The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Culture of New York City

Chinatown in Manhattan, 1995
Chinatown in Manhattan, 1995

The people of New York City, the New Yorkers, share a unique culture rooted in centuries of immigration and city life. This culture is shared to some extent with inhabitants of the New York metropolitan area, many of city origin, who may also be commuters to the city. There is considerable diversity of in this local culture, varying by ethnic group, social class, and neighborhood.


Immigration and ethnicity

To some observers, New York, with its large immigrant population, seems more of an international city than something specifically "American". But to others, the city's very openness to newcomers makes it the archetype of a 'nation of immigrants'. Among large American cities only Los Angeles receives more immigrants, but immigration to New York is considerably more diverse. It is not without reason that the city government maintains translators in 180 languages. For illustration, although New York has a larger Jewish population than Jerusalem, still a majority of city residents are non-white. Residents are accustomed to thinking of everyone in the city as a member of a minority in some sense, but they also have a shared identity as New Yorkers.

As in many major cities, immigrants to New York and sometimes their descendants tend to congregate into ethnic enclaves where they can talk and shop and work with people from their country of origin. This phenomena is more pronounced in New York than in other U.S. cities, and the five boroughs are home to many distinct communities of Irish, Italians, Chinese, Korean, Puerto Ricans, Caribbeans, Hasidic Jews and many others, though there are also more multi-ethnic or cosmopolitan neighborhoods where people of different backgrounds can coexist in ease or in tension.

New York City has a larger Jewish population than any other city in the world. Approximately 1 million New Yorkers, or about 13%, are Jewish. [1] Percentage-wise, this is second largest percentage in the United States, next to Miami, Florida. As a result, New York City culture has borrowed certain elements of Jewish culture, such as bagels. New York City is also home to the Jewish Theological Seminary, the world headquarters of Orthodox Judaism, as well as the headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League. Abraham D. Beame was New York City's first Jewish mayor, and the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is also of Jewish descent.

Urban lifestyle

The everyday lifestyle of New Yorkers differs substantially from that of other Americans, and has in some ways been compared to that of urban Western Europeans. Despite the best efforts of Robert Moses, residents are less attuned than other Americans to the 'car culture' that dominates most of the country. The well-designed New York Subway and the threat of congestion keep six in ten residents, including many middle class professionals, out of cars and off of the highways. Even the city's billionaire mayor is known to take the train to City Hall each morning. This pattern is strongest for Manhattanites, who live in an area with better subway service and worse traffic, but more moderated for residents of the outer boroughs, especially in more peripheral areas, though many here too commute by train to Manhattan. Also on Manhattan, between subway stops and destinations is built up the "walking city", a real pedestrian culture unrivaled in the U.S.

Unlike most Americans, although less untypically for city dwellers, the great majority of New Yorkers rent their housing in what is usually seen as a very overpriced and difficult market at all ends. In this crowded city few can afford the the closet space they feel they really need, and self-storage is a strong local industry. Again, the pattern is strongest in Manhattan and moderated but still present in the outer boroughs, which do have a number of suburban-style homes. Growing up in an ultra-cosmopolitan city like New York can sometimes foster an impressive cultural awareness.


The common stereotype of the "hard-boiled New Yorker" is held by many. Denizens of the fast-paced big city are seen as self-centered, rude and brusque, with no time to spare for anyone else. These characters will not hold the door for anyone, and will scoff the genial tourist who does. They are urban cynics who openly mock and deliberately misguide naive tourists unfamiliar with the wiles of city life. And supposedly, New Yorkers are so jaded that things that others would consider drawbacks to life in The City (crime, prostitution, pollution, noise...) are instead marks of pride, the very lures that keep them from ever leaving.

Some of this caricature is based on fact, some on misunderstanding, and much on ignorance. A visitor from a small town can have trouble understanding the situation of someone who daily walks through what is an essentially infinite social universe. When New Yorkers encounter so many random people a day, it should not be surprising if they exchange greetings with them less often than in places where strangers can be something of a novelty. Though crime has declined in recent years, the standard underground defense mechanism remains the "subway stare", a studiedly unfocused expression designed not to be reacted to. But life in New York, though a bit neurotic, is essentially normal, filled with feeling, caring people whose reality is hardly reflected in old myths about urbanism that go back to stories of Babylon.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the old stereotype, for a time at least, was turned around as Americans felt increased sympathy with New Yorkers. In the city itself, attitudes have also changed in some ways, but stayed the same in others. For example, pride in the city and their way of life have increased for many, though others show signs of paranoia. "Mets Suck!" was still graffitied on a scaffold near "Ground Zero." Cabbies still drive recklessly, though some civilian drivers are more polite than previously.

Sports culture

Although in much of the rest of the country American football has surpassed baseball as the most popular professional sport, in New York baseball arguably still stirs the most passion and interest. A World Series championship by either the New York Yankees or the New York Mets is considered to be worthy of the highest celebration, including a ticker-tape parade for the victorious team. For most baseball fans, the most intense rivalry is between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. In New York, the rivalry between the Yankees and the Mets is just as fierce. Outsiders are frequently unaware that few baseball fans in New York are fans of both teams at once.

New York has an intense rivalry with the city of Boston, Massachusetts. This is perhaps the most infamous city rivalry in the United States.

See also: List of famous New Yorkers

Last updated: 08-11-2005 14:17:09
Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12