Three months ago, I moved to New York City. Two months and 29 days ago, I got in my first argument with a New Yorker. I’m told that may be a record. Now, to be fair, it was my fault—I had had the audacity to cross when he was at a stop sign, unaware of the New York tradition that the right-of-way goes to whoever the fuck’s driving the 4,000-pound death machine.
However, because I was so fresh-faced in the city that never sleeps (or, apparently, admits they’re wrong), I was basically bulldozed and spent the next two showers imagining all the ways I could have schooled that asshole in the art of skilled debate. I’ve picked up some tricks since then, so next time you get caught in an argument with these guys, here’s what you do.
Dare that asshole to get out of the car
Most arguments are gonna come on the road. New Yorkers are mostly lovely people until they get behind the wheel of a car, all of which are presumably possessed by the spirit of Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso. Half of the drivers in the city aren’t even going anywhere; they’re just trolling up and down 7th looking for somebody to yell at.
And they’ll find you. You’ll say something innocuous like, “Nice stop, bro,” after that Buick almost clips you trying to roll through the stop sign as you cross Manhattan Ave. Then it’s on.
First, they’re going to call you a cocksucker. It’s meant to be an insult. It’s not much of one, and let’s be real, it might even be true, but humor them. They need this. They’ll shake their high-vis-clad fist out the window and as you continue to walk away, they’ll shout out “I’ll sock you right in the fuckin’ face.”
Here’s where you win. Stop, look at them, and say, “No, you won’t.” Then, continue walking.
There are two ways this can end. They might drive off, squealing their wheels and huffing their way back home, in which case, congratulations! You’ve won the argument. Alternatively, they may get out of the car and follow through by beating your ass two ways from Tuesday. However, if you’re running into the kind of guy who will leave their running car in the middle of the street so they can kick your ass, then you’re probably in the worst parts of town, and you never know, maybe an even bigger asshole will steal this guy’s car while he’s occupied, in which case, congratulations, you’ve sort of won the argument again.
Or you’ve just run into the NYPD, in which case, you were never going to win that argument to begin with.
Get the hell out of there
Besides right outside my bedroom window at 2 AM every goddamn morning for some reason, most fights take place in the subway. I dunno, there’s something about being forced into close proximity to literally thousands of other sweaty people blowing their noses right in your neck that seems to set hotheads off.
Maybe you accidentally walked through Showtime’s act and they’ve decided you’ve ruined their routine. Maybe you’ve made the cardinal sin of making eye contact—or, God forbid, filmed them—without the intention of giving them that $20 you know they saw as you were putting away your Metro Card. Maybe that guy casually sipping vodka from a paper bag at 10 in the morning on the 5 has a lot of thoughts on immigrants that he wants to share, and you look just swarthy enough to draw his ire.
Sorry guy, I wish I had some tips for you, but there’s no such thing as winning that argument. Get the hell out of there. Retreat. It’s fight or flight, and on a crowded train car the other party sure as hell doesn’t plan on leaving, you can tell what’s gonna come next. Nothing good happens when you try to engage. You may get the soul slapped out of you. You could even be pushed on the tracks by the guy you’ve just told to stop pissing on the stairs.
There’s no shame in a strategic car jump. You can walk to work and tell your coworkers what happened, and rest assured, it’s happened to them too. You’ll blather on for a bit about how annoying the subway can be, and it’ll be out of your mind for good. And that’s a bit like winning in my book.
God help us when the MTA decides to add articulating trains to their lines. There will be no escape from Showtime.
Try to confuse them with faulty directions
When you can’t run and you can’t hide, you’ll have to talk your way out. This can be daunting at first—New Yorkers love to talk a mile a minute about nothing in particular, so don’t worry if you get a little confused. It’s a trick. If they can trip up your words, then you’ve already lost, and they can saunter down on their way, confident that if they have enough of these small victories each day, they can return to their $3000, 400 square foot apartment assured that for all the missed rent and shattered dreams, they’re at least doing better than somebody else.
It’s the quintessential New Yorker attitude: you want to see people (your friends, at least, succeed), but you don’t want to see them do better than you. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, but not everybody’s gonna make it here.
One way New Yorkers like to validate themselves as New Yorkers is by knowing how to get around. It’s the ultimate contradiction: for as much as New Yorkers hate tourists, clogging up the sidewalks with their clumsy maps and stupid crocs, they walk a little slower past them, hoping they’ll be asked how to get to the World Trade Center from here just so they can be as helpful as possible, thus leaving the tourists in a better place while feeling even more superior.
So when you really need to put a New Yorker in their place, just confuse them. Confidently give your directions, thus correcting them, and assure them that your route will get you there far faster. It doesn’t need to be true. It probably won’t be. These New Yorkers know their shit. But if you can plant that seed of doubt, it’s going to stick with your argument partner until they can get home and verify with Google Maps that you were wrong. And by then, you’ll be long gone. Mission accomplished.
And hey, if that doesn’t work, you can always just insult their neighborhood pizza place and run away.