Things I Don’t Understand about New Yorkers (1): Dining Outside

   I love New York.  Hopefully, I will never live anywhere else for any length of time.

   I also like New Yorkers.  On the whole, I think they’re terrific.  Sharp, energetic, interesting, and infinitely more generous and polite than I could have imagined. The worst personality trait I can ascribe to them–if one can ascribe a personality trait to an entire community, especially one as huge and heterogeneous as New York–is an astonishing sort of aggressive parochialism (I cannot fault them entirely for this: New York is not the center of the universe, but it is certainly the center of a lot of things).

    I cannot pass as a native New Yorker and I do not aspire to.  People can tell that I’m not from around here. When I travel and people ask me where I’m from, I invariably say that I’m from the place where I was born and now I live in New York.  When New Yorkers learn where I’m from, their reaction is typically good-natured fascination and curiosity, as if I said that I was from Mars.  They think that I am a country person (according to their foggy notions of what constitutes rural American culture).  This amuses me, because I grew up in a big town.  It’s okay.  If I am a hick, then I am a very well-educated hick.  

      Anyway, even though I’ve lived here for a few years now, on occassion I still feel like a cultural anthropologist doing field work. Sometimes I think: these people do the damndest things..!  Why oh why are you doing that, my New York countrymen?  

     Take, for instance, the proclivity of New Yorkers to dine outside whenever the weather is not freezing cold or raining.  

Truck! weird pedestrian! patio furniture! livestock-containing gate!  Ah, dining al fresco in New York.  Photo source:

     New Yorkers love to eat outside.  They love it.  If a restaurant has outdoor seating or a private patio for diners, this fact is featured prominently on its website.  People go to places with crappy food, like the Boat Basin, just because it offers outdoor seating.  In the spring and summertime, the sidewalks are packed with diners.  Even in the winter, some places put out heat lamps and plastic tarps, and people sit outside.   This shitty Italian place down the block from my apartment offers just such accommodations.  At night, it’s packed.  People prefer to sit on lawn furniture in a plastic tent in wintertime than to be inside. 

      Dining outdoors in NYC is incomprehensible to me because the streets and conditions here are…not conducive to a relaxing, enjoyable dining experience.  They’re not.  I defy anyone to tell me otherwise.  You may like to eat outside on the grimy, gum-encrusted sidewalk, but please don’t tell me it’s pleasant or helps you enjoy the food better.  Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining. 

     The streets and sidewalks are filthy and congested.  This is true whether you’re in the Upper East Side or the East Village.  (I’m not complaining about Sanitation Services here; I think that they do a good job–I don’t think that the city, or at least the parts of it I am familiar with, could be much cleaner without the active participation of the populace.  This would require a shift in cultural values…beyond the scope, alas, of Sanitation’s influence.)  The streets are gross.  They are strewn with litter.  Even the clean ones.  At night, there are piles of garbage bags chest-high on the curbs, three feet away from where you’re sitting.  In warm weather, they reek to high heaven.  There is standing water in the gutters and vermin running to and fro.  Don’t delude yourself.  Garbage, all around, and this city stinks.  I love it, but it smells.  It does.  

     Add to that: crowded sidewalks.  Pedestrians constantly moving past your table.  Dogs, strollers, children.  Cars parking on the curb beside you.  Traffic waiting at lights.  The roar of sirens, trucks beeping as they back up, the engines of city buses.  

    In the summertime, it’s hot and sticky.  You’re sweating, your makeup is running off.    

      Why pick all that over air-conditioned comfort?  

     Dining al fresco: definitely something I don’t understand about New Yorkers.  

     The next post in this series will probably be weird New York foods, such as the baffling and gorge-inducing habit of putting fish onto a bagel.  First time I saw that, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Folks back home don’t believe me when I say that New Yorkers eat fish on bagels.  I had to take photos to prove it.  And why don’t they like soda from soda fountains?  It tastes so much better.  

3 thoughts on “Things I Don’t Understand about New Yorkers (1): Dining Outside”

  1. I am so with you on this. Eating outside in NYC is disgusting. Just the soot that would settle on the food is enough to make me sick. Homeless people with antibiotic resistant TB cough on the diners every day. Yech.


  2. Maybe it’s because of the way the city is built – up instead of out. So that’s pretty much their chance at “outdoors time” that they can fit into their busy day.

    Only thing I can think of. I’m from the Southwest/West coast and everything here is really spread out. When you talked about 20 blocks being a mile and a half, that astounded me. I don’t even think the downtown areas out here are that small! Maybe 1/5th or perhaps 1/6th mile at the smallest, in a tiny section of town. Out from there goes to quarters or thirds, then halves. Suburbs tend to have one street light per mile, half of you’re lucky as a pedestrian. It can be over a mile to the nearest gas station/convenience store. Once, when my account got too low just Ubering out to someone, it was 2.6 miles of walking around midnight to get out of the maze of neighborhoods and to the nearest place where there were buses, stores, a gas station, and luckily – the nearest branch of my bank.

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