Out of New York: Slipping and sliding on the welcome mat

LIKE a gold-rush town of old, New York has a warm embrace for new arrivals, whom it lures wide-eyed with anticipation, only to shake them down as soon as they set foot in the city.

It has been happening since immigrants from Europe began pouring into the city in their millions in the last century and it continues today as New York keeps its doors open to all-comers. While European countries do all they can to keep foreigners out, New York encourages them with open arms, down to providing an amnesty for those who slip into the country illegally.

For the unwary, however, the welcome mat can be as treacherous as a banana skin.

On arriving here seven years ago, having driven across the country from California, I was the victim of three robberies in the space of a few weeks. The first two were by common thieves, the third occurred in broad daylight when a sharply attired apartment broker walked off with a hefty commission and handed me the keys to a shoebox-sized flat.

Involuntarily relieved of my trusty Chevy Malibu, and with a considerably lighter wallet, I was assured that this was the best way to start out in New York. I was consoled by native New Yorkers who said that driving in the city is impossible anyway, and being robbed with a fountain pen is a better option than being mugged at knifepoint.

Once through the initial acclimatisation process, the city never fails to delight, astonish or appal. Its architecture is striking and overwhelming at its best, and miserable and decrepit at its worst - and all too often the two are side by side.

The elegant art nouveau Chrysler Building, with its motifs of chrome and steel inspired by the American automobile, dominates the city's East Side, though it is by no means the biggest or most grandiose building around. Next door is Grand Central Station, where shafts of sunlight enter through cathedral-like windows to illuminate the hurrying masses of people in the main concourse. It has been the backdrop for a thousand movies and it remains one of the most striking places in the city.

What ultimately makes Manhattan so attractive, however, is that it is lived in and that each neighbourhood has its own special character and energy. Walk out of an apartment building, and the city assaults the senses. From the honking yellow cabs, driven by immigrants with barely a word of English and even less knowledge of the geography of the city, to the homeless people who take up residence over a hot steam vent.

There is no way of being indifferent about New York. It either thrills and excites, or it depresses and annoys - and it requires people to be on their guard at all times. New Yorkers themselves are pushy and rude, knowing that if they are not, they will be left behind or left out. By the same token, the city attracts talented and interesting people from around the world, making it a place where social gatherings become an art form.

Helping to ensure that the pulse of the naked city is always brisk, are the city's tabloids which breathlessly chronicle each and every scandal while ceaselessly exposing municipal corruption. The tabloids build up such larger-than-life characters as Leona Helmsley, the tax- dodging hotel queen, and Donald Trump, the casino owner and developer, only to tear them down and, worst of all, ignore them, when it feels they have been sufficiently discredited in the public eye.

New York is also a city where people are allowed to remake themselves in whatever way they chose. Money and talent are the keys to success, not social class or bloodlines. And for those that came here because they felt downtrodden at home, be they oppressed minorities or homosexuals, the city takes them all as equals and allows them to celebrate their differences in a way that is quite unique.

The schools chancellor recently suspended a local school board in Queens because it refused to apply the official multicultural curriculum, which puts special emphasis on tolerance for gays and encourages teachers to promote other cultural models than Western European.

Hopelessly bureaucratic and chaotic, the city government acts as if it was running a minor state, complete with its own controversial foreign policy positions on issues from Haiti to Israel to Northern Ireland, each reflecting the politics of a particular vested interest. And every day the city seems to define itself through a new crisis, be it crime, drugs, Aids or bigotry and racism.

Spending such a roller- coaster period here as a visitor could not end without some further controversy. This time it was provided by the moving company, who decided to seal up the truck and leave before they had finished the job. My New York neighbours were delighted to pick through the tables and chairs and other furnishings left behind by the movers. New York is fun, but it's also a racket.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
John Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Technical Support Analyst (C++, Windows, Linux, Perl, Graduate)

£30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global leader in trading platforms and e...

Junior IT Consultant (SQL, Java, C++, Oracle, Graduate)

£28000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A fast growing consultancy to the financia...

Technical Support Analyst (Windows, Linux, Unix, Graduate)

£30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Support Analyst - Liverpool Stre...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil