How to Brag Like a New Yorker


People who live in New York City are smart. I hate saying this because all New Yorkers want is for non-New Yorkers to say that they are smart.

But the fact is that they are, and somehow they all make enough money to live here with liberal arts degrees from liberal arts colleges whose names you’re never confident pronouncing. Wesleyan? Wellesley? Bowdoin and Vassar? (I barely know her!) One time, my senior year of high school, I lamented to my AP English teacher about not applying to Dartmouth. I was interested in its astronomy program. Except I pronounced the name of the university like any red-blooded, God-fearing American teenager would: DART-MOUTH. Hilarious visual notwithstanding, this faux pas was perhaps an indicator that I wasn’t cut out for its astronomy program.

Here is a fun test to see whether someone in New York is richer and smarter than you: Do you know their college by its mascot? College mascots are for poor, average people. College mascots are another way of saying “The graduates of this university are not rich enough to contribute to our endowment fund, so we must rely on our football program as a source of income.”

A few weeks ago, Brock was making small talk with a young man at a water fountain in Central Park, and somehow this man’s college mascot came up: Tigers.

“Tigers! Clemson, yeah? Great football team!”

“I went to Princeton.”

Brock might as well have said “I am so average so as to assume everyone around me is average, and also to where Ivy League mascots were never topical in my life until this very moment.” (For the record, New York is the only place where Ivy League mascots are topical. Not for the sake of talking sport, as they say, but for the express purpose of making idle conversation with any given 22-year old.)

Being smart is the only way to survive in this city. If you are average, you will get suckered out of so much money that living here will be untenable and you will have to move back to whatever godforsaken flyover state you came from, or worse, north of 130th (New York’s Siberia). You will be hypnotically lured by Times Square hawkers of $10 palm readings for the psychic on 46th Street. Upon arrival, you will be told that $10 is the special for a one-palm reading, having both done costs $25. Despite the fact that this makes no mathematical (or ethical?) sense, and your palms are identical, you will get the two-palm reading. When I say that this definitely did not happen to me, what I mean is that this definitely happened to me.

See what I just did? That is a self-deprecating joke.

That is how New Yorkers brag. Normal people brag by talking about how #blessed they are. New Yorkers brag by recounting misadventures in Bergdorf (HAHA!). Normals have the decency to relegate bragging to Instagram. New Yorkers do it through memoirs. Let me give you some examples.

I recently read a memoir called You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein, a stand-up comedian and one of the executive producers of Inside Amy Schumer. The book started strong, with hilarious chapters examining things that Ladies are supposed to like, such as baths, Anthropologie, and the Bar Method. (“It costs $36 a class. Bar Method suggests that for optimal results you do the class five times a week. That’s $180 a week you’d be spending on your ASS!”)

But as chapters wore on, little things started to irk me. An eyeroll here and there, and fleeting thoughts of “Wow, this person needs to spend more time west of the land once governed by the Articles of Confederation.” In a chapter titled “The Lingerie Dilemma", Jessi remembers the first time she tried to look like a Sexy Lady. She mentions a lifetime of buying underwear in sealed three-packs from CVS. Not having a boyfriend until she was 19. Crying and sweating in the dressing room of a lingerie store in Greenwich Village. Then she casually mentions that her purchase cost $375.

Do you see what just happened! She butters you up with self-deprecation so that when you read that number, you think those digits are also normal, and thus her relatability remains intact. I’ll admit, this almost got me. I almost thought spending $375 on lingerie was a perfectly normal thing to do. But it is not.

In the next chapter (“How To Get Engaged”) the reader is taken on a journey to Big Sur, where Jessi is planning a vacation with her boyfriend. “Mike, who has a decidedly luxe notion of vacationing, gets very excited about the idea of going to the Post Ranch Inn, a hotel set on the cliffs of Northern California that has won every Most Luxurious, Most Ridiculous, Most Over the Top award from Travel & Conde Whatever magazine so many times in a row that now they’re just showboating. The beauty and drama of it is so incredible that even visiting their website feels like a trip you cannot afford.” Well, I visited the website because a paragraph like that is literally begging you to PUT DOWN THE BOOK RIGHT NOW AND GOOGLE HOW MUCH THIS RESORT COSTS!

On average, the Post Ranch Inn runs $1200 per night.

Jessi thinks she is getting engaged here, but learns this is not in the cards only after they “book spa appointments and make restaurant reservations in Napa.” She spirals into despair. “We did not get engaged in Paris. Nor did we get engaged in Turks and Caicos, nor on our trip to various quaint spas in the Northeast.” This was supposed to be a SPECIAL TRIP, not like all those other dumb ones. An argument ensues, and she and Mike strongly consider not going, forfeiting cross-country airfare and incurring the resort’s cancellation fee (one night’s stay + tax).

Normal people would never throw this kind of money away! If it was 1975 and I found out my boyfriend was Ted Bundy, I would still go on this trip. Jessi again turns to self-deprecation to make us forget how rich she is: “I was a woman sobbing in a hotel corridor, which is kind of incredible, because when I was little I thought I was going to be a senator.” (New Yorkers call hallways corridors, likes it’s 1909 and they're all aboard the Titanic.)

In a third instance, Jessi visits Miraval Spa – a Tucson wellness facility (?) beloved by Oprah Winfrey. Jessi loves Oprah. This is normal. I love Oprah. In my first act of open rebellion against the LDS Church, I loved Oprah even though my Sunday School teacher told me she was a bad person for shacking up with Stedman (a sign of the times / attack on the family). From 2003 - 2006, I watched every episode of Oprah except for the ones about sex, which my mother promptly deleted from TiVo. Never to be outwit by my mother, I biked to the library and checked out a Judy Blume novel that taught me ALL THE THINGS. Although to be honest a banana visualization courtesy of Dr. Oz would’ve been useful in any case.

Where was I?

Loving Oprah is a normal-person thing. Booking a trip to Oprah's favorite wellness facility is not. Here is where Jessi gets sneaky. She maneuvers from self-deprecation to self-awareness: “Wasn’t this place just oozing with the worst kind of New Age bullshit? Weren’t we all indulging in the most excessive kind of privilege, paying through the nose to travel here so we could talk about our itsy-bitsy feelings in our premium spandex?” Yes. But that doesn't stop Jessi from paying $650 per night for the girls getaway package. 

A few final examples:
  • On the Manolo Blahniks she wore to the Emmy’s: “I am a tourist in the land of aspirational footwear that costs as much as I used to pay in monthly rent. I have no plans to move here, but I am enjoying a vacation from my country, the land of Toms.” Don’t worry, she complains about how uncomfortable her Manolos are later. HAHA!
  • On flying business class: “I can’t help but feel a pang of survivor guilt. I want the people walking past me to know that I’m one of them. My ticket is being paid for by a corporation; I could not afford it on my own. In my heart I am a coach person.” Two chapters ago she mentioned booking a massage every day she was at that wellness facility.
  • On becoming a comedian: “I was 26 when I started doing stand-up, which is actually pretty old for people who start. It took me that many years of therapy to just give it a go.” New York: Where liberal arts grads from liberal arts colleges have years of therapy by age 26. (This is not a knock on therapy. I have wanted it myself. But I have not had it. Why? Because I am NORMAL! I majored in liberal arts and cannot afford it! That is the price I pay for being able to make jokes about the Articles of Confederation.)
I get it. There are a lot of things about living in New York that make it hard not to sound braggy. Saturday afternoons wiled away in Central Park, brunch in West Village, a Broadway show on Thursday because eh, why not? You must be patient with New Yorkers. We need these. We need them because rolling these benefits into the cost of rent is the only way to prevent daily nervous breakdowns.

But once you have reached a certain level of rich, you cannot pretend to be who you used to be with self-deprecating jokes about how ridiculous your new life is in which you turn down jobs writing for David Letterman. You are a different person. And that’s okay! But even if you feel like an imposter, own up to it. Because the only thing worse than Manolo Blahniks that are "excruciating to the extent that even just sitting with them on is agonizing” . . . is someone who writes that in a memoir.


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