If you're a New Yorker...
by John Cowan
Born in Jersey, John moved to New York about as soon as he could, has been there for forty years, and isn't leaving except feet-first. His friends say that he knows at least something about almost everything; his enemies, if any, think he knows far too much about far too much.
See the other culture tests. Items identical to the American culture test are grayed out.
(This doesn't really apply to the 36% of New Yorkers who are foreign-born.)
If you're a New Yorker
- You believe deep down in the First Amendment, guaranteed by the
government and perhaps by God.
- You're familiar with the same media personalities as any other American.
A lot of TV shows and movies are set in New York; you laugh or get annoyed
if it's obvious they weren't also filmed there.
- You know how baseball, basketball, and American football are played.
If you're male, you can argue intricate points about their rules. On the other hand (and unless you're under about 40), you don't care that much for soccer.
- You count yourself fortunate if you get three weeks of vacation a
year. You expect to work long hours, though you may be able to work from home
at least part of the time.
If you died tonight...
- You're fairly likely to believe in God; if not, you've certainly been
approached by people asking whether you know that you're going to Heaven.
- You think of McDonald's, Burger King, KFC etc. as cheap food.
- You can find Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mexican, or almost any other kind of restaurant in
easy walking distance, at almost any time of day or night. (If you want Tibetan, you may
have to take the subway.)
- You rent an apartment, or possibly own a condo or cooperative apartment, for which
you pay far too much. Other Americans would think your apartment was the size of a couple of
closets, but to you it's home.
- You own a cellphone and a TV. You probably have a landline phone too, unless you are
under 30. Your place is heated in the winter and has its own
bathroom. You do your laundry in a laundromat, or possibly send it out to one and have it delivered
back. You don't kill your own food. You don't have a dirt floor. You eat sitting on chairs,
but not necessarily at a table. You get take-out or delivered food a lot if
you can afford it.
- You don't consider insects, dogs, cats, monkeys, or guinea pigs to be food.
- A bathroom typically has both a bathtub/shower and a toilet. If you live in
an old apartment, it may have the bathtub in the kitchen. In really old buildings,
the toilet may be in the hall.
- It seems natural to you that the telephone system, railroads, airlines, and
power companies are privately run; indeed, you can hardly picture things working differently.
- You expect, as a matter of course, that the phones will work. Getting a new phone is routine.
However, pay phones are usually broken and nobody uses them.
- You find a one-party system natural in local politics. You are a registered Democrat, unless
you live in Staten Island, in which case you are a registered Republican. You expect the local
politicians of both parties to be responsive to business, and concerned with all classes,
though not necessarily equally. You find parliamentary systems (such as Italy's) inefficient and comic.
- You may or may not expect to hear socialism seriously defended. Communism, fuhgeddaboudit.
- Between "black" and "white" there are no other races, but you expect black
people to come in many different colors.
Non-Hispanic whites are less than 50% of the city's population. Christians are only about 60%,
and there are more Jews in the city than anywhere else except Israel. There are no less than
six Chinatowns, but when you say "Chinatown" you usually mean the one in Lower Manhattan.
- You share the city with people who make way more money than you do as well as way less.
This seems normal to you.
- You think most problems could be solved if only people would put aside their prejudices
and work together.
- You take a strong court system for granted, even if you don't use it. You know that
if you went into business and had problems with a customer, partner, or supplier, you
could take them to court.
- You'd respect someone who speaks French, German, or Japanese — but you very likely don't
yourself speak them well enough to communicate with a monolingual foreigner. You're somewhat
likely to speak Spanish; if you are brown-skinned, everyone will assume you do.
You think the schools should teach kids English.
- It's not all that necessary to learn foreign languages anyway. You expect everyone to
speak English, but you are used to hearing conversations all around you that you don't
understand. If you grew up here, you know other Americans look down on you because of your accent.
- You think a tax level of 60% is scandalously high.
- School is free through high school (at least, it's an option, even if you went to private
school). College isn't, unless you get a scholarship, but there are fairly cheap schools for
- College is (normally, and excluding graduate study) four years long.
Everybody knows that
- Mustard comes in jars. Shaving cream comes in cans. Ordinary milk comes in plastic jugs, but
organic milk still comes in cardboard boxes.
- The day of the month comes second: 9/11/2001. (And you know what happened on that date.)
- The decimal point is a dot. Certainly not a comma.
- A billion is a thousand times a million.
- World War II was a just war, and (granted all the suffering of course) ended all right.
It was a time when the country came together and did what was right.
- You expect marriages to be made for love, not arranged by third parties. Getting married by a
clerk at City Hall is typical, but not a requirement; some marriages happen in church.
You have a best man and a maid or matron of honor at the wedding — a friend or a sibling.
And, naturally, a man gets only one wife at a time.
- If a man has sex with other men, you don't know what he is. He may not know either.
- Once you're introduced to someone (well, besides the President and other lofty figures),
you can call them by their first name.
- If you're a woman, you don't go to the beach topless.
- A hotel room has a private bath.
- You'd rather a film be subtitled than dubbed. You can go to as many foreign films as you
want. It's routine to have half a dozen or more movie theaters in easy walking distance.
- You seriously expect to be able to transact business, or deal with the government, without
paying bribes. Unless you are in the construction industry, in which case you pay
"expediters" who pay the bribes for you.
- If a politician has been cheating on his wife, you wouldn't care.
- You support gay marriage. If you're under 30, it seems crazy not to.
If you are a parent, you just want your kids to marry happily.
- Just about any store, no matter how small it is, will take your credit card,
but not your personal check.
- A company can fire just about anybody it wants, unless it discriminates by doing so.
- It's unpredictable how you like your bacon, and if a restaurant gives it to you the wrong
way, you won't hesitate to send it back. The same applies to any other kind of food.
You often order food or drink in a very specific way with lots of details that you insist on:
"Coffee very light with half and half, at least one-third half and half, and two
Equals on the side."
- Labor Day is in the fall. If you are a leftist, you may know about International
Labor Day too.
Contributions to world civilization
- You see the same movies and musical groups as all other Americans. See above.
- You count on excellent medical treatment. You know you're not going to die of cholera
or other Third World diseases. You expect very strong measures to be taken to save very ill
babies or people in their eighties. You think dying at 65 would be a tragedy.
- You went over US history, and some European, in school, Not much Russian, Chinese, or Latin
American. You couldn't name ten US interventions in Latin America.
- You expect the military to fight wars (which you generally are against), not get involved
- Your country has never been conquered by a foreign nation. Your city used to belong
to the Dutch, but that was a very long time ago.
- You're used to a wide variety of choices for almost anything you buy. However, your
supermarkets are smaller than those monstrosities the rest of the United States has.
You think it's normal to buy meat at a meat market, fish at a fish market, vegetables
at an open-air greenmarket, and other groceries at a
- You still measure things in feet, pounds, and gallons, except wine and soda.
- You are not a farmer. Obviously.
- Comics basically come in two varieties: newspaper (and web) comics and magazines; the latter
pretty much all feature superheroes.
- Your city still has three competing newspapers.
- The people who appear on the most popular talk shows are mostly entertainers, politicians,
or rather strange individuals. Certainly not, say, authors.
- If you drive, it's on the right side of the road. You stop at red lights (what do you mean,
"even if nobody's around"? Someone is always around.) If you're a pedestrian (and you are),
you cross the street whenever and wherever you think you won't actually be run down.
- You think of Canada as a pleasant, peaceful, but rather dull country. You probably couldn't
explain why the Canadians didn't join the other British colonies in rebelling against King George.
- You don't own a car; what would you do with one, fold it up and put it in your pocket?
If you were born in the city, you probably don't even know how to drive. You go places
by subway train, bus, taxi (see below), commuter train, or on foot. You walk a lot, unless
you are very young or very old. Your state issues non-driver's licenses for all the non-drivers
who need hard IDs. You use as much gasoline per capita as the average American did in 1920.
- The police are armed, but not with submachine guns.
- If a woman is plumper than the average, it doesn't improve her looks.
- The biggest meal of the day is in the evening.
- The places people most often make jokes about are Hoboken, Jersey City, or Jersey in general.
You don't say "New Jersey", even if you come from there. Manhattanites talk about
"the bridge and tunnel crowd", meaning anyone who doesn't live in Manhattan; this is not
- There's parts of the city you definitely want to avoid at night. However, you know the
crime rate has dropped a lot since the 1970s (or 1990s), and you are proud of this and think
people who see the whole city as a deathtrap are ... uninformed.
Outside the Beltway
- You feel that your kind of people aren't being listened to enough in Washington.
- Even though the official inflation rate is low, you still seem to pay too much for
everything. You know that official unemployment figures are a joke, especially for
minorities and young people.
- You don't care very much what family someone comes from.
- The normal thing, when a couple dies, is for their estate to be divided equally between
their children. If they have an estate, that is.
- You think of opera and ballet as rather elite entertainments, but you can see as many plays
as you want: it would be easy (if you had the money) to see a different play every
day except Mondays, indefinitely. Broadway shows are for tourists and people on expense
- Christmas is in the winter. Unless you're Jewish or Muslim, you spend it with your family,
give presents, and put up a tree.
- You may think the government is too powerful. You probably also think it doesn't do
enough for you and your family.
- You'd be hard pressed to name the capital of your own state (unless you are specially
interested in state politics), never mind any other capital except Washington.
- You aren't familiar with Mafalda, Lucky Luke, Corto Maltese, Milo Manara, Guido Crepax,
Gotlib, or Moebius. If you're under 40, though, you're familiar with some manga and/or anime.
- You've left a message at the beep many times, unless you are under 25, in which case
you avoid making phone calls like the plague and expect your parents to make them for you.
- Taxis are generally operated by immigrants, who are often deplorably ignorant about the city.
However, you usually know how to get where you are going, and most drivers will listen to your
instructions. You think of taxis as expensive, even though they actually aren't by American
- You take unemployment insurance, Social Security, and Medicare or Medicaid for granted.
- If you want to be a doctor, you need to get a bachelor's first.
- There sure are a lot of lawyers.
Space and time
- If you have an appointment, you'll mutter an excuse if you're ten minutes late, and apologize
profusely if it's fifteen minutes. An hour late is almost inexcusable. However, you expect to
wait a long time in a doctor's office or government office. You have a lot of practice at
"standing on line", which is what you call it, for one thing or another.
- If you're talking to someone you don't know well, you get uncomfortable if they approach
closer than about two feet. You accept crowding on subways and buses even to the point of
intimate bodily contact, but don't think of that as a social situation.
- You don't expect to bargain for anything, but if you do, it's
largely a matter of finding the hidden point that's the buyer's minimum.
- Once you're past college, you very rarely simply show up at someone's place. People have
to invite each other over — especially if a meal is involved.
- When you negotiate, you are polite, of course, but it's only good business to play hardball.
However, your idea of "polite" is other Americans' idea of "rude". In particular, you
don't look at people when you pass them in the street — being ignored is the only kind of privacy
many New Yorkers have.
- If you have a business appointment or interview with someone,
you expect to have that person to yourself, and the business shouldn't take more than an hour or so.
If you're under 50...
- You're on Facebook, though you're not sure how much you like it.
- You feel like something's wrong if you aren't connected to the web. You routinely use it to shop, get directions, check facts, and connect with friends.
- You have no real expectation that jobs, wages, and living
standards are getting better for people like you.