I just finished reading an interesting article on a completely different aspect on the differences in communication in English among the various regions in the United States. We’ve all heard the accent part of the equation, but this is quickly dying, as everyone’s speech seems to be evolving into a standard Midwestern-type of American English. The article also didn’t value any differences in vocabulary, but rather focused on a unique aspect that most don’t consider – speech patterns.
In New York City, though the people generally don’t seem to have that typical New York accent that movies still romanticize and portray, visitors still overwhelmingly agree that New York is the rudest part of the country. New Yorkers don’t feel that way, though, and usually point fingers back across the country’s expanse as to who’s really the rudest; I’m a native New Yorker, and I like to think of myself as helpful, polite, and positive.
So, that age-old question can be looked at again, from this unique perspective:
Why are New Yorkers rude?
So, first, let’s agree that New Yorkers are not rude; it’s kinda rude to even generalize like this, especially when the city you’re generalizing is one of the largest cities in the world.
Well then, why do New Yorkers always seem to come off as rude?
That’s more acceptable. So, we New Yorkers don’t think ourselves rude, but we do come off this way, apparently. Though that stereotypical accent may be hard to come by these days, this seems to not have anything to do with it, anyway. What does play the supporting role is the speech patterns of most New Yorkers, especially those native to the city or those that have lived there for many years.
These New Yorkers usually have a high-energy form of speaking, first of all. With a louder average volume and the increased usage of hand gestures, it can be akin to hearing two Italians passionately arguing, if you aren’t familiar with the language. I know that when my Italian friends speak next to me, and I try to get in, an eye comes close to getting poked out; the eyes, however, always seem to be the recipient of the verbal mist. Rapid-fire questions and statements may also put people off, making the New Yorker seem like some kind of interrogator, when the New Yorker probably just feels that they are just trying to initiate conversation.
Secondly, New Yorkers may speak or reply with shorter phrases or one-word sentences. Here’s a perfect example from the PBS article:
One of the nice things about the United States is that, wherever you go, people speak the same language. So native New Yorkers can move to San Francisco, Houston, or Milwaukee and still understand and be understood by everyone they meet. Right? Well, not exactly. Or, as a native New Yorker might put it, “Wrong!”
See? A simple, shortening adjustment to the answer totally gives off the vibe that it was said more rudely; it even looks that way typed! Not only was the answer shortened 66%, but the answer by the New Yorker seems to imply that the asker of the question was nowhere near the mark, almost a scolding, rather than the “not exactly” way to say it, which comes off as more friendly and patiently corrective. However, it is simply a way of speaking that is hard to change, if even it can be honestly said that it needs changing.
Another thing is that New Yorkers tend to butt into other’s conversations. Well, some of us anyway. I’ve done it several times, like recently, when I was on the subway and a couple sitting across from me was arguing on the best station to get off at. I heard where they wanted to go, and I told them that the girl was right, in this instance. I could feel them looking at me with a bit of discomfort and taken aback a bit that someone just interrupted them, and worse – someone declared one of the two a winner, in essence. However, I feel that I was the opposite of rude. I heard that they were lost, so I chimed in; I like to imagine that I helped them. Again, the way a New Yorker helps can still come off as rude, if you’re not used to it.
Other times, New Yorkers can get scoffed at as rude for the opposite crime – not speaking (or as much) when others might. I have a lot of international friends, and some of them are surprised that here in New York, some of us don’t often greet our coffee guy with a “good morning” or say “thanks” when we receive it. Another thing that some friends have pointed out that I do often is that if a stranger asks me, “How are you?” I reply with a simple “good” or “okay,” rather than saying, “Fine, thanks! And yourself?” The thing is, I’m not so chipper in the mornings, and I don’t think I ought to ask someone how they’re doing if it really doesn’t interest me; sure, I’ll do so to people I’ve seen a few times, like my daily coffee guy, but not so much otherwise. This one is hard to explain, even when I’m consciously thinking about it, but I can’t say it better than that it just doesn’t make sense logically for me to go through these motions simply as a cultural impulse.
New Yorkers can also be quite talkative as listeners if they are subjected to the role in a two-way conversation. I’ve gotten this one before with some ex-girlfriends. While playing the listening role when someone had a problem they’d like to get off their chest, I would often perhaps tell a story as an answer, rather than simply nodding. While I meant for it to be a kind of answer to their problem, perhaps, often it was taken negatively, like I was stealing a moment from them when they needed it the most, especially when the story I told had myself in it as the central character – this has been taken as if I took their problem and made it about me, when instead I might have been offering them a time when I faced a similar circumstance and then related how I got past it; it was more like responsive advice, though it might have come off as if I was saying that their problem was insignificant and not worth arguing about, in comparison to what I previously faced.
Deborah Tannen, the author of the aforementioned article on the PBS website, states that the way New Yorkers complain often irks people from outside the city. For example, when two people are stuck in a slow elevator, a New Yorker may start complaining about how the infernal box needs to hurry the fuck up, and a quieter non-New Yorker may feel uncomfortable at the show of anger and the now-apparent need to say something in reply. But, as Deborah states so perfectly, “Complaining gives us a sense of togetherness in adversity. The angry edge is aimed at the impersonal “they” who are always doing things wrong. The person is thus welcomed into a warm little group.”
In a conversation between two people, one from New York and the other not, the New Yorker has a greater tendency to start talking before the other person is finished. This almost always is taken as an interruption, but really – who’s to say that only one person can speak at a time? We are not truckers or in the military, where saying a piece should be immediately followed by some kind of <end> statement so that words don’t get lost. I chime in when something someone says forms a witty or intuitive thought in my mind, and I need to get it out immediately lest it lose its potency, timing, or it succumbs to my forgetfulness. Another instance of this is when short exclamatory words are peppered in by a New Yorker as another person is talking. Instead of its intended usage as interest in the other topic or an urging for the speaker to continue, statements like “Wow!” or “Fuck!” often elicits a break by the speaker, thinking that the New Yorker is interrupting yet again.
There are many other ways (some quite nuanced, such as pitch and sentence structure) that New Yorkers talk that may be subtly different from other English speakers; actually, you don’t have to be a New Yorker to have some of these characteristics and likewise come off as rude. But it does help to keep in mind that people speak differently everywhere. If you can look at a conversation from a logical standpoint, rather than with susceptibility to emotional impulses, it would be easier to grasp the intention of the speaker, whether New Yorker or not.