Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Men and (New York) City: Part 2

By Leeat Granek (Guest Voice)

I spent the last week bouncing around New York City. The classic wandering Jew. To my utter delight and dismay, I found the men here to be different than the Toronto cohort.

I was delighted because the guys talked to me everywhere. On the subway, in the park, on the street, and in the coffee shops. Conversation comes easy here. It’s fun and flirty and breezy and blasé all at the same time. And it’s constant. Hence, the dismay.

You’re never left alone here. Sometimes it’s flattering like when you are having a bad day and some hunky redhead tells you have a great smile. Other times, it’s just plain scary like when the tall, burly Russian man leered at me “you are sexy woman.”

It can get exhausting to be on guard all the time. My natural tendency to smile at the passerby’s was beaten out of me quickly and unceremoniously when a guy mistook my grin as an invitation and followed me out onto the subway platform.

I shouldn’t be complaining. Last week I whined about not getting enough attention and this week I am annoyed about getting too much. This might be one of those times when women are ambivalent, making it hard for the men to know what to do. Why, I wonder, can’t we strike a happy balance? Canadians are known for being moderate. Surely, this too can be negotiated.

I come frequently to New York and have noticed this guy phenomena before. I am invisible in Toronto and ridiculously detectable in New York. It’s like being some kind of weird superhero that appears and disappears depending on what side of the border I’m on. Maybe it has to do with the weather? It’s cold in Toronto. We huddle inside our coats and our heads, avoiding the wind and each other. In New York it is warmer, and so, in general, there is more heat between the sexes.

Or maybe it’s that there are just many more people to choose from in the big apple. The crowds mean more selection, but also a forced intimacy that rarely happens in Toronto. People bump into each other, brush up against one another on the subway, in the bars, and in the coffee shops. No one apologizes when they push you out of the way, or reach over you to get the sugar. Its just part of life here. There is friction. And it’s exciting.

Case in point. I am writing this blog in a small coffee shop in the West Village. I am sitting at a lovely communal table. It is old and made out of solid wood. Six other seats are open to strangers who are talking, eating, writing, texting, or typing away at their laptops. At this very table I met two German women here for the holidays, a set of academics discussing their students, an Israeli woman putting together a New Year's party (in typical Israeli last minute fashion, a day before the event!) and a lovely New York man on his way to an appointment. If it weren’t my last day here, it might have turned into something more.

The particulars of this table, however, are less important than the principle. There is an openness here that is both charming and irritating. It is the quintessential New York paradox that makes this place so compelling and it is ultimately what I think is missing from the Toronto scene.


Rachael Bregman said...

I wonder how different your experience would be if you were not as noticeably attractive as you are. Or perhaps, in the summer instead of the winter where we all are looking for your spirit-lifting smile. I am also thinking about the current political climate here in the city. People are losing everything yet, optimism seems to be high given the new President-elect. Additionally, it is Christmas time and I think people are just kinder. And then, there is the whole men-in-New-York thing which I think is accurate. They are present as a presence. If you keep your head down, I find I can easily avoid the contact but if my head is up and I look people in the eye, I meet an endless number of interesting and fun people. Yeah, there is the occassional unwanted contact, but generally speaking, I find the people of this city including men, to be welcome and friendly. But, I do always feel cautious when chatting with a stranger that I do so in public. I am conscious of an underlying fear of the stranger. Someone may be sweet initially, but who knows who they are in closer-quarters. I wonder if that is an unwarranted stereotype (one which I will never test out just in case the apprehension is deserved)

New York loves you Leeat, come back and brighter her and all of her inhabitants soon.

JS said...

I wonder if there is something else going on here as well...

When I travel, and I do so extensively, I become a more confident, happier me with a more engaging energy and exciting spirit. I know I wil never again see the people I pass on the street or meet in a restaurant, and I am comfortable being more outgoing and open knowing that.

I don't doubt that there is a difference between the people in New York and those in Toronto, just like there is a differnce between people from anywhere, but how we project ourselves in different cities - whether its home, holiday or a work scenario - may affect how people react to us as well.

Danielle said...

I would love to see your comparison of men in NY and TO in a second or third encounter. Do they come on strong and then does there interest wane?

RK said...

Much like Leeat, there was a period of a few years in my life when I travelled frequently to NYC and I totally agree with Leeat! Whether I was single or in a relationship, I was always surprised by the forwardness or friendliness of men in NYC...I felt that NYC has a more raw feeling of sexiness in the air...if that makes any sense. I was approached by different men, in very different ways depending on whether they were construction workers or young businessmen in a trendy downtown bar.

Having lived in Toronto for a couple of years, I found the men to be slightly more conservative...less daring, with less spunk (though of course dont judge a book by its cover!).

Maybe its a combination of many different elements from climate to culture and a certain energy level that is found in different cities?!!

whyman said...

Interesting observation, particularly since New Yorkers have the reputation of being cold and self absorbed. We are friendlier than people think. I don’t think it is just the way men operate, women are friendly as well. Perhaps it is because there are really not many New Yorkers that live in New York. There are so many transplants, people who had to make their way and develop new relationships when they moved here that they are more open to talking to strangers. As a die hard New Yorker I am glad that your experience was a good one and hope that you come back again soon!

Anonymous said...


I find the people both men and women are much more in your face than here in Toronto. Thisis something that I really like being as I like to talk with strangers ands often times the folks in Toronto might find me a little too much. In New York I find I feel free to chat with anyone and not come off as "too much". Sounds like you had a great time and hopefully you will be back soon! :)