It thrills me to no end that I am going to a retreat this weekend with a bunch of students from NYC. Why? Because I won’t have to talk so slow and constantly regulate my enthusiasm and keep myself from interrupting. I won’t have to count to three when someone is done speaking just to make sure I’m not interjecting too quickly. I’m not particularly good at doing those things, mind you: I’m still from New York and have all the speech patterns Deborah Tannen talks about in this article.
A Californian who visited New York once told me he’d found New Yorkers unfriendly when he’d tried to make casual conversation. I asked what he made conversation about. Well, for example, how nice the weather was. Of course! No New Yorker would start talking to a stranger about the weather—unless it was really bad. We find it most appropriate to make comments to strangers when there’s something to complain about—“Why don’t they do something about this garbage!” “Ever since they changed the schedules, you can’t get a bus!” Complaining gives us a sense of togetherness in adversity. The angry edge is aimed at the impersonal “they” who are always doing things wrong. The person is thus welcomed into a warm little group. Since Californians don’t pick up this distinction between “us” and “them,” they are put off by the hostility, which they feel could be turned on them at any moment.
But around other New Yorkers I can fucking relax and expect people to be a little louder, a little more dramatic, to clip my sentences and know, when I clip theirs, that I am only showing enthusiasm. More