July 6, 2008

In London when someone says I'm a New Yorker they're really saying I'm pushy, neurotic and high mainenance

Whenever someone has told me "You are such a New Yorker" I've always taken that as a compliment. In Manhattan I'm considered a fairly reasonable person . In London when someone says I'm a New Yorker what they're really saying is: I'm pushy, neurotic and high maintenance.

But that's because when something goes awry or breaks down, in Manhattan, things get taken care of in a reasonable amount of time. In Britain, when something breaks down, expectations, I've discovered, are a lot lower.

Everyone hates it when the wi-fi signal or the cable goes out at home. No internet, no TV - there is a feeling of being cut off from the world. In New York, there is a hot line and the technicians are on stand-by, who can be at the apartment within 24 hours.

In Britain, it takes 24 hours to get someone on the phone. Then, the accent is so thick; I get a headache from concentrating on the translation. When eventually it's decided someone will come to the flat - the appointment is for two weeks later - and the scheduled time is: "Between 9am and 5pm."

What's more, this is normal. The morning I was supposed to have lunch with an editor, he called to say his broadband went out at home and he might have to cancel since he was waiting for the technician. He took off work for this. Two hours later he rang back to say they were there and working on it. Why did I need to know this?

The only explanation is that getting something repaired in Britain is a joyous occasion worthy of celebration and worth sharing.

Recently I had to visit the Urgent Care centre in London. It was more relaxed than most spas in Manhattan. I got the feeling nothing [not even a heart attack] in Britain is urgent.

I suppose the proper, dignified way to handle things would be to walk in and say, "I'm so sorry to trouble you but when you have a second, if you wouldn't mind taking a look at this hole in my chest where I've been shot I would be most grateful."

Two years ago I was renting a flat over the holidays and the boiler broke on Christmas Eve. I called the landlord who was in Spain and he referred me to his boyfriend who was looking after things while he was away. The boyfriend suggested I get a space heater until after Boxing Day. A few days after that the boiler man arrived but was unable to fix it because it needed a special part from Poland. A week passed. In New York, a week without heat? There would be a lawsuit.

When I confronted the boyfriend about this he snapped, "This isn't New York you know. We do things differently here!"

Differently as in, freeze?

I asked a British friend - someone who knows me well - if she thinks I am pushy.

"I don't think you're pushy," She said. "I think of you as particular. In order for you to feel comfortable you need things to be a certain way."

There are countless times I've been out with my British friends who refuse to "bother" the waiter or waitress. One time I was with someone who ordered chicken and when they brought him beef, he said it looked lovely and he didn't mind, he'd eat it anyway. When I suggested he send it back he said it would make him uncomfortable. He didn't want to be rude.

With that attitude, no wonder people think all New Yorkers are gorillas.

I suspect that what makes it obvious to Londoners that I'm a New Yorker is that I ask a lot of questions. For instance, "Is that skimmed milk?" Then I'll need reassurance. "Are you sure this is skimmed milk?" And after the waiter has wearily taken a seat, I'll confirm. "It's skimmed milk, right?"

In New York, that's not considered fussy or particular or even pushy. It's conscientious.