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Out of Towners

July 23, 2017 | by Yonatan Levi

To New Yorkers, anyone from outside the Tri-State area is an “Out of Towner.” And we find your manners adorably considerate.

New York and New Jersey are two-thirds of the Tri-State area, where many Jews live. In fact, there are so many Jews in this Hebrew hub that instead of calling it the Tri-State area, it could be called the Chai-State area, Pastrami-On-Rye-State Area, Matzah-Brei-State area or the Ai-DiDi-Dai-DiDi-Dai-State area.

Of course, not all Jews who live in the Tri-State area actually grew up in it. Many hail from small (or at least smaller) towns across this great land and beyond. These immigrants to the Tri-State Area are affectionately known as Out-of-Towners ("OT"), a term which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines simply as "a visitor to a town or city from another place."

In a word, OT's simply are . . . nice.

In the New York area, there is something special about OT's who bravely journey to the concrete jungle in hopes of taking a bite out of the "Big Apple" and a big bagel. Some OT's who move to the New York area share certain unmistakable traits that actually scream "I'm an OT!" So, the question is: why do OT's behave the way they do?

For the record, the OT concept regarding those coming to the New York area was actually the subject of a movie, the 1999 comedy “The Out-of-Towners,” starring Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn, which itself was a remake of a 1970 movie written by legendary playwright Neil Simon. In the 1999 version, the lead characters, two wide-eyed OT's, head to Manhattan to fulfill their big city dreams. Of course, some OTs find it hard to gain full acceptance from the locals, which reminds me of the 1990 movie "Goodfellas," when lead character Henry Hill explains that in order to become a "made" member of the mafia, "you've got to be 100% Italian so they can trace all your relatives back to the old country." Along similar lines, many OT's find that to gain full acceptance from the locals, one has to be 100% New York-bred so they can trace all your relatives back to the floor hockey championships and Color War controversies that are still the subject of Shabbos lunches throughout the Am-Yisroel-Chai-State area.

Of course, the OT concept is not unique to the My-Dreidel-Is-Dry-State area, and it actually has roots dating back to biblical times. The Torah itself actually has plenty to say about how to treat OT’s, e.g., “You shall not wrong nor oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20); The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens; you shall love each one as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34); and “You too must befriend (love) the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19)

The fascinating aspect of OT’s is that many exude a level of friendliness, kindness and sincerity that often is missing in the daily rat race of big city life. That does not mean that all OT’s are good and all locals are bad. Such generalizations would be completely unfair and it can be hurtful to paint all OT's with a broad brush, especially one with abrasive bristles. (Of course, other forms of painting also can be problematic, especially if you figuratively and literally paint the town red or paint yourself into a corner.)

With that said, let's talk about the particular behavior of some, but not all, OT's.

Many OT's like to hold doors open for others, which is adorably considerate. Some OT's will continue holding the door open until everyone within three square miles has passed through. A few will even risk being late for their own appointments, including job interviews, family reunions and life-saving surgery, just to hold the door open for others.

Many OT's like to make eye contact with the person to whom they're speaking, instead of constantly surveying the room for a better, more socially advantageous conversation. Some OT's will ask thoughtful follow-up questions because, unbelievably, they actually listen to what others have to say. A few OT's will even acknowledge your presence the next time they see you, as opposed to purposely acting aloof.

Many OT's speak with pleasant OT accents filled with small-town charm, wholesome naiveté and refreshing optimism. Unfortunately, it is an accent that sometimes screams "I'm an OT so feel free to take advantage of my kindness" or "The people in my hometown can't stand me, which is why I moved here. So, do you want to be my friend?"

I know what you're thinking. Why would some OT's behave this way? What's in it for them? Well, that's the craziest part. With many OT's, there are no ulterior motives, no secret strategies and no strings attached. OT's are not jockeying for position, angling for advantage or maneuvering for posture. In a word, OT's simply are . . . nice. Just imagine if everyone on earth shared this lovely OT disposition. As Sam Cooke sang in his 1960 hit: "What a wonderful world this would be."

Bottom-line: It is better to be out-of-town than to be out of time, touch, control or luck.

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