woman become so shallow? While it's true that you can't walk a block in Manhattan without encountering a mani-pedi salon, being well groomed is symptomatic of insecurity and self-loathing, characteristics that are a far more defining than a bikini wax.

Women from New York are exciting and interesting because they know how to be glamorous on the outside when they're feeling like crap on the inside. Or, in my case, they're willing to show up looking like crap because they don't want to misrepresent themselves.

Being from New York, I've learned how to assert myself when ordering food, and aim low in life so as not to be too disappointed. And I also know where to get a good blow dry.

We're also extremely aware. Everything is scrutinised and micro-analysed which means if you ask "How are you?" chances are the response will range from, "Horrible. Here's why" to "Sit down, this will take a while."

But perhaps the most salient quality that comes to mind is one that me and my New York female friends all have in common: twisted optimism. What we see as positive, the rest of the world sees as negative.

A New York woman's hope seems a lot like despair. However it's different.

Despair is what drives us to therapy. Hope is continuing to go twice a week even though nothing's changed or improved in the past ten years.

Hope is believing that the guy who told you to leave a toothbrush at his house and then suddenly decided to never call again, was probably going to end up sleeping with your best friend when you were nine months pregnant and so really, you're better off without him. New York women are very positive.

We also have a lot of energy. We can talk for hours on the phone and when it comes to arguing, we have incredible stamina. The reason we go to the gym as much as we do has less to do with vanity than with a need to burn off some of the aggression. And unlike the ladies in Friends, most of my friends live in apartments the size of a shed. So the gym is an excuse to get out of the house.

One of the trenchant discoveries I made after spending time in London was that I could talk openly about how I felt like a loser and nobody fled. This was extremely liberating. Contrary to what outsiders may think, New York women are extremely self-deprecating - only they don't show this side of themselves in public. They would never make fun of themselves in a group because chances are, people would take it seriously. In London, I can say I have no idea what I'm doing and it's endearing. In New York, people would wonder why they associate with me.

Being a real New York woman isn't about nail appointments and shoe shopping and networking. It's about knowing how to hide our anxieties behind them.