Tom Higgins previously worked for a major European bank in Ireland and is now working for the bank as the Head of Audit for its North American wholesale division in New York.
New York, for an Irish expat, almost feels like home, as there is so much that seems familiar about it. The first time you set foot in the Big Apple there are so many iconic landmarks and locations that have already been seen in films (or as they like to call them here ‘the movies’ – but more on the language barrier later) and TV – from the Empire State Building to Central Park, that you feel you have always been here. However caveat emptor – Central Perk from ‘Friends’? Actually a movie set in LA where most of the series was shot. Seinfeld? The most iconic of NY comedy TV series was mostly shot on a CBS movie lot in California, including a ‘mock-up’ of Central Park! However that being said there are so many real reference points you can really feel you know the city from the get-go. In the city that never sleeps – and I can confirm it doesn’t – everything appears to happen faster than normal. For example ordering a simple sandwich in a deli needs to be rehearsed in advance, unless you want to draw the ire of the 20 people in the queue behind you. With 10 different items (minimum) for each of breads, spreads, salads, meats, cheeses, dressings – ordering a simple tuna sandwich requires the lungs of a soprano – the singing kind – to get it all out in one breath. It goes something like “I’ll have a tuna on a hero with light mayo, lettuce, tomato and onion, no dressing and hold the pickle”. Forgetting any potential ingredient or option will result in a query from the guy behind the counter! Like all good rules there needs to be an exception to prove it – speed is not always apparent in all areas, the most infamous being the bureaucracy of City Hall. This little exception can create employment for 10 people in the simple process of issuing a driver license. It is bureaucracy as an art form and you can only marvel at it!
A side effect of the speed with which the Big Apple world rotates on its own axis is the love of TLA’s – which is a circular reference – as it is, in itself, a Three Letter Acronym. At every opportunity three word phrases are reduced to three letters – Department of Motor Vehicles becomes the beloved DMV. However New Yorkers bring this to a whole new level with whole phrases shortened. TriBeCa? Triangle Below Canal Street. SoHo? Not as you may imagine an historic reference to the same-name location in London – it is South of Houston. If it can be shortened from 3 syllables to one – it is done. No ‘the President’ in the press, just ‘the prez’! The ‘Gov” – state Governor. Republican Party? Nope – it is the GOP – Grand Old Party. My favorite is DUMBO – not the beloved Disney character but Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass!
It is said that there are over 100 languages spoken on the island of Manhattan, with most public signs in three languages. While we believe that we speak the same language as most ‘Americans’ i.e. English – in reality you can have some interesting conversations about a topic that is perfectly clear to you, but usually ends with a drawled “so, you’re not from around here, are you?”. Trying to explain that there is a problem with your ‘cooker’ – i.e. the thing that you cook your food on – to a repair man who only understands the concept of a ‘stove’, made for an interesting exchange, until the common language of pointing and grunting resulted in absolute clarity. Trunk –sidewalk – elevator (not ‘lift’) – faucet all add to the merriment of conversation. A recent visit to the hardware store to buy a ‘torch’ resulted in a conversation about buying Hawaiian oil burning tiki lamps – not the battery powered flashlight I really wanted!
Finally, The question I am most often asked when I visit home is if New York is dangerous. For anyone who was here in the 70’s and 80’s the city is not recognizable as recent successive Mayors have made strenuous efforts to clean up crime and the seedier side of life. Like all big cities, there are always areas where modern social ills have created an environment that is best avoided. In reality the most dangerous things that I have come across in NY is sitting in the back of a yellow cab, bouncing through the potholes while weaving from lane to lane as I go uptown. Real living dangerously is going through the revolving doors in Grand Central Terminal at rush hour which makes you feel like a ‘Gremlin’ being introduced to a blender!
With apologies to Frank (who was actually a Jersey Boy) – Complaints? I have had a few, but then again too few to mention. The city is one of the most amazing places in the world with 60 million visitors every year, 10,000+ restaurants, some of the greatest museums and galleries in the world, architecture that can take your breath away and a can-do attitude that is refreshing. Oh and did I mention that the work is pretty good and interesting as well! Have a nice day.