Sunday, March 06, 2011

Are City People Rude?

It seems to be a widely held belief, but my own experience traveling does not support it.

My wife likes to claim that the reason to have a map in London is not to actually read it but because as soon as you take it out a londoner will ask you where you want to go and offer to tell you how to get there. I've just returned from a couple of days in New York; the strangers I spoke to, mostly asking directions or checking that I was on the right subway train, were very helpful. The nearest thing to an exception was one crazy bag lady in the subway who yelled at me when I asked another passenger a question. Even in Paris, notorious for bad treatment of visitors, I found no evidence to confirm the reputation.


Richard Allan said...

Haha, what?! When you say "London" you mean "London, Ontario", right?

In London, England, if you talk to another person on the street you will be regarded as literally mentally ill.

Anonymous said...

Sidewalk rage

Roger said...

Maybe this has to do with another widely held belief that American travelers are arrogant and/or ignorant. Heard the phrase "ugly Americans?" Or in American cities, "hicks" or "hillbillies?" You must not have appeared to fit any of these categories.

Hume said...

As a New Yorker, I am somewhat sympathetic to the account of "side walk rage." But I think its simply the city-equivalent to road-rage, and thus does not indicate city dwellers as more or less rude than suburbanites. Also, I think that Prof Friedman's account of the NYC is idiosyncratic. Not in the sense that NYC necessarily lives up to its billing, but in the sense that it can. NYC is such a large place with so many different types of people that you are just as likely to experience rude new yorkers as you are decent and helpful ones. It all depends on where you are and at what time. Rush hour in the evening in the financial districts is probably the worst, as they all just want to get home after long hours of soul-sucking work (hehe). But other areas and other times people are extremely curteous and helpful. I am thinking the East Village, in my experience anyway.

John said...

People in cities are less suspicious of "outsiders" than people from rural communities, so they're more likely to feel comfortable having a conversation with a stranger. People in rural communities might be "nicer" or friendlier to their own (and they are definitely less likely to be homeless or insane) but they may not be as willing to entertain someone who is obviously not from there.

Anonymous said...

Disclaimer: I've lived in cities since I've had a choice in the matter. San Francisco, Hamburg, Bremen, NYC.

But yes, my experience is that city folk are very friendly. New Yorkers swear at each other a lot, as compared to other cities, but it is actually usually not un-friendly. An exception to this is being non-white in the wrong place. A good friend who is Pakistani had a bad experience in Berlin recently. On the other hand, if I were brown, I would rather navigate Berlin than, say, rural Tennessee right now, which is where I went to highschool, or Maricopa, AZ. And NYC cops are currently hassling hispanic and black youth a lot in certain parts of Brooklyn, seeking pot busts.

A few tips for visiters, not specific to NYC, but very applicable to it: Folks are more than happy to help, but don't waste time. Ask for what you need. Formulate your question before asking, if that helps. Cities do breed a bit of impatience, and there is a different sort of ettiquite that develops in high density areas. Direct and to-the-point is polite.

Related: when ordering in a line at a lunch place, decide what you want before you hit the counter. People do get pissed-off wasting their lunch time waiting for someone to ask about bread options repeatedly.

Tangentially related: there is such a thing as sidewalk ettiquite. Don't stop in the middle of it. If you can't or won't maintain the same general velocity as the rest of traffic, stay to the side. If the method behind how people jaywalk confuses you, wait for the light - it looks chaotic, but pedestrians and cars actually are cooperating, or at least trying, and if you don't get it, you can foul it up. Again, it is really about the ability to coexist in a dense area.

Mike Gogulski said...

I think it has to go like this:

Some percentage of people are real jerks. Cities have large numbers of people. Therefore, cities have larger numbers of jerks than other places, which might lead to a greater chance of meeting jerks in cities.

That said, there's nothing worse than the helpful village guy who tells you, "oh, you wanna go to Greenville? Well, you can get theah from Stokeston, but'cha can't get theah from heah."

Stuart said...

I agree with Richard. I have lived in London and they will flat out ignore you, even if you repeated speak directly to them.

In my Lonely Planet guide, the author says something like, " a Londoner will no more speak to you than fly to the moon."

If you stand on the wrong (right hand side) side of an escalator they will grab you by the shoulders and move you rather than either asking you to move or passing you on the left.

The bobbies are typically quite helpful but I don't think they're who you mean.

Seth said...

There are cultural differences; the sort of people who wouldn't think of speaking to someone new without spending the first 15 minutes learning their life history, who they might know in common (or how they might be related), etc. will find a New Yorker who doesn't want to waste that time to be rude.

The best way for a pedestrian to get directions in New York is to stand at a street corner and ask, not addressed to anybody in particular.

lelnet said...

I think Seth captures the most important point beyond the merely statistical. As a city-dweller, my attitude toward an obvious visitor in need of aid is essentially "we are almost certainly never going to be friends, and indeed if I see your face again it probably means that the advice I'm about to give has failed, which will make me feel like a moron for the rest of the day, so please don't spend time trying to butter me up...but I'm happy to provide whatever aid I reasonably can in solving your immediate problem. 700 West Adams is two blocks THIS way and then three blocks THAT way, and if you walk it in that order instead of the opposite, you'll avoid a bunch of angry and frustrated cab drivers who really wish they could openly agitate for legalizing the murder of confused and slow-crossing pedestrians. Have a nice day, and get hiking, because I don't want to miss my train."

Also, please remember that the prevailing relative placement of pedestrians in the sidewalk is, by custom, the same as in the street. The center is for those moving most quickly, the edges for those moving most slowly, and (in drive-on-the-right countries such as the US, anyway) you should walk on what is, from your perspective, the right-hand side. Violate these customs during crowded periods, and you will make people angry with you. (American suburbanites take note: if it's rush hour downtown, imagine you're in a shopping mall, the day after thanksgiving. Then act as you wish the people in front of you at the mall would act. You'll get along fine.)

I've lived in suburbs and rural areas, too, and they have customs just as rigid and just as likely to cause anger when violated. I assure you that no one could fit a coherent explanation of them into two paragraphs of text. Moreover, following these principles will endear you to city-dwellers the world over, whereas in the suburbs or the farmland, a relocation from one town to the next one over sometimes requires learning a completely new set of social cues.

Francis said...

I totally agree with Mr. Friedman: people in cities are markedly nicer than people from the countryside.

I was born and raised in a small town, and when I left for the city, people there would warn me about such a jungle it would be. I was shocked to see just the opposite: polite, helpful, well-behaved people were the norm. In fact, my own folks appeared rude by comparison.

I then remembered that in French (my mother tongue), the adjective "gentil" (i.e., "nice", "gentle" or "kind") is exactly the same word as "city-dweller", in old French and Latin.

What is true, though, is what "Anonymous" said: city-dwellers are not patient. They won't let you lose their time.

As for London, I'm just back from it. It was my third time there. Of all the time I spent there, I have no experience at all of what Richard Allan and Stuart say. Everybody is very polite and helpful there. A kind lady, who missed her green light to give me directions, even took time to get her iPhone out of her bag and type the street number I wanted on her GPS-based app.

And I have tons of anecdotes like the one above, in many big cities, it is not an isolated event. Conversely, I have sad stories about countryfolk not even responding to my questions, looking at me as if I was some kind of dirty animal.

Anonymous said...

You're ok on the streets in London but speak to a stranger on the underground (subway) and just watch what reactions you get. Nothing of the sort happens on general nationwide trains.

Gerard said...

In answer to your question, "only people from Philadelphia." Seriously though, glad I had the chance to meet you in-person. Fantastic lecture, especially considering the fact that it was conducted inside of a particularly raucous bar.

Ed said...

The same thing has happened to me in London, England: I got out an A-Z and the only other person on the road asked me where I was trying to get to.

There is a stereotype in Britain that Londoners are rude, but they have friends and families as well. No community can function with everyone being rude.

sasta10 said...

If you are talking about London in the UK then it is a busy place specially in the morning or evening when people are leaving work. It will be a mirracle if sum one stops and helps you. Getting into the public transport is also a hard job there.

Mahbubur Rahman

Andrea Borman. said...

It happened to me yesterday. I was boarding the train from London Euston station to Liverpool Lime street station. When I was looking for a caradge where there was a free seat. (The train was nearly full being Sunday)I found one but two men were standing in the doorway of the carrage and did not appear to be wanting to go into the carrage.

And as they were blocking the enterence to the carrage and I and other people behind me wanted to go in and sit down.I politly asked "Excuse me.Are you going into the carrage."They ignored me so I asked again,Excuse me please,I want to go inside and sit down." And one of the 2 men said firmly "just wait." Then out of the blue their third companion a young womam who was with the 2 men. Shouted at me" Why don't you just wait you ignorant cow."

I felt shocked and upset and told her she did not have to be rude but she would not apologise to me. And I then said I am not going in the carrage now as I don't want to sit with some one so rude to me. And I moved to the next carradge where there were a few seats left and I took one.

But I am very upset and angry that I was abused and humiliated in public in front of crouds of other people by a complete stanger. Who insulted me,when she did not even know me. It is not right and I did not deserve to be treated that way. When I did nothing wrong and was not agresive to anyone,I merly asked them if they wanted to go in the carrage,because I and other people behind me were waiting to go inside and sit down. And The group the 2 men and the woman,did not appear to be wanting to go in the carrage and I and other people could not go in as they were blocking the doorway enterence.
Yet I was called an ignorant cow by this woman a comlete strangers and she shouted it so every one else could hear it. It is humiliating to be abused in this way and I did not deserve it. And it is not bright that people like that should bully and abuse inocent people even if they are complete strangers. It is not right I should have ben bulied in such a way by this woman or anyone else.I am stil on holiday in the north of England,Liverpool and this has ruined my trip as I am just not used to that kind of abuse from anybody. Andrea Borman.

Anonymous said...

Well there's an irony. City people communicate with far more people than non city people just because they are surrounded by more people. However the level or style of communication is much more to the point and sterile in the cities. Non city people enjoy some friendly chit chat at the restaurants or enjoy exchanging some cute stories or jokes. City people have been burned by strangers so they coil and act disinterested in others. Chicago once had a freindly non East Coast reputation but that is a thing of the past. Cities are colder.