'Nametag Day' project hopes New York a little friendlier
The stereotype of the cold, hard New Yorker is one that a city group hopes to thaw.
An outfit of civic-minded artsy types plans to distribute at least 30,000 — and perhaps up to 200,000 — free nametags in New York on June 1, as a mass conversation starter in the city that (allegedly) never speaks.
The interactive art project “will break down the small barriers between people” and propagate good will among the city’s residents, said creator Michael Morgenstern, 27, a Williamsburg filmmaker. Morgenstern also plans to have people upload documentary footage of the event to nametagday.com that he and other volunteers will “crowd edit.”
If the project seems familiar, that’s because you’ve heard it before: Citywide nametags were a central plot point of a 1993 episode of “Seinfeld,” in which Elaine Benes proposes the idea to her boyfriend, who is an aide to Mayor David Dinkins.
Still, given that a 2012 Travel + Leisure magazine survey of 40,000 readers found NYC to be the rudest city in the world — with the magazine referring to the city’s “flamboyant, bird-flipping spirit,” — perhaps we need some subtle social lubrication.
“It’s cute, it’s friendly and it’s fun,” Gail Morse, director of programs and volunteers for Big Apple Greeter, said of “Nametag Day.” Big Apple Greeter’s 300 volunteers escort visitors through NYC absolutely free just to be ... nice.
NYC’s rep as a hostile hub of middle finger-flipping-fighters is unmerited, said a clearly rankled Morse. “New York is one of the friendliest places in the world,” and New Yorkers are the least xenophobic, most accepting people anywhere, she insisted: It’s just that, well, if you want attention, you have to speak up. “People misunderstand our hurried pace for rudeness. If we acknowledged everyone around us all the time, we’d never get anything done!” Morse protested. Also, have you noticed it’s kind of, like, crowded here? “Not approaching or looking at you is our way of respecting people’s privacy,” Morse argued.
Philip Kasinitz, a sociology professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, agreed.
“We don’t have elaborate norms of civility, like saying hello to everyone in the elevator,” because it’s not practical to do so in such a dense metropolis, Kasinitz explained. Also, we’re such a diverse mix of cultures that “you can’t take for granted that your norms are the ones everyone else shares,” he added.
Don’t try to tell New Yorkers they need to work on their interpersonal skills.
“It’s the out of towners who are rude!” protested Michael Allison, 52, an art director from Murray Hill, recounting an insensitive jostling by tourists.
Tourists, he theorized, have heard NYC is unfeeling and aggressive and behave badly in the belief “they have to be rude to get along here.”
Our rudeness rap derives from the high crime 1970s, when everyone was on guard, but is no longer deserved, opined David Rosenthal, 49, a human resources administrator from Chelsea. Rosenthal said he would happily don a nametag June 1 because “I’m friendly!”
No one can convince Mamar Aidaoui, 32, a computer science student and halal food cart vendor who lives in Bay Ridge that New Yorkers are boors. Aidaoui arrived in NYC from Algeria with $40 about 20 months ago. Within a week “I had money in my pocket,” because a New Yorker gave him a job. Food cart customers generously helped him polish up his English. “When I came I knew nobody,” marveled Aidaoui. But now, he said, “I have 100 friends! I love New York!”
How you can be less rude
1. Actually hold an elevator door for someone rather than feverishly hitting “close door”
2. Instead of booing A-Rod, chant, “It’s OK, you’ll get them next time”
3. When a tourist asks for directions say, “Have a lovely stay. In fact, walk as slowly as you’d like!”
4. Bring a mop and clean up your subway station
5. Don't lay your laptop, coffee, board game etc. on the three subway seats next to you
6. Not only clean up after your dog, buff and shine the street
7. When paying for a parking ticket, send a thank-you note saying, “I’m so happy I can help support the city’s financial well-being :)”
8. After getting out of a cab, ask your driver to give you a call if he or she ever needs a ride