So yes, I am back in London now, safe and dry but boy, what a weekend! I love the Big Apple (still haven’t worked out why it is called that – references to a Big, Sweet, Juicy Prize have been found but then I don’t believe everything I read on Wikipedia)!
They say that all the big cities of the world are the same essentially, but I disagree. New York has always had a special place in my heart; everything is bigger, almost brash like a confident child demanding “Look at ME”. On this visit, I returned to the first department store I ever visited in Manhattan, Lord & Taylor. After having legged it there from Grand Central with two minutes to opening, I ran through the front doors to find rows of folded chairs lined up (like at a school assembly) with eager shoppers’ bottoms hovering, ready in sprint position to start their deal-hunting day. The security guards were standing (mob control!) and announced “Please rise for the National Anthem” and yes, everyone did! I stood with them, feeling a little alien, in awe, with respect and with slight disbelief too. Solemn faces, even some hands on chests – no singing, it was the instrumental version. A keen yellow poncho-clad woman temporarily disturbed our moment of American meditation with “It’s 10am for crying out loud, I need the 3rd floor!” but was made to wait like all the others until the melody faded.
It seems that Lord & Taylor have found a way to remind their shoppers, every day before opening, to take a minute and be mindful that they are in the States, maybe to feel proud or grateful. It certainly allowed me to pause and take stock. But I do also wonder about making people listen to the anthem, like at school, rather than giving them the choice. This would NEVER happen in Selfridges, Lane Crawford or Galleries Lafayette. I don’t think this would be permissible anywhere except New York.
So in acceptance of our differences, here’s to enjoying the feeling of being foreign in a city that really never sleeps – I raise my glass and cheer “to my next visit over the pond!”
P.S. Intrigued, I’ve come home to find out more about this “cultural difference” – and stumbled across this article from the New York Times, 2008: