I've lived fairly close to New York City most of my life and worked directly in the city for over 10 years. That's a lot of exposure, and the older I get, the more I realize exposure to big cities shapes you. In truth, exposure to anything for that long shapes you. Just like if you watch enough Tim Burton films you might start to think movies always have to have weird melty sets, horrible third acts, and star Johnny Depp.
"Tell me about it."
But let's stay on topic and examine the ways big cities shape not only the behavior of their people but even how those people view the world. There are many ways, but let's take five. Why five? Because New York City fucking told me to.
#5. You Don't Say Hello Out In The World
If I were walking down the street in your small to mid-sized town and you said, "Good morning," or, "Good day," or, "Greetings, friend," as I passed you by, my instant reaction would be, "What the fuck is wrong with that guy?" I know most people would say you were just being friendly, and hell, even I know that, but it's hard-wired when you grow up with a big-city mentality: Talking to strangers is weird.
Of course, you know this. It's why people think big-city folk are rude. No one smiles at each other. No one says hi. But I'd offer that this behavior is less about rudeness and more of just a numbers game. There are simply too many people to say hi to. Every morning, I ride a train with hundreds of people I don't know and usually don't recognize. Then I walk through a major train station surrounded by thousands of bustling strangers. Then it's into a subway taking me underground to work. And even though I'm going to the same place every day, varied only by which train I catch, I almost never recognize the strangers, because there are so many. Also, everyone in the city wears masks 24/7. Did I mention that?
Here's me on my way to my office job.
There are two points here. First, when you live in a small town, you don't have a million strangers to say hello to during the course of the day. It's a manageable number. But, more importantly, you have an extra incentive to say hi: You'll see them again. You know them. They're your neighbors and a part of your town, even if you're not on a first-name basis. Pretending they're some anonymous stranger would be the weird thing to do. But when every person crossing your path is about to float off anonymously like the remnants of Robin Thicke's career, it's really only the weirdos that stop and say, "Hi there!"
#4. Big Cities Destroy Your Perspective Of Size
Yes, this entry does sound dirty, doesn't it, you filthy pervert. Let's delve into this entry deep and hard until we come to some conclusions. What? You're still thinking about sex? You kids today. Anyway, a weird thing happens when you grow up in a city: Whatever size your city is, that's what you think a "city" is supposed to be. So, yeah, as a kid I knew New York City was big, but so must be Philly and Chicago and Los Angeles, right? Well, no. That's like saying all penises are the same. OMG, are you still thinking about sex?
Pictured: the antidote to thinking about sex too much.
The point is, I remember the first time I visited Philadelphia. I'd seen it as a kid, taking a school trip to the Liberty Bell, but now I was going to really hang out in Philly. My friend and I walked the city in what seemed to take 20 minutes. We just ran out of city. "What? This is supposed to be a city," I thought. I felt lied to. I know that sounds like New York City snobbery, but it had nothing to do with thinking my home city was better or cooler (although New York is both those things compared to Philly, which boasts little more than cheesesteaks and a pervasive urine stench). It was just that New York had defined for me what a city was. Literally defined it.
When I went to Los Angeles, I wondered how a group of suburbs connected by nothing but traffic and smiles could constitute a city. And I'm sure if I ever get to London, I'll wonder how a place that takes up so much space geographically, instead of being compressed on a tiny island, where the groundswell of humanity forces you to build up into the sky, could be a city. Just like people from Tokyo will never understand how New York can be a city when you can't even buy a soiled schoolgirl's undies from a vending machine.
Yes, that's a real thing.
#3. You Develop A Hatred For Delays
There's one cliche about big cities that I think is kind of true. Cities move more quickly than small towns. You can make racist cracks about inner-city drop-outs working at McDonald's or deride the staff of a Duane Reade drug store where employees seem so surly you'd think their job was part of some work-release where they earn freedom one packet of Chiclets or condoms sold at a time. But here's the thing: These workers still get shit done. They move. And because of that, prompt customer service becomes an ingrained expectation. (As does the look of salespeople wishing for the sweet release of death.)
"Would you like fries with that? How about a dramatic reading of my suicide note?"
If you want to see my head explode (and why wouldn't you?) just watch me order a Big Mac in a small-town McDonald's. In the city, even with employees earning minimum wage and hating every customer for being part of their hellish fast-food existence, there's typically a three-minute exchange for this transaction -- running from the time of your order. But go outside of the city and suddenly fast food is no longer fast. I can wait in the DMV and expect to get nowhere. I'll stand in line for hours for the forthcoming Star Wars movies. But I simply can't wait 10 minutes for a Big Mac. My stomach devours my other internal organs. Big-city establishments have to serve tremendous numbers of people. And most of those people have to get back to work. Once you get used to that kind of production, it's very hard to accept anything less. Even if you're in Bumblefuck, Iowa, with nowhere particularly important to go.