The Accidental Tourist


‘You can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Midwest out of the girl.’

Even though I’ve lived in New York longer than I have existed anywhere else, I am often mistaken for a tourist. (Maybe it’s my ‘Honest Face’.)

I can be swathed in head-to-toe black, topped off with the intimidating authentic motorcycle jacket I bought at the intimidating authentic motorcycle shop in L.A., and still get asked if I’m enjoying my stay.

Yes, that's me. In the scary motorcycle jacket. And yes, I do look like a tourist. Especially since we were doing a very Touristy Thing at the time: going to see the Rockettes

Yes, that’s me in the motorcycle jacket. At the Radio City Christmas Show with two people actually born in New York

Once when I had a freelance gig at Ogilvy, which was then located in Midtown West, I swear I got asked every single day on my way to work if I wanted to ride one of those double-decker tourist buses in Times Square. And it was the same guy who asked me, too. When the gig ended, I kind of missed him.

Thanks, but no thanks.

So. Do you want to ride a double-decker bus, or what?

This stuff happens even when I’m wearing my fiercest no-nonsense ‘don’t-mess-with-me’ face. I’m often asked by real tourists/visitors about this face — why it is that New Yorkers all look so, well, unfriendly. ‘I asked this lady for directions today, and she was really nice!‘ they’ll say with great surprise.

Well. Think about it. In other cities, people get to hide in their cars. Here, when we commute, we’re out there on the street. We’re thinking about what to say in the meeting, or what to fix for supper, or why the heck our husbands didn’t kiss us good-bye. So, naturally, our faces say we don’t want to be messed with. When actually we’re all just big softies underneath. Well, um, maybe not all of us. And maybe not softies.

Before I get carried away, here’s another example (among many, trust me) of my being mistaken for a Visitor From The Hinterland. On this particular occasion, I was walking home from Midtown when a young man came up to me on the corner of Park and 57th. ‘Miss,’ he said, using a pitiful tone of voice. ‘I’m trying to get home to Illinois, but I’ve lost my ticket. Do you think you could help me out?’

Well. I adjusted my don’t-mess-with-me face, and strode on. Fast forward to the next day. Same corner, same young man, same pitiful tone. ‘Miss, I’m trying to get home to Indiana, but I’ve lost my ticket. Do you think you could help me out?’

Me: ‘I thought you lived in Illinois.’

One more thing. I may look like a tourist, but I know how to talk like a New Yorker. It’s something I picked up, oh, about a week after I moved here. You take any normal, benign sentence, like ‘Do you want to have lunch?’, and stick a ‘so’ on the front and an ‘or what?‘ on the end: ‘So, do you want to have lunch, or what?

See? It’s fun. Go ahead and try it. Any sentence. ‘Is your boyfriend coming over?’ becomes ‘So, is your boyfriend coming over, or what?‘ ‘Do you like avocados?’ becomes ‘So, do you like avocados, or what?

I could do this all day. But it’s time to get a wiggle on. Now where did I put my don’t-mess-with-me face?

New York City. April 2016


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37 thoughts on “The Accidental Tourist

    • True. But the ‘or what?’ on the end is the New Yorker clincher. Go ahead; try any sentence. Soon you’ll be slapping taxi hoods like Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy (!)

  1. I love that when I go to India there are some that can tell by my punjabi that I am in fact a tourist!!!! But I can look the part!!!

  2. josypheen

    I have this too!

    I think I have one of those country bumpkin faces. People are always happy to approach me for money or chats. I’ve lived in London for longer than my tiny village now, but I still feel like a countryside girl.

    • Love that this happens in London too (tho not surprised). All I can say is that I’m actually quite pleased to be mistaken for a yokel (instead of a local) — except, of course, when I’m approached for $$$ (!)

  3. When I interned there I was so pleased to find New Yorkers weren’t the jerks all my Midwest friends (who had never visited NYC) told me they were. Love NYC!

  4. Please tell me you still have the motorcycle jacket!! I also want you to know, I literally said out loud, “Soooo, do you like avocados, or what?” The cat had no reply, just looked at me with his New Yorker face. 😉

  5. When I’m a tourist in another state, and I say I’m from Detroit, I always see the same look of shock and concern, mixed with awe, as the person asks, “Isn’t it dangerous there?

    Or, if I’m in NY, “So, is it dangerous there, or what?

      • No, I smile sweetly and try to be Detroit’s ambassador of not-dangerous.

        I have seen that face though. Everyone on the subway wears it. They stare straight ahead with their face on and pretend they don’t see all the craziness going on around them. Learned survival I suppose. Meanwhile I’m looking all around and enjoying the cheap entertainment.

    • Hahahaha!!! Actually, when I used to go back home to the Midwest to visit my parents, someone would invariably ask “who wants to go on a Walmart run?” The Walmart in my small town had, basically, taken the place of Main Street — my Mom would run into all her friends there. Hmmm…I feel a blog post coming on (!) Thanks for the comment, and for the idea, Lucy! Oh, BTW, if you come to the States, remember that there are no Walmarts in NYC (!)

  6. So, is this a funny post, or what? That’s funny to be mistaken for a tourist in the city you live in. That’s like someone in Wal-Mart confusing you for an employee and asking you where the garden section is.

  7. I only visited America as a child and would love to go back. I will remember that I may need a ‘don’t mess with me’ face for some parts! I guess its the same in some parts of UK too.
    Amanda. #weekendblogshare

    • Hi Amanda! Thanks for taking a ‘tour’ to my site. You are right about some parts of the US needing a ‘don’t mess with me’ face. But if you venture into the Heartland, where I am from, you can definitely let down your guard. Happy travels, and thanks for stopping by. xoxo

  8. We are always surprised and pleased to find out someone was actually born and raised in Arizona. When I did visit New York I did have to put on a don’t mess with me face, especially in Grand Central Station. Enjoyed this immensely, Alice.

  9. Cathy

    I often hear “Say, you’re not from around here are you?” And when I go home my children say, “Mom, you can’t act like you are still in NYC!” You can’t win!

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