The cosmopolitan city turned out to be a metropolis whose problems quickly overshadowed the glamorous side of the city.
New York is considered the ultimate city. It is said that dreams come true in the US metropolis. The possibilities are endless, the buildings seem to touch the sky. Models, bankers, designers – people from a wide variety of industries can agree on New York. Tourists generally return from the Big Apple full of enthusiasm. It seems like I’m very alone in our opinion that New York isn’t the most brilliant city in the world.
Experience New York at the most beautiful winter time, over Christmas and New Year’s Eve, that’s what we had planned. We had pictures like in “Kevin – Alone in New York” in mind: the view of the snowy city or the huge Christmas tree on Rockefeller Plaza. A bit cheesy, but it can be on Christmas vacation. It is no great surprise that reality often turns out differently. But in New York it quickly becomes apparent that the city is basically being presented in a highly polished, glossed over version – by residents, tourists, in magazines, films, and series. Just the way from the airport to Manhattan reveals the other side of the city.
In Manhattan, the skyscrapers shine and in Times Square the neon signs try to encourage shopping, but only a few blocks away the garbage is piling up on the street, the rain drips through the ceiling onto the subway rails and cheap fairy lights blink wildly on the windows of all cafés and restaurants. It is amazing to see what the country, which always sees itself at the top of the world, actually looks like.
Strong contrasts: one block of houses looks modern and well-kept, but the rubbish is already piling up on the streets.
Over the sidewalks, there is a confusing mess of power cables that shimmy from one crooked power pole to the next. The cars thunder over potholes in the streets. A residential area that initially appears pretty ends abruptly in a wasteland of rubbish, dirt, and ruined buildings. The water is cleaned with chlorine – and you can taste it clearly. You feel a little reminded of conditions in developing countries, but not of the USA.
Queuing and waiting: If you want to visit the city’s hot spots or eat there, you should be patient.
It is not uncommon for you to struggle with large crowds – in almost all cafes, restaurants, and snack bars that have received very good reviews or other hype. Endless queues form in front of shops like Katz’s Delicatessen, Ivan Ramen, or the Clinton Street Baking Company, where the best pancakes in town are to be found. For culinary enjoyment, many are willing to wait up to an hour just to get a seat. Of course, you have to wait for the food. The food may well be very good, but what a shame: Shops near these places of worship are hardly noticed – and the food there is often at least as good. On Sundays and public holidays, the problem with waiting spreads to every café that is halfway nice to look at. So you can quickly lose your desire for breakfast.
Although or maybe because of the hype surrounding individual restaurants, there are only a few parts of New York where you can enjoy something like a noteworthy food culture. The usual procedure in restaurants, even in upscale pubs, seems to be characterized by speed and uncomfortability. Sitting together for a long time with a bottle of wine or a coffee hardly seems possible, because dishes and cutlery are put away as soon as you put them down.
If you don’t make any further obvious requests, the bill is already on the table. In some cases, the waiters stand impatiently next to you while you are about to make your way. What might be considered good service in the USA? Eating, especially on vacation, shouldn’t be a quick fix, but a moment to pause and enjoy. It took a while to find cafes and restaurants where you could spend time comfortably without being suspiciously eyed by the staff. They were often in SoHo, Greenwich Village, Williamsburg, and Tribeca – the districts that are decried as hipster strongholds.
No matter whether to go: the coffee is usually in a plastic cup.
In Europe the free plastic bags have been abolished, coffee mugs should become fewer and you feel guilty when you buy vegetables wrapped in plastic. Not so in the US. Everything is generally packaged to take away – the cake in the café comes in a small bag, the coffee in the mug, even though you want to stay in the shop. In a fancy French café, we were given the quiche at the table in a plastic box with a plastic fork. For the drink, there were always individually wrapped straws and pancakes the size of butter pieces, which are also individually wrapped in plastic. The mountains of rubbish piling up in the streets are no longer surprising.
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