Recently, while sitting around with my husband waiting for the fire works display along the Hudson River, we had the fortune of sharing curb space with a Canadian couple, Rob and Tricia, who were visiting New York City for the first time to celebrate their 15th Wedding Anniversary.
In the little over two hours that we sat there, we fended off a crazy drunk guy, chatted about the crowd in Macy’s, talked about the annoying wait to go to the top of both the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty (but yet agreed it’s a must-do especially for those visiting either for the first time), shared info about favorite, and not so favorite, Canadian cities, and talked about Irish pubs both in Ireland and New York City.
And then in the midst of our conversation, our new friends shared with us how much more wonderful their trip had been because of the kindness and hospitality of the New Yorkers they met along the way, who shared information, tips, and advice on getting around our busy city. They compared their experience here to that of other cities they had visited, and thought that, we, New Yorkers, were actually some of the nicest people they’ve ever met.
Of course, as a lover of New York, and one who brags about it all the time, I was touched and proud, in the same way I would’ve been had someone complimented my own child. And I thought about all the people I’ve met along the way who, upon learning that I was from New York, would comment on how “intimidating” of a city it is, or how no one is friendly, or how tough and rough every one is. Many movies, especially in the 70s and 80s helped a lot to promote the stereotype of a dirty, drug and graffiti ridden city. The stereotype exists even among many who live here, forcing them to set boundaries on how far they travel and where they will go. So, though I know I am biased when I say I agree with our new friends in that New Yorkers are pretty awesome, I also have to give them credit for taking on the city with an open mind. Because it is this willingness to do so that allowed them to have the many conversations and wonderful experiences they did here.
So to those who travel anywhere, whether it be in New York City, or anywhere in the world I say this: When packing those bags or heading out the door, leave your preconceptions behind.
Traveling with an open mind provides you with an incredible willingness to try new things and go down the road not often taken. It opens you up to others, enables you to learn more about so many different things and people. It makes any trip, even if it’s to a neighborhood a few miles from your own, an adventure.
I pride myself in the ability to talk to anyone, about anything, and ask questions, without embarrassment or shame of ignorance about those things I am unfamiliar with or don’t understand. And before you think that’s not such a big thing to be proud of, it’s important to note that as a Latina, of color, with a White husband and Whiter babies to boot, it is no surprise that more often than not the preconceptions held are about me and these are noticeable often times just by my entering a room. But, my curiosity is greater than what I may think people may think of me or the Spanish accent that at times escapes from my lips. To travel with an open mind means to leave behind not only the insecurities you have of the places you may be going, or the people you may meet along the way, it’s also leaving behind the insecurities you may have about yourself and all the baggage you carry with that.
An open-minded traveler is not shut down by the one bad experience, such as the grumpy French taxi cab driver in Paris, or the aggressive vendor in the busy tourist markets of Santo Domingo, or the drunk and crazy guy who keeps talking to you while you wait for the fire works along the Hudson River in New York, or worse yet, the close minded personalities that are found anywhere you go. All these, in the end, can add moments of laughter when recounting the amazing things you learned when traveling off the beaten path and taking the time to talk to the residents who’s city you are visiting.
Insecurities and stereotypes aside will help you to see a lot more than any travel guide could ever offer, such as how we “rough and tough” New Yorkers are also talkative and engaging and fun, and are always eager to share with you the inside secrets not often privy to most tourists. Some of my favorite discoveries when traveling have been attained just by chatting it up with those I casually meet along the way.
As Rob and Tricia pointed out, and this is true of some of friendliest places I have travelled to, New Yorkers love to know where other people are from and are interested in hearing about those experiences. And we are more than happy to talk to anyone about our city. It may be that no matter where you go in New York City, no matter how long you’ve lived here, at some point, every one was from somewhere else. Or it may be the sheer joy that some one took the time to ask.