New York is full of immigrants and transplants from other cities, but the usual deluge of residents determined to make their dreams a reality in the Big Apple has become more of a trickle during the pandemic. Because of the lack of tourists, my ears really perk up when I hear a British voice – I want to run over and ask them how long they’ve been here and whether they miss the motherland. Just a couple of days ago, I got misty-eyed over a packet of McVitie’s Digestives I found in a back shelf at my local bodega and proclaimed proudly to the owner that “these are from my country”.
Because vaccinations are being rolled out fast and businesses are getting back up and running, however, a bit of new blood has made it to the city in the past couple of weeks. A friend of a friend messaged me and asked me if I’d help someone from New Zealand acclimatise recently, and I was more than happy to oblige. A new person to socialise with outside of my husband and the five friends on rotation I’ve seen over the past 18 months? Count me in!
And so, on the weekend, I sat in a Lower East Side bistro in warm, rainy spring weather with a New Zealander who’d experienced 2020 in a very different way to me. She described a lockdown for six weeks then “huge parties”, followed by normality; sad scenes pouring in on their news screens from across the world; huge support for a competent prime minister who made her decisions according to science (“We really don’t have many political issues in New Zealand, apart from housing,” she said, as images of Trump recommending American citizens inject bleach and crowds storming into the Capitol earlier this year flooded my mind.) In December 2020, she was barbecuing on the beach with groups of friends and her extended family. She’d been to crowded football games, gigs and concerts, well-attended press briefings. Unmasked and unvaccinated, she’d been shoulder-to-shoulder with friends in bars and restaurants, confident in the knowledge that Covid hadn’t spread any further than a couple of airport hotels.
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