Recently, a top Wall Street banker was taking a taxi home after a charity event in New York. The driver over-charged him, and an argument ensued. Allegedly, the driver then refused to let the banker out until he had paid the full amount. The banker allegedly took out a pen-knife and stabbed the driver in the hand, before making his escape. He has been put on leave by his firm, and now faces a number of charges.
It is up to a jury to decide on the appropriate sentencing of this case, but it certainly appears that anger was the main cause. This is only one of a series of incidents that takes place every day in what many perceive as being one of the angriest cities in the world. But has it always been this way?
New Yorkers (those that live/work in Manhattan) are commonly known for their head-spinningly paced lifestyle. They talk fast, walk fast, expect immediate answers, and don't suffer fools gladly. In a way, this has always been the charm of New York – after all, the people make a city, and it's this culture that has amused and tickled many a visitor when they are in the throes of ordering in a restaurant or deli, or buying tickets for a show.
The message is loud and clear, "Get your act together – we have no time for pleasantries; you run at our pace or you don't run at all."
But in the last few years, the charm seems to have worn off, people have become more jaded, and the way people relate to each other has become downright ugly.
As one ex-pat told me, "I made the massive mistake of bringing my baby in a stroller into Manhattan one day. In an attempt to get in front of me, one man in a suit cut me off, causing me to accidentally bump into him – he yelled and cursed at me in the street. While facing a row of steps at the subway, not one person offered to help me even when I asked. Nobody opened a door for me, even though it was clear I was struggling. Never again will I bring a stroller into that city. I felt I was in the way and had no right to be there."
That's only one story: the lack of patience in letting people off the train first, resulting in much jostling and shoving; cars paying no heed to pedestrian crossings or red lights; constant angry horn-blowing; people jumping lines; being told off if you don't move fast enough; refusal by taxi-drivers to take you if it seems out of their way . . . Even New Yorkers seems to be fed up with this new, aggressive attitude.
"It's not just the level of anger," one New Yorker says. "It's the escalation of it. An argument can go from zero to violence in a nano-second. It's like people are carrying around this big ball of anger, and the smallest incident will set them off."
One French girl told me, "I am not an angry person; I have always been quite calm and easy-going. But in New York, I feel angry all the time. Every time someone slams a door in my face, pretends to not understand my accent, or pushes me on the subway, just adds to my frustration, until I feel like I'm going to internally combust!"
So, what do New Yorkers have to be angry about? 9/11? Granted. Terrible healthcare system? Absolutely. Frustratingly backward banking system? There is probably a case there. But, from a cultural perspective, perhaps the recession has had more of an impact on New York than other cities around the globe.
Many Americans have been brought up to believe in the American Dream, where hard work and sacrifice will result in fulfilment and happiness. Arguably, nowhere is this concept more achievable than in New York. As the song goes, "if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere," and for decades, people from all over the world have flocked to the big city to make their dreams come true. But what happens when the dream is taken away from them?
New Yorkers have a strong work-ethic; they work longer hours than many other major cities, they spend less time socializing and more time commuting. It's not called the "city that never sleeps" for nothing. In fact, New Yorkers have sacrificed an awful lot to achieve the American Dream. Now that the recession has taken away their jobs, their houses, and investments for the future, it seems as if all the hard work has been for nothing. In short, their dreams have been shattered.
But, it is not all doom and gloom; New Yorkers also have a reputation for tenacity, determination, and uniting in times of crisis. No doubt the anger will subside, the passion will return, and the American Dream will become attainable once more. Only time will tell, but will New Yorkers have the patience to wait?