Wednesday, August 7, 2013

expat reflections

When I picked him up from LaGuardia Airport on the morning of June 21st, I was excited. It would be his first time in New York, and I got to be the one to show him around! I love forcing inspiring people to fall in love with places I live or have lived. It's a gift. He was over the moon, too. "NYPD!" he exclaimed as we entered the Van Wyck Expressway. I couldn't help but laugh.
I only realized how cool it was to grow up thirty minutes from Manhattan when I went away to college and met other Americans who couldn't go to the city whenever they wanted and didn't go at least a dozen times a year. Then I was exposed to what "being from New York" meant on the global scale, and let me tell you, the cool factor reaches a whole 'nother level. I don't mind it.
For instance, while interviewing at PageYourself, I briefed them on what brought me to Paris in the first place: I wanted to study global communications and I wanted to get out of New York, preferably by way of an ocean. My now-boss chuckled in response. "Parisians are dying to be in New York." And it's true. This is one of countless examples.
So, I obviously brought my German to the quintessential New York sights he's seen photos of his entire life. But I also wanted him to see my city, the people I spent my time with, the spots I frequented; and beyond that, to get to know my "thirty minutes from Manhattan" home. We climbed the stairs to the Kensico Dam, went to lunch at Playland, spent an afternoon in the Westchester Mall, and when we got home, my mom had made us a classic family dinner: spaghetti and meatballs, steamed broccoli, garlic bread.
In between getting all sentimental about how much I love where I come from and how much I love that he loved it, too, it was fun to ask him what stood out to him as being different, American, or New York:
  1. Tattoos. I hadn't noticed it, but yeah, I guess biker dudes and wanna-be rock stars are less prevalent in Europe.
  2. Great service. Waiters who take our order upon seating? Free coffee refills? Quickly cleared and cleaned tables? "Yes, sweetheart, we aren't in France anymore. Don't forget the tip."
  3. Ice water. According to him, water is simply too cold to drink when you fill it to the brim with ice. Plus, more ice means less water. My mother's opposing argument: lukewarm is not refreshing and water glasses get refilled. (See above).
  4. Obesity. He didn't outrightly tell me this one, I had to ask. And I did. Because even I was taken aback. It makes me sad to think of what a mess our food system is and the detrimental effects its having on not just small town USA but the world
  5. Yoga pants. Though he goes to the gym, he'd never consider his workout clothes everyday-appropriate. Welcome to 'merica? We have to counteract the previous observation somehow. (Whereas in Paris, I was painfully aware of Sunday's outfit).
  6. Friendliness. My German boyfriend was born and raised in Berlin, so he's a city kid. Strangers generally keep to themselves in cities--no passing "howdy" or "good mornings"--but somehow, we managed to encounter the exceptions. We had random conversations each time we road the elevator in Syracuse. And in Manhattan, on our way to my aunt's apartment, we were stopped by a woman who's question about where we'd gotten such a beautiful bouquet ("thanks for having us for dinner" flowers) led to a casual invite to her 60th birthday party. She was mostly kidding, but it was sweet.
  7. Exposed fire escapes. He didn't mention them as "so American" until our Lower East Side afternoon. Safety looks good.
  8. Air conditioning, everywhere. An idea worth spreading, that's all I have to say! The canicule may have gotten to me...
By the way, if you're wondering what inspired this post: this article + Parisian tour plans for my boyfriend's best friend from home.


  1. The fire escapes is a BIG one! Do you know my dad constantly asks me if we have an escape plan if ever our building was to catch fire?

  2. This is so interesting! I often get a similar response when I tell people overseas that I'm from LA - they just can't get enough of it. While I never thought it was cool previously, now it's the best conversation starter ever ;) I think Jurgen would agree with your German on a lot of his points about Americans. Guilty as charged!


  3. Crazy, I never realized you were from Westchester, so am I :) the mall in White Plains is pretty different from anything they have in Germany... and I really miss Playland now! :p

    1. What a coincidence! It's such a unique little place. Nice to go back for a quick visit :)

  4. When I studied abroad in Australia, the idea of America to my Aussie friends meant New York City, Texas and Los Angeles. You had to be from one of those places or you weren't all that American. And they were completely fascinated by college-style red cups. Apparently that's very American as well!

    1. So true. The rest is kind of blog of everything else that they haven't spent their lives hearing about. But sadly, the same is true for many Americans from these areas. Our country is so gosh darn big! As for the red cups, ha. I wish I'd had a college party to bring him to ;)

  5. I miss the great service. I miss it so much :)


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