Etiquette could be defined as a set of rules by which one considers the needs and wishes of others first. Rather like an extension of the Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Bearing this in mind, one concludes New Yorkers are, by and large, not a religious lot. Forget the Golden Rule; etiquette is not the priority here. Getting everything done in a hurry is (or a ‘New York minute’). New York is home to approximately over eight million. Inevitably, two will bump into one another from time to time. Perhaps this explains why please, thank you have largely been elided from the vernacular. Excuse me is an exception. It tends to be uttered in a particularly menacing tone, the speaker glaring, aiming directly at you without giving you the slightest chance to move. Too bad. You’re in the way. They had to waste time telling you to get out of it.
New Yorkers have been noted for avarice since Broadway was a dirt road, overrun with hogs rooting through rubbish (much to the amazement and subsequent amusement of Charles Dickens). And time, after all, is money. But, amazingly enough, New Yorkers have all the time in the world for someone in trouble. I saw a woman knocked down on Fifth Avenue three months ago. She rose to her feet with the assistance of half a dozen. And when the driver attempted to escape (yes, this really happened), several burly men immediately sprang into action, blocking the car. And at my local church, an elderly woman brings the homeless man who sleeps on the steps breakfast and a kind word every morning. And no one, not even my fellow Brits, love dogs more. But this is generosity of spirit, not etiquette and the two are not the same. Just another puzzling aspect of an extraordinary city.
My real concern is for the next generation. I don’t have any children yet, but many of my neighbors do. The elevators are perpetually strewn with Cheerios and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish (and always the cheddar flavor, glowing neon orange on the marble tiles). None have been lobbed at me, but I have seen this happen. No, far worse was in store for me: I was spat upon. Yes, spat upon by a two-year-old in his mother’s arms. And when I finally objected, she shouted: “It’s your fault; you’re scaring him!”
Really? Is vintage Chanel frightening? Perhaps so. In a civilized society, she would have apologized profusely, if not offered to pay the dry cleaning bill (I assure you it was noticeable and it was repulsive). But this is New York. The elevator doors opened and the woman and her malignant offspring alighted, she muttering angrily to herself. Granted, this is an extreme example, but children playing tag in restaurants is not. Mothers have a laissez-faire attitude toward child-rearing, blithely chatting on the mobile while Nicholas or Isabella cheerfully tear yet another cafe to shreds. One sees the waiters valiantly resisting the urge to say something. A food fight between toddlers occasionally erupts. One weeps for the future. | Katja Anderson
pictures via The Waldorf Towers, Plaza Hotel, Flickriver, Lisa Bettany