I enjoyed Deborah Tannen‘s book You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation—it’s so nice to see a real linguist connect with a wide public, instead of the likes of Lynne Truss!—so I was glad to encounter her account of “New York Style” in PBS’s Do You Speak American? series. Sure, it’s anecdotal, but it comes with a bibliography, and the anecdotes are great:
New Yorkers seem to think the best thing two people can do is talk. Silence is okay when you’re watching a movie (though it might be better punctuated by clever asides), or when you’re asleep (collecting dreams to tell when you awake), but when two or more people find themselves together, it’s better to talk. That’s how we show we’re being friendly. And that’s why we like to talk to strangers—especially if we won’t be with them long, such as in an elevator or on a bank line. This often makes non-New Yorkers think we’re trying to start something more than a conversation.
Once, when I was visiting San Francisco, my friend and I stopped in the street to look something up in her guidebook, and she complained that the book wasn’t very clear. A man who was walking by turned to us and said “Oh, that book’s no good. The one you should get is this,” pulling a guidebook out of his bag to show us. I couldn’t resist checking out my hypothesis, so I asked where he was from. He had just flown in from New York.
After we talked about New York-California differences for a few minutes, the visiting New Yorker suggested that we exchange our guidebook for the one he recommended, so we all went back to the store where my friend had bought her book a few hours before. In the bookstore, our new friend called over his shoulder, “Have you read Garp?” I answered, “No should I?” “Yes,” he said, animatedly. “It’s great!” Then I heard a voice behind us saying, “Oh, is it?” I’ve been thinking of reading that.” I looked around and saw a woman no longer paying attention to us. I asked her where she was from: another New Yorker.
(Thanks for the link, Amelia!)