“Did that woman just call you a slut?” my dad asked me, referring to the lady with the microphone at the front of the bus. At 17 years old, this was not how I envisioned my first trip to New York unfolding. The woman in question hadn’t said it in quite so many words, but for the three hours I spent on a tour bus in Manhattan with two dozen ecstatic women, I was my father’s translator, deciphering the lingo like it was Klingon and he’d arrived with a lightsaber.
It was 2008, and we were on the Sex and the City tour of New York. The woman, our guide for the day, had asked which of the show’s four protagonists each of us associated most with. More accurate than any Myers-Briggs test, you can learn everything there is to know about a person from the trusty combination of their Hogwarts house, their star sign, and whether they are a Carrie, a Miranda, a Charlotte, or a Samantha.
Our guide, who gave off the excessive energy of a disgraced children’s-show host, cycled through the options as our bus sped down Broadway.
“Put your hand up if you’re a Carrie!” she cried out, a large group of women hollering back.
“Now let’s hear it for the Charlottes!” The ladies in the front few rows raised their hands with a dignified wave.
“Where are my Mirandas?” Only one brave woman replied.
“Which means the rest of you are Samanthas,” our guide said. “You dirty girls. I knew you would be!” she added, pointing directly at me while the rest of the women squealed with guilty excitement. Hence my father’s question. Labeling yourself a Samantha in front of a relative is the modern equivalent of sewing a scarlet A to your dress, or advertising your OnlyFans account at Christmas lunch.
I can tell you in hindsight that a Sex and the City bus tour is not a normal daddy-daughter bonding activity, but we’d been given free tickets by one of Dad’s friends, who I have to assume secretly hated him and thought, Why not?
“Which means the rest of you are Samanthas,” our guide said. “You dirty girls. I knew you would be!”
I can now tell you why not. Most of the day involved being crammed in the bus, watching clips from the show, displayed on small screens suspended above every fourth row, and listening to our enigmatic guide. “Here is the scene where Carrie gets mugged for her shoes, and to your left you’ll see the alley where it was filmed, which is actually a very safe area of the city!” Everyone got out their portable cameras and snapped identical photos of the narrow passage and whatever poor New Yorker happened to be walking by.
Later in the day, we were let free from the confines of the bus. We ate a Magnolia cupcake at the Greenwich Village spot where Carrie confides in Miranda about Aidan, we visited the Lower East Side bar where Steve worked for an archetypal cosmopolitan, and finally we were shown the West Village sex shop where Charlotte discovered the pleasure of a rabbit.
Visiting a sex shop with your dad should be on nobody’s bucket list. To this day, if I’m ever stuck with what feels like an impossible task, I try to embody the unrivaled confidence and energy of the salesman who tried to get me to buy a vibrator as I stood next to my dad. After politely turning down the curved contraption, my dad and I received complimentary spanking paddles for the bedroom. Matching sex toys!
“Want mine?” my dad asked me with a smirk, handing over his spanker. “I’ve already got one.”
Visiting a sex shop with your dad should be on nobody’s bucket list.
The Sex and the City tour was objectively awful. All television tours are. (I’ve also done the Gossip Girl one, if anybody would like to compare notes.) But I loved it.
I’m not about to claim it was a magical experience that won over my dad—he hated it. But the reason my translation services were needed that day (recall our tour guide’s “dirty girls” comment) is that I grew up alongside the show—albeit from the other side of the pond. Every break at school we’d rush to the girls’ common room, where the next DVD was pulled from the Sex and the City boxed set and played to a crowd of captivated teenagers.
The show was formative. It gave me sex ed when all school would teach me was “condom good, bareback bad.” It showed me that my pleasure was important and that it was O.K. to not want to piss on my paramour. But it also taught me that a good friend is worth a dozen men. Half the fun of watching Sex and the City was cackling beside my mates.
Looking back, the show is not without its issues (Carrie’s bi-phobia springs to mind), but it was undeniably a positive influence on my growing up. Which is why I can’t wait to watch the new season, even without Samantha. Just like the movies, and the Sex and the City tour of New York, even if it’s terrible, I’ll probably love it—provided I watch it with friends and not a member of my family.
And Just Like That… premieres December 9 on HBO
Flora Gill is a London-based writer