I was born and raised in southwest Brooklyn in a middle-class enclave of Italian and Irish Catholic families. Go one neighborhood over, and you’ll feel like you’re in China. That’s the thing about Brooklyn: Every neighborhood is different and is its own world entirely.
So which Brooklyn is the true Brooklyn? Is it the hipsters who have taken over parts of the city? The generations that have battled it out in the housing projects? The waves of immigrants who created the cultural characteristics that define each neighborhood? Or is it the people like me whose families have lived here for generations?
It’s never been easy to pinpoint. Yet despite all these differences and newcomers, there are some things that would piss off someone who is really from Brooklyn, no matter the neighborhood:
Ask us where we’re really from.
It’s difficult to find someone who was born and raised in the City, but the same isn’t true for Brooklyn. The “where are you really from” game is a good way to piss off someone from Brooklyn:
Me: “Where are you guys from?”
Hipsters: “Brooklyn…well, [the middle of nowhere] originally. Where are you from?”
Hipsters: “Ok, but where are you really from?”
Yes, we do exist, we are very territorial, and we are everywhere.
Ask us if Brooklyn is, like, the ghetto.
People commonly associate Brooklyn with gangstas, shootings, and stabbings, Jay-Z — which is a compliment anyway — or anything dangerous. That’s not what Brooklyn is; those are just parts of the whole. Brooklyn is an enormous city, and like every city in the ENTIRE world, it has its good and its bad parts.
Tell us that Brooklyn is so hipster.
If it’s not ghetto, then it’s hipster. More people are starting to associate Brooklyn as being the mecca of hipster culture because of Williamsburg. Their big beards and paisley shirts, combat boots with skirts and artisan cheeses don’t represent what Brooklyn is all about. Again: Brooklyn is huge. There is more to it than one group of people.
Disrespect the stoop.
I remember when my dad dropped me off at college in Pennsylvania, he said to me, “Tell your friends you hang out on your stoop. See what they say.” It was then I learned that a stoop is unique to Brooklyn.
Growing up, if I wanted to find my friends, I could find them hanging out, sitting, or playing manhunt on someone’s stoop. That’s just what we did — gangs of us congregated on one another’s stoops. It wasn’t just like we owned the block; we owned the world. Our lives unfolded on those stoops.
Ask us if Brooklyn is a part of New York City.
People tend to think Brooklyn is New York City’s neighbor (especially taxi drivers, who deny us rides and act like driving from the City to Brooklyn is crossing an international border). Actually, Brooklyn is New York City. New York City is made up of five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island (which really only semi-counts).
Call the City “Manhattan.”
Manhattan is not referred to as Manhattan; it’s the City. Yes, Brooklyn is a city, but don’t let that confuse you. It’s “I’m going into the City,” not “I’m going into Manhattan.”
Tell us that pizza and/or bagels are just as good in [insert somewhere that isn’t Brooklyn] as they are in Brooklyn.
Don’t ever insult our pizza and bagels by trying to compare them to anywhere else’s. Ours are the best — all we’ll tell you is that the secret is in the water. For that matter: Don’t try to compare any of our food to yours. It’s an argument you’ll lose.
Mess with our parking spots.
Parking is a constant struggle here, and no spot is as precious as the spot directly in front of your house. There is an unspoken law that the spot in front of your house belongs to only you. God help you if you break that law.
Tell us that life is better in the suburbs.
Don’t ever try to tell us that life is better out in the suburbs where there is ‘space.’ What the hell is space? There is no such thing as space in Brooklyn; we live on top of each other, and everybody knows everyone else’s business. We learn early on that anywhere that’s not well lit — like the suburbs — is a place not to trust. Also, if you have to get in your car to go anywhere, then you’re too far.
Say things like, “How you doin?” or “BROOKLYN IN THE HOUSE!” when you meet us.
Sometimes I hate telling people I’m from Brooklyn because they’ll cup their hands around their mouths and let out this long “BROOOOOKLYN” howl. Or they try to do a Mickey Blue Eyes accent with a “How you doin?” It’s not funny: it’s annoying.
Make fun of our accents.
We have our own, accurate language here in Brooklyn. Don’t make fun of me when I say coffee (caw-fee), water (wuh-der), because (be-cauwze), or dog (dawg). We aren’t the ones with accents — you are. Also, don’t come here calling it ‘motz-a-rella’ or ‘mara-nara.’ It offends our fathers and grandfathers before us, and it sounds highly unattractive.
Photo: Michael Tapp