I grew up on London suspicion.
“Don’t talk to strangers”
“Men that come up to you will kidnap you” (primary school aged six)
“Don’t answer the doorbell especially on Hallowe’en”
I’ve been slowly unpicking these axioms from my life (perhaps the last one not so much).
And then I go to New York City. Everyone’s yapping. No one's moody at you. No huff of an impatient brute in your ear on Oxford Street if you walk too slow. Nor constipated silence in the reluctant intimacy of a train racketing its way to work.
It is a joy to be in New York on your own. Almost every bar of every decent restaurant will have ownsomes drinking, eating, and if they could only smoke, they would.
It’s not an opportunity to leer, it’s not a no-mates statement.
In London it’s unheard of to see people alone for those brunch or dinner occasions. Lunch and coffee perhaps. And rarer still to see strangers talk to each other unless they want to pounce on each other. Perching up at the bar without a companion exposes them as being ON THEIR OWN and WITHOUT FRIENDS.
My friend Kate, a Brit who lives in New York, once rocked up to The Fat Radish to meet a friend only to realise she’d misread her diary and was frustratingly sans mobile. Undeterred, she ordered supper, armed herself with a glass of wine and a paperback. A full member of the ownsome club, she went back for supper with her friend the next day unembarrassed and knowing what to order.
And so I have twenty minutes at the Mercer Kitchen in NY’s Soho on my own. Yearning for a burger brunch that will make friends with some beers and margaritas from the night before.
My friend is late. And that is fine. Trouncing up to the bar, greeted by lovely white-teethed smiles, I snatch a high chair next to someone going at his egg-white omelette with his fork.
I order a cucumber martini.
He looks at me like I’m his kinda girl.
And that’s it. I learn about his trade - broking for marigold yellow cabs. He tells me most people like to rant about them. I don’t, and from there it’s freeflow.
It’s acceptable to be on your own, to wait. My friend Barry comes along, picks me up and there’s no obligation to keep talking. We politely exchange goodbyes. My interlude with a stranger has not ended in kidnap, but a richer appreciation of the yellow cab. Though to be fair – he didn’t come up to me, I bothered him. Perhaps he should’ve been suspicious of me, the Londoner instead.