It has been a long time since I have lived on the Vineyard, so forgive me for asking, but when did the term New Yorker become derogatory? What does it mean to call someone a New Yorker? Because New York is several cities, to say that one person who hails from Park Slope in Brooklyn and another from East 63rd street in Manhattan are equally rude is like comparing persimmons to pineapples.
What is New York anyway? Milwaukee is considered the New York of the Midwest, which is much better than being the Boston of the South, a distinction that belongs to Atlanta. So when you call someone a New Yorker, are you insulting a Milwaukeean? My friend Archie writes for a paper on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where they use the term Chicagoan to deride a movie-line cutter. When I asked him why Chicagoans had such a reputation, he ascribed it to Chicago being the Miami of Canada.
Cities are always finding a better-looking reflection of themselves somewhere else. Taos, New Mexico, for example, considers itself the Napa Valley of, well, the middle of nowhere really. Just as Cleveland is the San Francisco of Ohio, a rather fine distinction I think. But what I mean by all this is how similar the circumstances of our geography can be. Long Island, for instance, is the Cape Cod of the Empire State and Manhattan its Martha’s Vineyard, just as Nantucket is the Staten Island of Hyannis. And yet, New Yorkers have no derisive term like Vineyarders for a polite person who wears pajamas to the grocery store and plods along at a waning pace while wearing those sheepskin boots all year long.
I think what is meant by designating someone a New Yorker is an acknowledgment of the self-importance and entitlement that belongs to so many Americans. So whether they are from Provincetown, the Halifax of New Jersey, or Vermont, the Mexico of New Hampshire, when someone acts out of turn or in a manner more city than country, more selfish than social, let’s just call them what they are: a jerk.
Ezra Sherman lives in Edgartown.