I'm about 6 months behind in actually writing about my move from Toronto to Brooklyn. Outside of being extremely busy with my first semester of graduate school at The New School / NSSR ; freelancing to try and keep a roof over my head, and other stuff, I've been putting this off because I don't know really how to surmise my time here.
Overall, I love it. I love my spot in Brooklyn. I'm glad I moved here. I'm still haunted by last year, which was a doozy and because of that I've been putting off a trip home to pick up some stuff. I don't actually want to go back to Canada ever again. I do miss seeing my besties and some family members but there are too many bad memories and dysfunctions that still plague my mind. I do have a good long-distance phone plan so I'm always in touch. Which is good enough for me.
However, while the transition here has been pretty smooth, there are some cultural differences that have made me pause.
The Subway / Train: I wish that the MTA would use the same metro cards as the TTC. In Toronto, the cards are made out of hard plastic, which makes it easier to swipe. In New York they are paper, which makes them flimsy and hard to swipe. At my local station, the swipe machines are shit, which means you are constantly swiping your cards just to get through which is a pain when you have 10 impatient people standing behind you, huffing and puffing. It took me about 2 months to figure out how to deftly swipe my car in a manner in which the machine-thingy didn't bend the card.
I'm very fortunate to live 3 blocks away from my station, which is a busy one. But because of so many people, getting on the train - most notably in Brooklyn - is arduous. People are pushy, rude and stand at the door entrance, not willing to move to let people on the car. I do understand this, as people are hell-bent on getting a spot that it is more out of self-survival than blatant rudeness. However, there seems to always be some asshole who decides to plop his over-sized suitcase / gym bag right at the entrance during peak hours, forcing people to trip / step over their stuff just to get on and off the train. Again, I understand - its this weird way of demanding individual acknowledgement and some weird power trip, but it's ridiculous. But overall, the MTA is exactly like the TTC in terms of how to conduct yourself. I don't feel fearful or uneasy on the train when riding at night. You just have to be aware of your surroundings wherever you go.
My 'Hood: This was the biggest culture shock. My slice of Bed Stuy is probably 95% black, and I love living in an area where people aren't glaring at me and wondering if I live there. However, it is noisy and filthy as hell. Again, a highly concentrated area in which that is inevitable, but it makes me feel really Canadian. The class disparity is bizarre - If I walk about 5 blocks to the west and perhaps 3 blocks south, the neighbourhood totally changes - there are actual cafes, restaurants and white people. Interestingly enough, at my stop it seems like white folks enter from the "gentrified" train entrance and us black folks enter from the "non-gentrified" entrance. There is a grocery store and other amenities close to my house, but if you want to sit outside, get a coffee or find a patio to get a drink, you are either going to have to walk a bit of a distance or get on the train to go to Manhattan or another neighbourhood in Brooklyn. There are lots of shuttered businesses, which is sad.
For the first couple of weeks of living here I would go into a local store and when I went to pay for my purchases, I would get asked, "EBT?" I would pause and then pull out my cash. The owners - primarily Middle-Eastern or South American, would look at me in surprise. I had no idea what they were talking about until I asked my roomates, both South Asian, if they had ever been asked. The said no but explained that EBT is a debit card for those on social assistance. You can only use the cards in certain stores in NYC but the majority of stores in my neighbourhood take them.
So for me, I had to check myself in relation to class differences. The majority of the people I've interacted with in my 'hood have been incredibly friendly, but like all neighbourhoods, there are people who are extremely loud, rude and shady. So while this is not entirely surprising, a couple of the things that are remarkably different between Toronto and New York folks are:
Singing / rapping: wearing your headphones and loudly singing along with whatever you are listening to. This happens at all hours of the day - almost like the culprits are hoping that Jay-Z is going to appear from air and discover their talent. But there is no talent.
Oversharing music: People that enter stores or trains with the speaker on blast on their devices. WHY?
People who 'Overshare' on the street: I live on a very busy main street in Bed Stuy. From my window I've heard every conversation you can think of: Mostly frustrated parents threatening to beat the shit out of their kids; young teenage couples fighting ( last week I saw a girl try to beat up her boyfriend); breakups; makeups, etc. I saw a 60+ year-old woman buy crack from a car parked right in front of my building...actually, a lot of shady shit goes on right in front of my building. Sure, we always overhear stuff wherever we go, but here the volume is magnified by 10. People don't give a shit who hears what; they just express themselves in the manner in which they want to. Be damned with anyone else.
The "I Don't Give a Fuck" attire: Honestly? in Toronto if a black woman rolled out to Wal-Mart with curlers in her hair, she would be getting massive side-eye not just from black folks, but from everyone. Here, I see that every week, including people who shop in their Pajamas. Hell, I've seen people wear their pajamas - both the tops and bottoms - on the C Train!
Remember that hairdo that Rhianna wore to some award show, when she had her hair wrapped with the bobby pins? I learned after getting my hair done at a Dominican salon that it is a Doobie Wrap - they do to keep your hair straight from the salon to your home. Again, I've seen women in public all the time like that, and recently saw a black dude with a Doobie Wrap too. Now to be honest and fair, the cashier who was serving him had a very shocked look on her face.
Living here did curb me of my Weave wearing. After seeing so many unkempt hairstyles, I swore that unless I plan to spend $1,000 on some good human hair probably ripped off the head of some poor East or South Asian woman, there is no point. I've seen some incredibly horrible wigs, matted weaves and women whom simply do not give a shit what is growing - or living - on their head.
So while I'm totally judging here, there is something incredibly positive about this lack of respectability politics that really plagued the black community back home- there are so many people just trying to live their lives, you have to DO YOU. Don't give a shit what others think - you just rock what you want and let it all hang out. While it can occasionally be an eyesore, it is liberating. It teaches me that while things I see and experience might give me temporary pause, it is extremely important to forget what people look like and focus on who they are as individuals. You HAVE to. there are so many people who could potentially be great networking buddies that you have to focus as much as you can on who they are - not how they choose to dress.
Race and Racism: When I lived in Toronto, I always said that I preferred American's brand of racism because you knew exactly where you stood. While I'm not sure I entirely feel comfortable with that sentiment now, talking about race here is more arduous than I thought but at least people wear their ignorance on their sleeve. It surprises me that within a city that is so extremely diverse - I see folks on the train and I have no idea of their ethnicity - the ignorance about other peoples' lives - the social and geographical segregation - is surprising. I have been asked several times on my campus if I'm actually a student. It's not necessarily my age, but the fact that there are hardly any black students in graduate programs at my school. I also have gotten the fearful 'Missy Anne' look from a couple of white female students who are afraid when I enter an elevator with them. AND THIS IS IN MANHATTAN.
I won't even get started on the metal / underground scene. Or some situations I've dealt with in relation to my classmates. I don't know why it surprises me that there are a number of people whom tend to live under rock formations. How can you live in such a huge city yet know nothing about the people who surround you (outside of the Internet, I guess)?
Despite this, would I want to move back to Canada? Fuck no. I simply like studying, writing and being in close proximity to cultural events...... but there is a long way to go in order to find my place here. It is going to take more work than I imagined. But I'm ready for it.
(The picture was taken at what is so far, my favorite place in Brooklyn, the DUMBO district).