What? You really didn’t realise I’d try to knock one more post out of New York? Silly old you.

There’s a bit in Crocodile Dundee when Mick arrives in The Big Apple and chats casually from his limousine window to a busy businessperson on the street.

“G’day, Mick Dundee from Australia. How are ya?”

“I’m fine. Thank you.”

“Good. Down for a couple ’days, probably see you round.”

And off he goes, as the businessperson stares after him in patent disbelief.

I’m a very chatty type. I chat. Also I acknowledge people on the street that I don’t really know. This is partially out of habit and partially out of fear that I do actually know some of them and have failed to recognise them. I knew I would be bringing this facility to New York, in the same way that I have brought it everywhere else I’ve been in the last fifty-eight years. (I’m not counting my first year because I didn’t speak much then.)

As a small child, I remember people stopping me and my Mum and asking me what my name was. I didn’t know why at the time but I later learned it was because I always answered with my full name and address and people knew this and liked to hear me do it. Chatty child, chatty man. Chatty.

And I was mildly concerned about bringing this habit to New York. Not worried, nothing like that. Just a little niggle that I would be like Mick Dundee, causing consternation with my friendly disposition and my unsolicited proferring of unrequired information. And I do present a pretty friendly face to the world, at least 85% of the time. An open, rather gormless smile and a pre-disposition to aimlessly converse. What on Earth would the big city make of me?

Looking back, I needn’t have worried. New Yorkers like to talk; at least, in my unarguably limited experience, they do. Every conversational ball I kicked was returned to me with enthusiastic interest and most of the gormless grins were warmly grinned back. On several occasions, random New Yorkers stopped on the Subway platform or on the street as we consulted our apps to see which way was best to go next. “Can I help you find somewhere?” One lady, in a UPS uniform and a string of nice pearls, went out of her way to lead us to a junction and point us in the right direction. It spoke to a sense of pride in their city and a small gratitude that we had come to visit. Silly, I know, to read so much into it, but there you are.

Even looking again at that bit from Crocodile Dundee, that ‘Busy Businessperson’ is not in any way hostile to Mick’s friendly advance. His response is civil if distant. He doesn’t get mad or anything. So I guess I needn’t have worried.

Surprised as I was that my little conversational excursions were positively met, I was even more chuffed to find that people were frequently offering me little chatty-chats of their own. Leaving the hotel in the morning, I practiced my old-fashioned habit of holding the door for whoever was coming behind. The door attendant was a tall African American guy.

“Man, you’re stealing my job.”

“I could do this job. I could do it better than you.”

“Hah, be my guest!”

If this rings a distant bell, there was indeed a partial worry on my part that I would quickly turn into Larry David if I stayed in New York for too long. I got into an actual thing with another hotel person about making change of ten dollars with him so I could fix him up with his gratuity. Pretty good. Pretty… pretty good.

On the Subway, I had lots of chats. On a crowded downtown train, I encouraged the guy on the platform to squeeze on in, years of Piccadilly Line crushing giving me the confidence to assert this. We had a grateful chat as the train rattled along. In another crushed standing journey, the wildly tattooed guy next to me was trying to carve a small pumpkin for Halloween with a rather lethal-looking tool. I complimented him on his technique and on the emerging deaths head in the vegetable. He and his equally inked pal seemed quite pleased with the feedback.

Inspired by my forthrightness in the public domain, Patricia also tried her hand at random stranger conversations. In a diner for breakfast she interrupted a rather heated business meeting that was taking place at an adjoining table to inform one of the four participants that his smoked salmon bagel looked very nice and that she might just try that herself. This was braver than I ever would have been and it brought us as close to that stunned Crocodile Dundee reaction as we ever got during our entire visit. The guy rallied well, though, and confirmed that his breakfast was indeed very tasty.

Some random conversations were not what they seemed. Outside of Grand Central Station, quite early, a tall man with glasses looked straight into my eyes and earnestly asked me, ‘How much will the shipping be on that?” I had to admit the truth to him. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t know.” Of course, he was on his mobile phone, speaking hands free. I realised that quite soon after I spoke and I hurried on soon after that.

You'll have to excuse me, I’m only in town for a couple of days...

I’ll probably see you around.

1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

I'm not big on starting conversations with strangers but once the ice is broken I can certainly hold my own. When I was in America I was pretty much always with Carrie and had very little reason to chat with anyone but I did go out on my own just the once, to the supermarket at the end of the road where I had, at the age of forty, my second and, to date, last conversation with a person of colour (or whatever the politically-correct term is this week). The first was when I was about sixteen by the way and I really have no idea why my life has been devoid of black (can we still say "black"?) people but it just has. Odd, very odd, but true. Anyway when I was in the supermarket I was looking at the bottles of soft drinks and a young black girl was cleaning up a broken bottle and, God knows why, I started up a conversation. She looked like she was sixteen but what got me was how cheerful and positive she was and not in a have-a-nice-day way. It was a horrible and messy job she'd been tasked with but it did faze her one bit. I told her I was from Scotland and she said she'd never been which was sweet but she was lovely and I've not forgotten her in twenty-odd years.