5 Ways Living In A Big City Warps How You See The World
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.
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!"
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.
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.
You're Less Likely To Fixate On People's Looks
OK, admit it. You're incredulous. Wait, look up "incredulous." Now admit it. You're thinking that in big cities there are tons of high-maintenance people obsessed with personal vanity. And, surely, in major cities you're more likely to see real-live supermodels walking down the street. Yes, that's all true, but that's not what I mean when I say people in big cities are less fixated on looks. What I'm saying is there is so much well-coiffed talent walking around city streets, it makes it really hard to fixate on one person.
Walking around New York City, I can assure you I see absolutely stunning people almost daily. Wannabee models and actors/actresses as well as just super vanity-obsessed individuals using all their God-given genes and technology's products to create strikingly impressive appearances. But you know what? I can't remember what any of them have looked like.
Have I seen this woman on the 4 subway line? Who can say?
In smaller towns, you travel five miles out of your way to see the hot chick working at the Dairy Queen. You linger in the break room for that cute dude who delivers the water. The beautiful people in places that are not centers for modeling and acting are fewer and further between. And, quite simply, with fewer people, there are fewer superstars (probably fewer freakazoid monsters, too -- it's just math). So the hot people really stand out. You can get fixated, but in big cities, there are simply too many gorgeous people walking around to care. So, got a partner with a wandering eye? My advice for saving your marriage is moving to the closest sexy big city immediately so he or she can't obsess about others. (Unless your partner ends up fucking, like, everyone. Then, I guess, it would be a bad idea.)
You're Afraid Of Quiet Towns
Ask people their biggest fears and they may say spiders or clowns or that time Cracked's own Felix Clay messaged all our readers to come to his "Pants-Off Dance-Off," but for me, it's small towns. Small, quiet towns scare the living hell out of me. One of the scariest movies I've ever seen is the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and the scariest part for me is not what you're thinking. It's not the girl being hung on a meat hook before Leatherface fires up his chainsaw. It's not the zombified grandpa, trying to hack a head off in the attic. It's just the part of the movie where the friends pick up a hitchhiker on a deserted highway.
The part where he talks about homemade cheese before cutting himself is even scarier.
What some people see as the comfort of relative isolation, I see as a place for evil to feast unchecked. Sure, in New York someone might throw you down a subway staircase and take your wallet, but then what? I mean, the odds of him then dragging you to his basement and doing scientific sexual experiments on you with his inbred brother are really slim. Someone in New York City is always around. There are always witnesses. I know horrific things happen in big cities too, but I always take comfort that some bigger fish will always swallow the evil.
Yes, Phantom Menace was actually made only as a metaphor for my feelings on big-city violence. No wonder it sucked.
So, yeah, I guess if you live in urban areas with gangs and crime rates, that can be scary, but I just can't see a guy like Norman Bates lasting in a city very long. It doesn't have to make sense; it's how I'm wired. I blame New York. And The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
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