My family has one huge ongoing cultural war: my parents and sister love New York City, and I love them despite their flaw. But back in 1990, my sister decided that she wanted to give San Francisco a try, to see if perhaps she could live here.
I showed her around the city, focusing on the everyday, non-touristy aspects of life in SF, which meant that one fine weekend afternoon we sat in the back of the now-defunct 7-Haight bus headed for the legendary Haight-Ashbury (I suppose there isn’t much of the city that isn’t touristy, but there is a lot that is legendary). She had been in SF for about a week, and since she was a New Yorker, she already had her opinions of the place, and since she was a New Yorker, this included her very own pet peeve. All current and former New Yorkers have their very own personal pet peeves.
“Vonn, there is one thing about San Francisco that I absolutely cannot stand. It’s your bus riders.”
“Every bus I’ve ridden in, some total stranger has started a conversation with me. I don’t want total strangers starting conversations with me on the bus. In New York City, people don’t bother you on the bus. They leave you alone, and that’s how I like it, but you San Franciscans, you total strangers just have to start talking to other people, whether the other people want to or not.”
The total stranger immediately to my sister’s right said, “It’s true, San Franciscans are more social than other people. I’ve lived in a lot of cities with public transit, and everyone is so uptight in other cities.”
The total stranger immediately to the total stranger’s right said, “Actually, have you been to Seattle?”
“No,” said the first total stranger.
“People on the bus in Seattle can be very friendly, too.”
A third total stranger said, “Has anyone ridden public transit in other countries?”
A fourth total stranger said, “People on the London Underground can be friendly, but you have to speak first, otherwise they won’t say anything.”
A fifth total stranger said, “Have you ever been to Australia? People are generally friendly there.”
Soon, about ten total strangers were conducting their own seminar on the Overall Loquaciousness of Public Transit Patrons in Major Cities in English Speaking Nations. I looked at my sister. She had rested her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands. She kept mumbling the same sentence over and over: “I had to say something. I had to say something. I had to say something…”
She moved back to New York City.