When in Rome do as the Romans – when in the States, stick a feather in your hat and call yourself Yankee Doodle.
At the ripe age of 24, I would consider myself to be very laid back and relaxed about most things – or as we colloquially call it in Ireland, “flaked.” But being in New York is a different ball game, and to adapt to your surroundings, you have to develop a thick skin (literally and figuratively). There are certain no brainers you quickly figure out, like don’t touch the hand rails in the subway station or that a 20% tip is a non-negotiable, but learning to really survive and thrive in this jungle is a skill that has to be honed over time.
This weekend marks our one year anniversary of moving here. Those twelve months flew by, but simultaneously it also seems like a mini-lifetime has been squeezed into a mere 365 days.
One thing I can be sure of is that I feel quite different to the day I moved here. I am learning a lot about my nature and characteristics, and I have began to notice certain changes in my pysche.
I get it: New York is a very different environment to anywhere else I’ve lived, and I now realize why people can be so rude and inconsiderate. The pressure of such a fast paced lifestyle is certainly more prevalent here. I’m definitely not at the stage where I’m shouting at people to get out of my way on the “sidewalk” or “yelling” at the person messing up my coffee order yet, however sometimes I do catch myself doing something, saying something or thinking something and I have to do a double take, roll my eyes and laugh to myself that it is “so New York of me“. Whether it’s adhering to hipster 101, experiencing real American culture or a reaction that is far more abrupt than what I would consider my norm, here are some of the ways I know the Big Apple is rubbing off on me.
*Using my Amazon Prime subscription to get express delivery on artisan almond butter: anyone who knows me has heard me complain that almond butter costs at least $12 a jar in New York. Hence I feel the need to ship it to my door by the bucketload, to get my fix at a slightly cheaper rate.
*Accepting that there is nothing we can do about the ants in our apartment: Trust me, we have tried every powder, gel and spray on the market and they still won’t leave us be. However, as our exterminator Vinnie says, if your only pest-related worry is a troupe of ants, you haven’t lived in a real New York City dwelling. (Side note: I barely flinch at rats anymore, this city is their playground too.)
*Purchasing vegan leather leggings: I eat dairy, meat and fish so this really made no sense.
*Committing to manicures: Waitressing in one of New York’s busiest restaurants, I learned two things about high powered career women. 1) they always ask for the sauce on the side (extra calories – God forbid) and 2) they are always impeccably groomed. I figure one leaf I can take out of their book is to at least ensure my nails are presentable. This is something I also once read in a Cosmo article about interview tips: employers will often subconsciously look to see if your nails are neat and tidy, and with a nail salon on virtually every block, there’s no excuse not to at least have a file and polish done once in a while.
*Getting my festive sweat on: What do you do when you wake up on December 25th in a silent, empty apartment in North Bronx? You get dressed and go to spin class! Yes, really. Christmas Day 2015 I was scheduled to work in the late afternoon, but faced with a morning where I had nothing to do, I thought: where the other loners at? Naturally, there was several classes at Soul Cycle on East 54th going ahead. To avoid the temptation of eating a whole Cadburys selection box that a friend had so kindly posted over – I took the 1 train to the city, got to the studio and tapped it back with the other non-believers for 45 mins. A Christmas Day to remember, but hopefully never to repeat. (Side note: burning some 600 calories in that class made up for my post workout meal which was a fine New York bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Festive.)
*Move It or Lose It: At a free early morning Alicia Keys concert at the Rockefeller Plaza, I told no less than three people to move out of my way. We had lined up down Fifth Avenue from 7am, only for people to start cramming in front of us hours later when we finally made it to our designated section. I’m 5’9″ (I think) but I don’t care if you are half my size, if I have queued up to be here, don’t even think about invading my personal space because you didn’t get out of bed on time. However, there’s not a hope I would have had the balls (for want of a better word) to say this to anyone in Phoenix, Marlay or Croke Park at a concert back home.
*Reprimanded my hairdresser: I don’t know if this is strictly an Irish thing, but how often do girls stare at themselves holding back tears as the hairdresser shows them what she has done to their locks. Whether she defied you by hacking five inches off when you just wanted a trim, or the dye job is more Tim Burton villain than Disney Princess, so many of us are guilty of just nodding and whispering thanks while screaming on the inside. Getting your hair done is a real luxury in New York as it costs a small fortune. On my most recent outing to a salon, I was really excited to get some kind of handle on my hair which grows at the same rate as garden weeds. I also wanted to add some kind of tones to the mass of dark brown because I have realised it makes me look even paler, and people already think I have never seen the sun despite a summer of consistent 90 degree temperatures. On the day, I could see that the stylist was rushing for time and under pressure with other clients. Warning bells started to ring when she left me waiting in the leather chair reading old issues of Vogue with my head piled half way to the ceiling with dye-tinted strips and half a roll of clingfilm wrapped around it. Fast forward two hours and a rinse/lather/repeat later, and as she is drying it I realize my dark, dark hair now has alarmingly bright and brassy blond streaks coming through it like yellow dandelions poking through a flower bed of brown soil. I hate complaining (like when your food is blatantly awful and you just smile weakly when the waitress asks you how it is). But I knew I couldn’t go around looking like I had sprayed sun-in in my center part like a complete novice, especially when the salon trip was going to set me back a few hundred dollars. So I did it. I put my foot down and told the hairdresser I didn’t like it and made her correct it. I felt like the biggest bitch as she rolled her eyes at me leading me back to the sink, but I relished my new found assertiveness. I wondered whether this what it feels like to be a powerful CEO telling executives that their initial work was useless as I finally got the desired outcome a few hours later. (Side note: despite her incompetence, I still tipped the stylist 20%.. I’m not completely heartless.)
(On another hair related story – I once visited a salon in Chelsea for a wash, cut and blowdry. Or so I thought. I paid, got the shampoo and conditioner job, and yeah he gave the gruaig a quick trim. But he then asked me did I have a coat and proceeded to help me in to my leather jacket and send me out on to 37th Street on a chilly evening with my hair SOAKING WET before I could even comprehend what was happening. This is a dark memory I’d rather not relive.)
* Not giving a rats what you look like: Living in a city as congested as Manhattan wreaks havoc on your skin. Between a hectic lifestyle, stress, toxins and being constantly exposed to pollutions, my complexion was really in need of some professional TLC recently. I live in a narrow building which luckily enough, has a spa/skin clinic two floors below my apartment (let’s not talk about the mysterious British man who repeatedly rings our buzzer at 3am on Fridays to get into said spa……) Anyway, the aesthetician took one look at me, ushered me into a lavender scented room and got to work. She essentially hoovered my face with a tiny but powerful vacuum for the next 30 minutes as she performed microdermabrasion. It was like a spring clean for my pores. She then lulled me into a false sense of security with a relaxing facial massage and steam cleanse, before she donned her latex gloves and proceeded to annihilate my face as she began the “extraction” process. Late for another appointment, I was forced to immediately hop on the E train down to the Meat Packing district, my face red, raw and blotchy, looking exactly like Samantha Jones in Sex and the City after she has the ill fated chemical peel. Young children were staring at me and tourists looked confused/sympathetic as it looked like I had genuinely been assaulted. Had I have had the “procedure” in Dublin, no way would I have casually hopped on the DART. Another one of those times where I praised the anonymity of living in a big city, and thanked my lucky stars I didn’t bump into anyone I knew at my local subway station.
* It recently dawned on me: I obviously live in the States, but do I ever really “hang out” with genuine Americans? No. Sure I work with a great group of them in the restaurant and I socialize with those guys frequently after our shifts, but nine times out of ten I end up making plans to meet new and old friends from back home. In an effort to fix this looming hole in my social life and show me what I was missing, a friend insisted I attend his neighborhood block party in Staten Island. Intrigued and excited, I ventured to the mysterious fifth borough with exactly 18 bottles of Trader Joes beer. A block party is the quintessential suburban shin dig : inflatable slip n’ slides span the streets, there are ice cream trucks and candy floss stalls, older women sell raffle tickets for random trinkets and young children are running amuck because they’ve had so much soda. The curbs are lined with adults having a beer whilst kicking back in their deck chairs, catching up and reminiscing on when they themselves were the kids jacked up on Coca Cola. I really enjoyed this experience because it was an insight into what life was like growing up outside the city that I have began to call my home. Most people you meet in Manhattan weren’t born and bred there. So being involved in this celebration, where a large group of friends who grew up together still manage to reconnect on this day after all these years, felt like I was really involved in something sentimental and genuinely American. (Side note: I need to improve my beer pong skills.)
This city throws a curve ball at you every day and it’s amazing how fast you learn to adapt. I do miss Dublin, my friends, my family and THE GENERAL CRAIC a lot but I know I want to bite into the big Apple all the way down to its core. It’s not getting rid of me just yet. Starting a new job creating content for New York Fashion Week has made me feel like the big Apple I experienced over the last year is only a taster of what the orchard has to offer.
(Side note: It will never not be weird posing for photos like these – but I love clothes, styling, and dressing up so I figure it’s a good way to show off where 90% of my money goes – the other 10% goes on chocolate, naturally. And hey, at least I didn’t get hit by this bus.)
Dress: Zara // Bag: River Island // Shoes: Mango
Outfit photos: Edelle Kenny