I grew up on Long Island, and like everybody else that grew up on Long Island, I feel like I developed this natural chip on my shoulder. It’s nothing that any of us did on purpose, it just happens automatically. I remember one of my friends from grade school had a cousin that lived two towns over. “Man, I hate Long Island kids,” he always used to say. And I didn’t get it. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m from Queens.” And that was it, I don’t think he really knew what that meant either, but I was left to sort of figure things out for myself. And I’m not even kidding you, I remember being in like fourth or fifth grade and finally looking at a map. And it was Long Island, my town somewhere in the middle, and Brooklyn and Queens clearly a part of the same geographical landmass.
And then my grandfather explained it to me, the boroughs, how New York City is more than just Manhattan. But cut it any way you want to, Long Island isn’t New York City. It’s Nassau County, that’s where I grew up, and Suffolk County farther east. And you’d never really think it makes too much of a difference. I mean, I grew up in the suburbs, I’m not trying to make my upbringing something that it’s not.
But why am I writing this, why am I trying to justify myself anyway? It’s what I’ve been conditioned to do. When I went away to college, I found out the hard way that I couldn’t just say I was from New York the same way some guy from the suburbs of Cleveland gets to say that he’s from Cleveland. Because any time that question comes up, wherever I am in the world, it doesn’t matter, there’s always going to be at least one or two real New Yorkers ready to put me in my place, to out New York me.
If you’re from Long Island, you know exactly what I’m talking about, and it’s really annoying. “Oh, you’re from New York?” the real New Yorker will cut you off, “What part? I’m from (insert New York City neighborhood here), born and raised.” Notice how they don’t even give you a chance to give an answer before throwing their origin story in your face.
Also notice the phrase “born and raised.” You’ll hear it a lot from people who grew up in the city. They must teach it at all the public schools. “OK class, if you ever hear anybody from Long Island trying to say that they’re from New York, make sure that you let them know where you were born and raised.”
I lived in Ecuador for two years and I couldn’t escape it. I met several expats who, after hearing me drop the NY, they’d kind of just appear, get in my face. “Where? Long Island? That’s not really New York.” I swear, I’d been living in Queens for two years before I went abroad, and I still felt pressured to display my bona fides, all while this guy from Staten Island and some girl from Brooklyn shook their heads at me in disapproval. “I’ve never even been to Long Island,” some lady from Manhattan once boasted to me. And I had to just stand there and smile and try not to get into a screaming match with a random stranger. Because really? That’s something to brag about? That you’re born on a tiny island and you’ve never once made the trip to the slightly bigger tiny island that exists fifteen minutes to the east?
Over the course of many years of bullshit New York conversation, I’d try to make the argument that, outside of Manhattan anyway, a lot of the outer boroughs are pretty much identical to suburban Long Island. But whatever, I’m not trying to defend myself, or Long Island. Long Island shouldn’t have to defend itself from New York City. One, it’s not fair, because a lot of Long Island towns are bigger than actual cities across the US. And two, who cares? For real? Who gives a shit? Why don’t you pick on Westchester? Huh? What, making fun of Jersey isn’t good enough for you? You have to take a dump on Long Island? By the way, don’t bother explaining where the Hamptons are. If you’re getting bent out of shape because of a conversation with someone who grew up in New York and vacations in the Hamptons, just leave, just do yourself a favor and make sure you never talk to that person again.
And for real here, a lot of the stuff that New York is famous for is better on Long Island. I’m talking pizza and bagels. New York City staples, right? Yeah, well they’re both better on Long Island. Go ahead and deny it. Start throwing down the names of all of those world-class New York pizzerias you found on a BuzzFeed list while you should have been working. Sure, maybe there’s like one or two city pizza places or bagel shops that do a really good job, but in terms of consistent quality at basically every location, Long Island has NYC beat nine times out of ten.
That’s basically it. If you’re one of those real New Yorkers, do me a favor, and just save it, OK? I don’t care where you were born and raised, and nobody else does either. There’s no trophy. And you sound like an idiot. Also, if you ever say “Strong Island” to me like you think you’re making fun of me, or that I’m going to get upset, you’re not, and I’m not. In fact, I take it is a compliment.