City Pulse

By Lili Eros-Sarnyai

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What is it about New York City in late summer that seems to attract hordes of both foreign and domestic tourists like bees to a honey-pot? Is it the stifling heat on the street that chokes you the moment you step out, or is it rather that certain Arctic chill favored by larger upscale department stores that could rival even a Siberian winter? Perhaps it is the cool tranquility of Central Park, promising shade and respite on a sizzling afternoon, or the majestic elegance of the Empire State Building, looming large and bright in the night sky…

Whatever the reason, it is a fact universally acknowledged that (apart from the Christmas holiday season) it is during the summer – particularly from mid-July ntil Labor Day, that New York becomes a hotel to the world. Gotham plays host to wide-eyed tourist from all over the US, as well as from around the world. It is simply impossible to step out of your apartment without feeling like you have somehow accidentally stepped into a foreign land, surrounded by a milieu of languages all competing for your attention and making our native English seem rather paltry in comparison. Ok, maybe that holds true for some parts of our fair metropolis 365 days a year, but you get my drift.

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Whilst for many intrepid souls such a feeling would no doubt lead to their immediate enrollment in an evening language or culture appreciation class, sadly yet perhaps understandably there remain those who feel slightly violated by what could be interpreted as a foreign invasion. No amount of persuasion concerning tourism’s importance for NYC’s economy will convert these steadfast New Yorkers to take a more generous view; they will not acknowledge the fact that without the congregation of so many cultures on one relatively small island, the city would lose its vibrancy, its multiethnic atmosphere, its animation and its innate quirkiness.

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that with the heat of summer tempers tend to flare up, stress-induced-headaches begin, and innocent tourists often become the victims of the wrath of aggravated New York professionals in a rush to get to the next meeting, attempting to balance a large iced latte, Blackberry, cell phone and handbag whilst maneuvering their way around the out-of-towners. So for every New Yorker, whether you are a tourist lover, tolerater or especially if you happen to be a closet-hater, here are a few coping strategies to get you through these trying times…

The denial tactic:

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The name says it all: go about your daily business as usual, oozing nonchalance. Whilst this may at first seem rather straightforward and simple, it should be taken into account that this particular strategy requires a great deal of concentration, willpower and, some may argue, rudeness. Although marching through Times Square with your iPod blaring, your eyes fixed on distant point somewhere on the horizon, oblivious to the rush hour crowd, pushing and shoving everyone around you, may seem like a fun idea, it would be smart to keep in mind that such behavior may very well cause your fellow New Yorkers to mistake you for a rather aggressive tourist, and the tourists to take you for a typically rude New Yorker.

The sidewalk slide:
This is extremely useful and can be utilized in any blocked sidewalk situation. Master this move, and you will never again have to endure having to walk at a snail’s pace behind a group of ambling tourists (or even New Yorkers – it has been known to happen) who obstinately take over the entire pavement by insisting on walking mostly along the middle, with sporadic migrations to either side, preventing any attempts at overtaking.
What this move actually entails is a sort of a smooth dodging movement around or between the said group of people, executed at lightning speed and with the utmost precision; initial positioning is key, as is the angle at which you attempt the overtake.

The most important thing is to wait for the right opportunity; the moment you perceive the beginnings of a gap, launch yourself ahead at full speed. Anyone who has ever watched or played football will know that to perfect a maneuver of this nature takes a great deal of patience, practice and dedication, and therefore my suggestion would be that you practise the main motion in front of a mirror at least twice a day. If leaping about around empty space seems silly, then by all means get a friend or partner to stand in front of you and pose as the painfully slow pedestrian whilst you execute the “look and leap”.

The evasion technique:

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Again, pretty straightforward: avoid all tourist attractions (especially the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center), museums, the subway, Central Park, the larger department stores, trendy restaurants…basically, forget about having a life. Call your friends and your boss to let them know that the tourists have won and you have decided to confine yourself to your apartment for the time being. This option should be used only as a last resort.

The strategy of preparedness:
This involves never venturing out without a hefty supply of pocket maps of Manhattan, with the subway and bus lines clearly highlighted and the tourist attractions helpfully marked in. These are to be distributed to tourists in need free of charge, and will save you having to stop and point the way to the nearest subway station/cross-town bus/museum every few blocks. Alternatively, you could adopt a rather cunning ruse and wear an ‘I ♥ NY’ t-shirt in tourist zones; they will simply think you are one of them and it will not even cross their minds to ask you for directions.

The undercover survival technique:
You can take this disguise one step further and actually become a tourist yourself for the peak season, and take the opportunity to explore the many wonders that this great city has to offer and which we as New Yorkers too often take for granted or overlook completely. Naturally, a prerequisite to this operation is that you either quit your job or somehow convince your boss that visiting all the tourist attractions over a period of roughly three months is a worthwhile and profitable endeavor. Once you do decide upon this particular course of action, you will need to acquire the necessary tourist gear in order to blend in: a New York guidebook, sneakers or similar sturdy footwear for trekking through the urban jungle, and the all-important camera. Then all you have to do is enthusiastically hop on an Apple tour bus and get ready to exclaim loudly in wonder…(preferably in a foreign language).

A few final dos and don’ts to keep in mind:

Do try and remain courteous at all times.
Do avoid congested tourist areas.
Do carry a mini pocket-fan on the subway. This serves a dual purpose as a cooling device for you and as a potential defense against the jostling, confused tourists who almost push you off the car.
Do take advantage of the linguistic opportunities offered by the arrival of our foreign friends, and feel free to accost anyone speaking a language you like the sound of; if tourists can ask us for impromptu directions, we can ask for language tips.
Don’t even think about going to the museum, especially at the weekend. If you simply must go, then opt for a quick power walk through the galleries with a definite destination in mind.
Don’t give in to your initial urge to mislead a perplexed tourist with false directions.
Don’t take your pent-up anger and frustration out on your fellow New Yorkers.
And most importantly, DON’T lose hope. True, there are tourists all year round, but the summer invasion is almost over – you can make it!

Originally published August 2007
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