French Culture Guide

French Culture in New York, with a Touch of Paris

The Smaller (and Furrier) New Yorkers

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What do Jerry, Mickey Mouse, or Ratatouille have in common? Whiskers, two tiny ears, and a bald tail. Personally, I hate mice, so I cannot even find a word to describe my feelings toward rats. Blech! When I was in Paris, I was disgusted by the presence of mice in the subway. You can’t even imagine my surprise when I came to New York City and saw one of their larger, more menacing cousins scurry across the track. It’s true; I’ve never seen a mouse because here, it’s mostly rats – huge ugly rats!


Summer is on its way and the increase in temperatures gives way to a population influx. I remember my first months in New York City. Summer time is really humid; the temperature can be very high, and somehow New Yorkers are able to share consciously the subway platforms and even the sidewalks with rats. I am still amused by the indifference people display on the street or the subway. For them, walking next to a rat is part of their daily life, and they seem not to notice it anymore. Despite all these months in New York City, I still can’t ignore a rat. If you hear someone suddenly running or yelling, you can be sure it’s me after seeing a rat. It’s impossible for me to get used to it. I read somewhere that there are three rats per one New Yorker. So, in other words we are the ones invading their space. Hypothetically, if they suddenly have the desire to control the city, they not only have the power but also the legitimacy.


This fictional scenario is not very naïve. In the beginning of the year, you’ve probably heard or seen the picture of the Gambian pouched rat. This giant rat has been found in the Bronx in a Foot Locker shop. It was the second time this specimen was found stateside; the first one was in Brooklyn in 2011. What if there are more of these humongous mutants? Scientists say that they are harmless since they were brought to the U.S. as pets. They were subsequently judged as very hard to take care of and were eventually banned.


Anyway, before having a clear confirmation of the introduction of Gambian rats to New York’s footwear establishments, the ordinary rats were proliferating in New York City subways. It’s a reality that workers in the subway face daily, and even feel threatened by while they are working. According to the Transport Workers Union, the increase in the number of rodents is one explanation of the slow trash removal. After many complaints, which have only gone to deaf ears, the workers have decided to ask the help of the riders themselves. In the beginning of 2012, they organized a contest giving subway users the opportunity to take pictures of rats and upload them to the website “Rat-Free Subways.”


The contest is now over, and the winner is Mr. Marc Savarino, with a picture of two rats (I guess sleeping) inside a bag of chips. The huge participation based on the enormous number of uploaded pictures made the MTA decide to clean twenty stations. Unfortunately, this initiative only affects 4% of the stations in the whole subway system. It’s clearly not enough, and you can still support the workers by signing the petition and/or submitting your story.


Everybody has more than one story. Off the top of my head, I can remember the day I gave up my rights as a human being and surrendered it to the rodents. It was at Nostrand Avenue station. I was going uptown, and I had to go down the stairs to find the right platform. I was halfway down when I saw rats gathering on the empty platform. I clapped my hand to threaten them verbally and jumped to make some noise, but they didn’t seem to care. In the end, I decided to go downtown and make my transfer at a different station. I have no shame.


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By Kenza Yarhfouri