Do I want to be a local? New York City through the eyes of a tourist

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Esmé Brachmann/Staff

When I first came to New York to start my two-month internship, I immediately went to all the touristy spots. I knew how incredibly lucky I was to have two months in this city and wanted to take in as much as possible while I was here.

I strolled through Times Square, in awe of the billboards and signs that made my eyes ache, went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and got solidly bored there after 30 minutes, looked at every face earnestly in the subway just in case a celebrity was *gasp!* taking public transportation, spent a ridiculous amount of money on a true NYC bagel (or so they said) and even saw a concert at Madison Square Garden. I didn’t fill my days with discovering hidden gems of New York City, or really with attempting to become a New Yorker at all, but instead aligned myself with the city’s thousands of tourists. Everything was so exciting and awe-inspiring to me, and I woke up every morning with anticipation of what I would see next.

As time passed, I began to get used to the city more. I was finding my way and had memorized my subway line, knew what uptown and downtown actually meant and how to follow the grid of avenues and streets. I tried hard to look like a real New Yorker, because I wanted to avoid the embarrassment of being labeled a tourist. I eradicated a few of my previous touristlike behaviors: I never pulled out my phone for directions, my face inches from the screen as I tried to make out my own blue dot, never walked up a street and then turned around because I was utterly lost, never walked without purpose and extreme speed, and never floated Times Square to friends as a “hip destination”. But strangely, while feeling more at home in the city, some of the awe and sparkle of being in New York had diminished for me. Sitting in my office chair at my internship, I thought more about my daily stressors and anxieties than the views right outside: a sea of yellow taxis and the Empire State Building shrouded in clouds. I became distracted by my daily struggles, deadlines and responsibilities. I wasn’t actively exploring and experiencing the city as much as I was before. I was, essentially, out of vacation mode; I wasn’t viewing my daily life as my daily life in New York City anymore, but rather just as my daily life.

My best friend came to visit me about halfway through my stay. Her excitement for exploring New York was infectious, and all of a sudden, I was a tourist once more. I became lost in trying to see as many sights as possible, the notes on my phone filled with links (including “50 Desserts to Eat in NYC Before You Die” or “300 Unusual Things to Do in NYC”), and I navigated for us everywhere. We began to spend money on Yelp’s winning restaurants rather than my bland home-cooked meals. I felt like a tourist again, and I found myself occasionally thinking to myself, while looking up at the never-ending expanse of skyscrapers around me: “Wow, I’m in New York City. That’s insane!”. I felt so content strolling the streets of New York with my best friend. We even visited famed filming locations, including the “Ghostbusters” warehouse and the Plaza Hotel from “Home Alone,” and I felt enamored yet again with the secrets hidden in New York at every turn. I lived in New York and knew that I was not only privileged to have this experience, but that I needed to live every day in New York to the fullest — I didn’t know when I’d be back.

After she left, I felt inspired to take a long walk around the city, decked out in walking shoes and a water bottle-filled backpack —just like a tourist. I thought about my experience in this city: the excitement, the adventure, the deadlines and the routines. I realized, looking out on the Hoboken skyline to my left and Manhattan to my right, that living every day to the fullest meant being a tourist.

The stereotype is that New Yorkers hate tourists. Residents don’t want to look like them, help them or be them. They want to be seen as locals: the people who really know their way around this city. Yet I found, through my two-month New York City journey, that tourists are actually those who embrace and admire the city as much as it should be admired. Residents might become accustomed to their daily lives, down to the point when they become enraged with wayward tourists (“Hey, I’m walking here!”). I’ve realized that from this point on, I want to be a tourist in my own home. I want to be fascinated by the world around me always, not just when I travel. Now, I will ensure that I continuously think to myself how lucky I am to be spending the summer in this incredible city. I will continuously appreciate New York’s decades of insane history and the city’s many visible and hidden gems. Despite the fact that I’m becoming more and more acquainted with this city every day, I will work hard to be a tourist.

Contact Emsé Brachmann at [email protected].