When I first moved to New York, I lived in a large flat in Elmhurst, Queens. The thing that drew me to this apartment was its massive kitchen with granite counters. I spent four years living there and finally took the big step last year and moved into Manhattan – and downgraded my kitchen space significantly. The “kitchen” that I now have is a small wall in the living room, which my partner ectioned off with a kitchen island that he installed. I’ve realized that space doesn’t really matter when I really love cooking, and I will happily spread out my mise en place on the coffee table and kitchen stools to get our meals ready.
I went to the Upper East Side Fairway Market this morning to replenish the fridge for the week. What most have heard about New York groceries is true: in general, items ranging from boxed cereals to oranges is almost always going to be more expensive than anywhere else in the country. I don’t often think about how relatively expensive groceries are here until I visit home in San Francisco and see how ridiculously cheap and fresh produce is there (hello, Pint of Blueberries for only 99 cents!). As a colleague recently pointed out to me, we all love it when we get the chance to shop at a Trader Joe’s in Manhattan, “because those are actually normal prices!”
It’s a bit embarrassing to admit out loud, but I haven’t been behind the wheel since 2007. That’s right – it’s been almost six years since I last drove a car. I get made fun of for this quite a bit by friends back home and colleagues who live in outer boroughs and Jersey, but for those who live in New York City, this is not surprising at all; in fact, it’s a way of life and the way they like it. Living in Manhattan is probably one of the few places where you could live where not driving every day is considered acceptable and even applauded.
In a city as fast-paced as New York, everyone is always trying to get from place to place and accomplish one thing after another. I overheard a conversation today about a colleague who was planning out his near-future – buying an apartment. His mother asked him how he was going to afford these things. He said he was hoping for a raise soon, but he didn’t sound convinced that he even wanted to buy his own place.
Despite the chaos and speed around us, how often do any of us really stop to think about whether we really want these things that we supposedly want, and how much of it is really imposed by societal (or familial) expectations?
Last month, I spent a week in Los Angeles for work. On my first walk to lunch along Wilshire Boulevard with coworkers, less than two minutes pass before a coworker exclaims, “Slow down! You’re not in New York anymore. You’re in LA.” I laughed and slowed down, but in my head I thought, do I really walk that fast? And then I remembered the times when my family and friends from San Francisco yell at me for the same reason. In New York, when we walk, we’re not just going on a casual stroll; we’re walking with a purpose to get from Point A to Point B in as little time as possible. Speed is everything.
On a good day at work here in New York, I will leave the office at 6pm. Because it is all I have ever known from my own experience, this has always seemed “normal” to me – until I meet and speak with people who live in other cities, and they tell me that they consider 6pm late. Occasionally throughout the year, I will work remotely at my company’s San Francisco office, and consistently by the time 4:45-5pm hits, the entire office will have emptied out. And I am labeled that workaholic freak from New York because I happened to stay until 7pm most days I was there.
In the last few months as I have checked my Facebook Newsfeed, it seems like every week someone I know from high school/college is getting engaged. This past weekend, THREE people my age I know got engaged. New Yorkers are an eclectic mix, but one thing a huge chunk of them have in common is that they are extremely driven, which means that for the majority of their 20s (and even 30s), they will be focused on getting to the top of their career ladder – not to the wedding altar. Hopeless romantics who have a strict timeline for getting married: Be wary of relocating to New York.
Living in New York has made me realize that a lot that seems normal to the average everyday person is not so common here. One thing that has deemed me a bit of a freak here is the fact that I cook regularly, and actually enjoy it. In New York, people typically eat out most meals, and if they are not eating out, they are getting delivery. “Cooking” usually means using one’s microwave, or maybe even boiling water for pasta. So the occasional mentions of making things like from-scratch lasagna or fish tacos are often met with reactions of utter amazement.