We already suspected what the public perception of us was, but now we have something akin to hard proof: In a “readers choice” survey by Condé Nast Traveler, “the Hamptons” was rated as the eighth most unfriendly city in the United States among a list of 10. Newark, N.J., at number one, was the worst, and Miami just made the list, at number 10. Imagine! “The Hamptons” was only two slots friendlier than Detroit and — if that doesn’t make your hair stand on end — four slots better than Atlantic City.
I, myself, don’t really believe those Condé Nast Traveler readers really knew what they were talking about when they filled out the survey. I think the votes were based on a vague cultural perception.
Sure, in East Hampton, and everywhere else on the South Fork, we have plenty of issues, but kindness isn’t tops among them; residents, visitors, and civic organizations continually attest to lots of generosity and caring. Who would deny that we have an unusually strong sense of community here? The letters to the editor of The Star are often filled with thank-you notes to individuals and volunteers who stepped out of their way to help others.
I went to the magazine’s website in hopes of finding out just who participated in the survey, but didn’t have much luck. I ended up taking it (well, some of it) instead. Readers were asked to name cities they had been to and then evaluate them on a scale from poor to excellent — for not just friendliness and unfriendliness, but arts and culture, scenery and sights, restaurants and food, accommodations, shopping, and value. Among the friendliest cities, a disproportionate number of high scorers turned out to be in the South: Charleston, S.C. (which I’ve been meaning to visit since a former Star reporter moved there), was deemed the friendliest, followed by Savannah, Ga.; New Orleans was at the mid-mark, despite its problems, and Asheville, N.C., was number 10.
Perhaps those who marked “the Hamptons” as an unfriendly city had visited on a chaotic weekend in the summer, and run into someone in a shop who was tired and cranky. That certainly, ahem, happens. But, really, there’s a lot to quibble with in this survey ranking. First of all, even if we allow the Hamptons to be considered a single geographic entity, they (it?) are hardly a city. Hamptonization may have blurred some of the distinctions between the South Fork’s villages and hamlets, but their basic characters have not disappeared. In East Hampton, at least, people “from away” have been part of the equation for well more than a century; we’re not exclusionary.
In his 1979 book, “The South Fork: The Land and the People of Eastern Long Island,” the late Everett T. Rattray said that although this place was “native now to a relative handful, it could be native to thousands more if they would undertake the necessary naturalization exercises, which include some long looks beneath the surface of things.” I can’t help but wonder what he would say about the conclusions of Traveler’s survey. Its voters probably didn’t engage in any naturalization exercises.
Ah, well, perhaps it’s best that they didn’t. Our unfriendly rating may be good news, in the end, for this overcrowded peninsula. Given what things are like each July and August, we don’t really need any further announcements or broadcasts to the effect that our streets are filled with celebrities, that our restaurant kitchens are staffed by world-class chefs, that our visual arts heritage is second to none, that our farm and ocean produce is near-miraculous, and that our beaches are still incredibly beautiful. Grouchy survey-takers? You are welcome to stay home.