One of the things that I looked forward to my entire year in Znojmo was to come back and be in my favorite city in the world, New York City. While it’s definitely big and definitely overwhelming, my close proximity to this city my whole life makes it feel a lot like home. Amongst the millions of people and confusing labyrinth of streets there are also the memories from my entire life and of so many people in it.
Coming home from a year in a small Czech town though has meant that some of New York and the culture of people in it have lost its golden glow:
New York is really a dirty city. The streets are littered with garbage and the subway tracks sometimes literally have bags of garbage thrown down in them. I’ve started to question what it means when people literally don’t have enough respect for where they live to the point where they throw trash on it.
New York is really crowded. There are people everywhere! It’s hard to find anywhere that is truly secluded and calm. So far 2 of my favorite times since I’ve been home have been getting lost in Central Park to the point where it really felt for a moment like I was in nature. The second was when I was squished in amongst the other serious studiers at the New York Public Library. Maybe it’s the William and Mary nerd in me that made me feel at home in a silent library…
New York is also super competitive with the mile a minute pace that I definitely got thrown out of the loop from. Everyone is running around, pushing each other, and certainly not stopping to smell the roses. Also everyone is also constantly selling their image on a level of superficiality and boastfulness that isn’t found in Czech culture. While I know it’s just part of the “here” culture that I’ve never been a fan of, it’s even worse and more transparent after having been away for a while.
New York is the epicenter of American cultural confusion. After traveling throughout the distinctly culturally defined European countries with hundreds of years of history, it’s hard to feel connected to too much. Because we all come from different places and have lots of different backgrounds and priorities, our culture is a huge mess of perspectives and traditions that then lends itself to latching onto whatever next best thing catches our fancy. So in a city that has so many people of so many cultures, the newest and most interesting things seem to be the ones that can blend and showcase as many tastes in interesting ways.
I journeyed with a friend allllll the way to the top of Manhattan to go to The Cloisters, a cool part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is a replicated medieval European cloister that is composed of actual parts of medieval European churches and monasteries. Some stained glass windows some France next to a doorway from the Netherlands. It was pretty cool and even cooler that a few blocks away was Washington Heights. Sitting in the main cloister garden was so peaceful, yet my friend and I had to laugh when we overheard a tour guide talking about how monks would typically use this type of area. It took a moment to remind ourselves that real monks had never actually peacefully read the Bible in this exact part of Manhattan. It was even funnier to see the number of European tourists who had come here to see an American piecemeal re-creation of things they can probably find much closer to their home countries.
For the past few weeks even the allure of access to a gazillion types of food wasn’t persuading me. But, slowly the amazing parts of NYC and the rush and excitement is starting to pull me in once again. There’s so much diversity of people! I’ve noticed that I hear conversations in other languages being spoken almost as often as when I hear English ones. And everywhere is so colorful. I’ve had one group of Czech friends come visit me for one night and I couldn’t even imagine how shocking the rush of this city must be to them. It’s nothing like anywhere in Europe. Next week Jana’s family will come visit me and I’m interested to see how big of a culture shock it will be. I know it has been for me and I only have been gone one year.
To finish, today I had one of those moments when I remember how cool of a place New York really is. I was walking down the street wearing a new dress, a birthday present my dad brought me back from his trip to Thailand. When stopped at a light, the woman behind me gave me a small compliment about the dress. As she kept walking behind me, I started a conversation (and of course complimented the cool sleek black long dress she was wearing too J ). Maybe if I had never spent a year in Znojmo, I might not have said anything, but the fact that someone in this fast paced city, in the age of Tinder and online friendships, would actually talk to a stranger in NYC restored my faith in this crazy American world I’ve been thrown back into.
As we walked about 10 blocks together, I learned a lot about a really cool person. She happened to be the same age as me, was originally from Ghana via university in Massachusetts, and had similar life interests. While our conversation started pretty much on the surface, we slowly and slowly uncovered information about ourselves until the point where it was a bit sad to finally part. When you’re abroad these kinds of spontaneous friendships happen all the time, but it’s hard to give strangers a chance when there’s a whole safety net of friends and family available. It was a nice reminder of how many interesting people live in this city and the new possibilities for this year. Look what can happen when you talk to people versus just busily thinking something in your head. More to come…