No matter how advanced we would like to think that we are, we are basically simple creatures. According to Maslow, one of our primary needs is the sense of belonging.
So maybe we all like to think that we are allured by the unknown. That we long for the ever-winding road around the bend, the secret garden behind the iron gates, the shimmering horizon in the distance. While all we ever do is to plant the flag and make base camp as soon as possible. We get to a new place, unpack our things and start figuring out the streets, stores, hangouts and neighbors. We love that. Even if we’re just on a two-week beach vacation, we need to stake a claim and make the place ours.
People move around for all different kinds of reasons, and if you’re going to America to discover something new away from home, you certainly won’t be the first. As the lyrics goes, America is the land of the free and no less than the home of the brave. More informally, translated in Babelfish or similar, those terms would surely cover the nutcases, crooks, dingbats, mavericks, dodoes and bums who have flooded this continent since the first conquistadors waded ashore. And I know I’m on to something here, as a city like New York sometimes is described as a playground for those who refuse to grow up.
If New York was a person, it would be the type your mom always warned you about and your dad would like to beat up. From own bitter experience we also know that such individuals have no problem attracting admirers. But really, why would anyone want to be FROM New York? Visiting, yes. A fling, why not. But belonging? This is where the psychological effect mentioned in the first section kicks in. To belong holds a certain attraction in itself.
So when do you know that you “belong” to a bipolar, unfaithful, hyperactive place like NYC? When can you truly call yourself a New Yorker? Even the fact that I ask myself these questions causes me a bit of pain. After all, I’m still very much of a hardcore European. Or what Americans refer to as an “International” which covers anything else but Americans. Being in New York still feels like moving through a fiction film, with all the famous buildings, places and people. If I should spot Donald Trump climbing out of his car and shuffling into Trump Tower, I’d feel like greeting him like an old pal whom I’ve known for years. Which I have, thanks to the media. And when he thinks me rude, I would simply smile like the Cheshire Cat, because I’d be convinced that it’s just a silly dream and that the next thing to happen is that I dream that I have no pants on.
But naturally, even that sensation will eventually become a routine. Same old, same old. Soon, Donald will be safe from my awe, along with the Statue of Liberty. And the whole city will be predictable, comforting, stable and dull and one walks around with the sense of belonging. However, the question still stands: When? Is it when you’ve killed the first giant cockroach in the kitchen? Or when you increasingly tend to greet people with “wazzup”? Or what about when you’re in the know about closely held little secrets of the city, as the public bathrooms in a landmark restaurant, or the hole-in-the-wall burger place hidden inside a fancy hotel? That ought to count for something? Or maybe you finally are a full-blood citizen when you realize that you eat most of your meals out on the street? The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard considers this to be the most American and degenerate activity one can possibly perform – eating something in public, leaned against the hood of a car.
As stated, this uncertainty has been gnawing on my stoic Northern psychic. Enough is quite enough. So, the other night, I finally popped the big question. At a party filled with Frenchmen, Brits, Germans, Canadians and Texans – all living in New York. When will the city open its arms?
– When you’ve lived here for ten years, honey.
– Really? Ten years? But what if …
– Ten years. That’s the rule. Then you are a real New Yorker.
_ _ _