Living in New York takes thick skin—and eardrums. Life outside on the streets of NYC is anything but muted. How you react to the hubbub is one of the ways NYC separates its wheat from its chaff; the wheat learns to love the roar, the chaff moves back to Ohio. As a result, New Yorkers have come to love certain sounds that cause people from other places to slap their hands over their ears and curse loudly.
The symphony of overlapping automobile horns just might be the sound most identified with New York City. It’s the New Yorker’s constant companion, whether at 2pm in midtown or 2am in the East Village. The city has attempted to crack down on the noise in recent years, threatening unnecessary honkers with a $350 fine; in reality, this has done as much good as Mayor de Blasio standing on Fifth Avenue and shaking his fist at the traffic.
These electronic wails are designed to be obnoxious—they’re supposed to cut through background noise to tell inattentive drivers and pedestrians to make way for the emergency vehicle coming through. And in most places, they do a fine job. Here in NYC, though, heavy traffic means first responders use them constantly. As a result, sirens become so ubiquitous, they often go unnoticed—or even, on occasion, enjoyed.
People talking to themselves
Everybody talks to themselves sometimes—but there’s a big difference between rehearsing what you’re gonna say to your office crush under your breath and that guy on the subway rambling on about the quail inside Obama controlling him like a locomotive. Visitors steer clear of such self-narrating characters; New Yorkers, on the other hand, have seen enough of them to find their rants oddly amusing.
Of all the sounds rural dwellers enjoy, it’s hard to beat a babbling brook for peacefulness. Luckily, New Yorkers have their own version of this: the endless flow of traffic along the city’s great expressways. From the BQE to the FDR, NYC’s highways run ceaselessly, giving nearby residents the auditory equivalent of a relaxing river—though it’s a lot easier to ride an inner tube down a river than an expressway.
The screech of the subway
This whole list could be filled with the routine sounds of the New York City subway: the familiar canned announcements, the beep of a successful MetroCard swipe, the ding-dong of the closing doors. But it’s the sharp screech of an arriving train that takes the cake. To locals, it’s not an ear-wrenching screech; it’s the sound of being one step closer to home.
The cacophony of a jam-packed bar may be overwhelming to many, but for New Yorkers, it’s the inviting sound of a fun night out. By day, Big Apple residents can seem cool and antisocial, but it’s just their way of dealing with being constantly surrounded by millions of strangers. Nighttime is when they instead get to be surrounded by their friends. Throw in a little social lubricant, and it’s a recipe for a noisy room.
People yelling at each other in public
Public arguments have been a staple of the city for as long as there’s been a New York. Rarely does a day go in the average New Yorker’s life where he or she doesn’t observe two or more people yelling or screaming at each other, usually over something incredibly mundane. When you’re no longer uncomfortable at the sound of human beings shouting three feet away…that’s when you know you’re a real New Yorker.
Between all the new buildings vaulting upwards, the new train tunnels burrowing underground and all the road repairs in between, New York City is under a constant state of construction. But over time, something interesting happens; all the noise from those jackhammers and heavy truck engines and tunnel-boring machines and sky-scraping cranes blends together into an innocuous white noise so commonplace, most New Yorkers don’t even notice it until it’s gone.
Okay, even the most hardened New Yorker can be driven up the wall by a lone dog yipping away all night long. But put a few dogs together—as often happens in the city’s dog parks—and their barks and cries blend into a sweet chorus. For those New Yorkers who can’t squeeze a dog into their apartments or lifestyles, it’s a fond reminder of how wonderful it can be to have a pooch of your own.
Waking up to a deep diesel growl and the steady moan of a hydraulic press at work isn’t your average person’s idea of a good end to a restful night’s sleep. But for New Yorkers, the early morning sounds of the garbage truck mean the system that keeps tiny apartments empty of used takeout containers and crowded sidewalks free of potentially bedbug-ridden furniture is working like a charm.