It’s coming up and around the four week mark since I returned back to Belfast after a three week stay in New York City. I’m pretty conventional in the sense that I have dreamt of travelling to New York for most of my life, and as I lined up to board the plane back to Belfast on the cusp of the Fourth, fireworks danced excitedly in the Jersey sky outside Newark airport, taunting me. I was frustrated but not unsurprised to find tears in my eyes. To distract myself, I listened to the stories of those around me waiting to board the plane, most of them Irish by birth but had come to live in America years ago. I heard a Belfast/Texas hybrid accent and an elderly lady state that she came to New York before there was even air conditioning. Her accent however, was unmistakably Belfast, kept intact all these years. Maybe it’s night flights, maybe it was my sleep deprived, emotional state but there was nostalgia in the air that night. It got me to reflect on my entire trip and vow to myself that I would be back in New York again. Here’s just some of the lessons New York taught me:
1. I say “thank you” too much. Is it possible to be too polite? Because I seem to have achieved it. My first realisation was asking a grumpy security man who was collecting forms at the airport – “Is it these wee blue sheets here yer taking?” Obnoxiously, he didn’t dignify it with a reply. Of course though, I proceeded to thank him after. For nothing. If anything, for being rude to me. Excellent. These encounters happened countless times during my stay in New York from ordering food to being heckled on Brooklyn bridge by an angry cyclist – “WATCH WHERE YA GOIN’ LAYDEE”
2: Drivers in Manhattan beep their horns an absolute inordinate amount. Laws of traffic and obeying traffic signals seemingly do not exist. You know those pedestrian crossings? Yeah, a taxi will come round a corner on to the crossing (WHILE you are still on it, shock horror), dangerously close to your ankles until you have cleared enough room for him to pass. American pedestrian crossings and British pedestrian crossings are very, very different. There’s no button to cross and there’s no green man, crossing the road is timed and sometimes you just have to cross when there is a large red hand telling you not to. Crazy.
3: There are squirrels, raccoons and skunks in America. This was a constant source of absolute amusement for me. Obviously they don’t just walk the streets of Manhattan or anything but as I was staying in the Bronx I saw many, many squirrels frequenting trees, parks and streets. Each time was as delightful as the next. But as I learnt they were more of a pest than anything to the people who live there, I tried to stop looking quite so much the tourist and resist chasing them. I spent my trip seeking out raccoons and skunks in vain however, never getting to see any. One day I might be lucky. Dream big.
4: Americans are obsessed with grapes. Or rather grape flavoured candy and drinks. The purple skittle instead of being blackcurrant is… Wait for it…. Grape.
5: Americans clap during films. If this happened at home you’d get glared at through the entirety of the film for such a DISRUPTION.
6: Having dollar notes instead of pound coins was incredible. Firstly, my purse didn’t get weighed down with a mound of coins. Secondly, as my native currency is sterling, so having notes makes me feel as though I have a lot of money (we only have notes for fives, tens, twenties, fifties etc) so wopping out a handful of notes was a great feeling (even if it was only maybe six dollars.) It made me feel rich somehow. I miss it already.
7: The realisation occurred to me of just how hard people have worked to be able to stay in the country. Having stayed in an Irish-American neighbourhood, I didn’t feel too far from home. However, the thing I questioned so much during my stay was why so many, for so many years, have left their homes and gone to America. Walking on land I’ve never walked on before, seeing people and places I’ve never seen before, feeling that hot, unfamiliar American air… All of this, though simplistic, was a buzzing excitement and a constant reminder of the fact that I was the furthest I have ever been from Belfast for the longest I have ever left it for. And I didn’t feel daunted in the slightest. At the beginning of my stay, the idea of living in New York was something of a daydream from time to time but actually being there and seeing people who have settled and made their own lives over there has really opened it up as a prospect to be excited and motivated about.. as much of a mighty cliche that may sound.