herald

Sunday 21 December 2014

In which the Big Apple takes a bite out of me...

The 'city break' was very much a Celtic Tiger invention. We went from weekends in the mobile home in Courtown to high-design hotels in Copenhagen. Overnights in Brittas Bay became midweek jaunts to Budapest. We'd tell our colleagues that we were off to Zurich for the weekend. The declaration would elicit the requisite 'ooh' and 'aahs', even though they weren't quite sure what country it was in.

Sure, didn't we lose the run of ourselves, etc, etc, etc?

At the height of the Celtic Tiger, it was quite the status symbol to do your Christmas shopping in New York.

I was finally able to follow the herd and do just that last week, but it seems the herd has dispersed. The flight over was surprisingly good value, which says it all, really.

The trip brought back more memories of the heady days of the Celtic Tiger, though. The Yanks just love dollars, almost as much as we used to love talking about the Eastern European properties we had acquired.

The only thing they love more than their dollars in the States is your dollars. It feels like the money in your wallet isn't really your own when you're there. It's as though you pay for the very privilege of having money by coughing up in taxes, tips and hidden charges.

I couldn't keep my dollars in my pocket for more than two hours at a time. Indeed, I lost count of the amount of times I went to the ATM. At points I felt like opening my wallet and saying, 'Just take it all, you greedy pigs'.

Perhaps it's an Irish thing. For all of our moaning about taxes, we are lucky that the levy is at least incorporated into the price of a pint. Likewise, we don't often feel compelled to drop tips of 20pc in restaurants. Then again, we don't run our service industry on slave labour.

I should put my hands up at this point and admit that I stayed in a pretty hoity-toity hotel, The Soho Grand. Most of the staff were models and actors.

The female staff are required to wear red lipstick and teeny weeny black dresses. The male staff stand around looking studiously cool. Their job is to be beautiful -- that they also serve you food and drink is a bonus.

It is one of those places that makes you feel like you're not rich enough, attractive enough or cool enough. As hotels go, I loved it as much as I loathed it.



CAPITALISM

My mother, who asked one of our six-foot waitresses if her legs were real (they were), said she too would only hire beautiful staff if she ran a hotel. "It is proven that people are less likely to complain to a beautiful person."

She has a tendency to make up statistics and studies to suit her arguments, so I begged to differ on this one.

That was until our ridiculously good-looking waiter landed a check for 50-odd dollars for a water, a cup of Earl Grey tea and a glass of wine on our table and I just smiled sweetly, signed it to the room and secretly wondered where the nearest Western Union depot was (and whether Mr Ridey Pants had a girlfriend).

Of course, America is the 'Canaan of capitalism'. To expect anything less is not to know your world history. They work to live and live to work.

You can feel the drive to get ahead, the incessant one-upmanship in the air. You can see it in the vat-loads of coffee they drink. You can hear it in their turn of phrase -- they are, after all, the only country to 'run' for president.

It's go, go, go. Acquire, acquire, acquire. There really is no rest for the wicked. It's no wonder they make such lousy drunks. The dollar bill is their State and Church. American dollars -- even just a fistful of one dollar notes -- make you feel like you're carrying a wad.

This seems to be their only purpose because when it comes to spending power in the US, a single dollar bill has about the same worth as a grain of rice. Or at least it feels that way.

Despite the US government's better attempts to phase out one dollar bills and roll out dollar coins further, 40pc of these coins were returned to the government last year. Citizens don't seem to like them, or rather they like the quiet comfort and brazen power of paper money.

Is it just me, or are dollar bills thicker than euro notes? They are certainly more obnoxious looking. A dollar bill booms 'HEY! Can we get some service around here?' Euro notes are much more discreet. They say :'Excusez-moi, could I perhaps order a petite salade?'



industry

I met an old friend while I was there, who now lives in the East Village. He used to manage a bar. He told me that he'd occasionally lock up the bar at night, put his coat on the floor and bed down so that he could be ready for his next shift in the morning. He later quit the service industry because it felt "too cloth cap in hand".

I met another barman who told me it is indeed "the city that never sleeps . . . because you have to pay your rent".

As for the immortal line "if I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere", well, the subtext of those words, don't forget, is that it's the world's hardest city in which to survive.

It seems those who are lucky enough to live in New York have little time to actually enjoy the city they live in.

It's as though the city itself is a drug and its denizens are constantly paying for the next hit.

Like many people, I have imagined what it would be like to live in the Big Apple. I thought this trip would reignite those fantasies. Actually, it just gave me a new-found appreciation for little old Ireland.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Martin Sheen recently. He's a big fan of the Irish and what he describes as our "remarkable sense of humanity".

He reckons you need to go away from Ireland and come back to really appreciate it. I wonder if he specifically meant that you have to go away to America.

A stranger smiled at me when I arrived into Dublin Airport. And she wasn't looking for a tip.

Ah, back to my ruddy-faced brothers and sisters of Eire, I thought. I let out a massive sigh of relief and went in search of a proper cup of tea.

Tax was included.

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