The Trader: In Manhattan, nail maintenance is a chore

New York's the sort of place that makes everyone so impatient and rude - and it's catching

MY CABBIE for the journey from JFK airport to Manhattan had obviously been hand-picked at immigration. Some sharp-eyed official had spotted that his grasp of English was minimal: just: "I love this country," and: "Wherezat?". And he turned out to have no sense of direction. "Go drive a New York taxi," they had told him, and off he had gone.

To be fair, the two-hour traffic jam into the city was probably beyond my driver's control. Unfortunately, locating my hotel was beyond him, too. After driving round Manhattan for another half-an-hour, it was clear he had no idea where my hotel was. Poor thing, I thought, that grid system can be terribly confusing can't it, what with Third Street being next to Fourth Street and so on.

Then we turned a corner and, there, more by luck than anything else, was the Waldorf. Mind you, after a few days here, I don't blame anyone for not doing a local version of The Knowledge. You'd need full body armour before you'd dare venture onto the Manhattan streets on a moped with a clipboard.

Apart from the potholes, the worst hazard is the in-line skaters - crouched, demonic figures all in black with urban-warrior face-masks and serious "attitood". What this means, in effect, is that they will mow you down as soon as look at you through their wrap-around mirrored glasses, and I've laddered two pairs of expensive tights already from much-too-close encounters.

But actually, it's not just the skaters who have gone short on the manners front. New York's the sort of place that makes everyone so impatient and rude - and it's catching. After just a few days here, I find myself drumming my fingers on the nearest surface and muttering: "C'mon, c'mon," whenever I have to wait more than a nanosecond for anything.

Unfortunately for my nerves, this sort of thing happens fairly often, since rampant capitalism brings with it rampant consumer choice. Consequently, the person in front of you in the sandwich shop will be ordering "tuna on rye ciabbatta, half-fat mayo, rocket, lo-salt, hold the pepper, dill pickle on the side, tall skinny latte, half almond-half hazelnut, extra froth, cinnamon mocha top" when they could be having cheese and pickle on brown bread and a Nescafe.

Suddenly I'm not a bit surprised by the story of the old British duchess who is supposed to've fought off muggers with her umbrella. She'd probably just been trying to get a simple cup of tea.

Then there's all the keeping up of appearances. In London, you get your hair and nails done and think of it as a treat, and what with meeting friends for drinks, you only make it to the gym once a week. Here in New York you have your hair styled daily and regular nail maintenance sessions and think of it as a chore, and what with going to the gym every night, you have no time to make any friends.

Choice, we are told, is freedom, so how come everyone here has the look of people running on quicksand, afraid to stop moving in case they are sucked under? You'd think all this choice would make people happy. You can't help wondering, though, whether anyone would actually choose to collect their laundry at 4am if they weren't working 14-hour days. It's not so much freedom as self-serfdom.

You'd think that all this manic activity would result in manic achievement. Not if our New York office is anything to go by. There, sitting at a spare desk in the corner, I feel as if I'm at the eye of a tornado that's whirring about me.

There must be speed in the water supply or something, I think to myself, until I step away for a screen break. As I disappear round the corner, the air behind me calms and I hear a voice say: "It's OK, she's gone. Who wants to play Grand Theft Auto?"

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