Things that only long time or native New Yorkers will know. Here are a few secrets to get you started. The city that never sleeps is full of people and with that, comes a lot of small details that must be followed or else you get the stink eye from everyone. As a visitor from out of town, you might be tempted to get an early start on the day as seen through the lens of the below scenario.
Easily the best place to start on these rules is with the weekday commute, where very few people ever drive into the city. It’s called “The City”, not “Manhattan”, “NYC”, or anything else. As a visitor wishing to make the most of your day, the fastest way to get run over is to be in the way of a group of office workers exiting a train going to and from work. Do not be the reason these people are late getting anywhere. It does not matter who you are, what you do, or where you are from; you will get shoved into a corner as everyone rushes by you. The MTA Subway of New York City is, maybe, one of the greatest modern equalizers of socioeconomic status.
It is also almost never on time in the mornings.
Before you even attempt to get on the train, Observe People. See how the Metrocard system works. Need a Metrocard? Watch how others are doing it. Fellow commuters will immediately know you’re from out of town if you get stuck at a Metrocard vending machine or a turn-style. True New Yorkers will be able to navigate these two things while hungry, sleep-deprived, and hung over. They will also do a quick Scan and Sniff anytime they get onto the train, in case a bum, pigeon, or crazy person is in that train car. Empty train cars during rush hours are a huge hint that something is wrong in that train car.
Getting on the train means putting your backpack between your legs, not wearing it in front or behind you. Wearing it behind you means you’ll spin like a revolving door because people will see the backpack and purposely elbow, shoulder or otherwise hip check you out of the way. Additionally, hands do not touch each other on the pole, tall people hold upper rungs, and do not elbow anybody in the face. Everyone is frustrated with NYC MTA, everyone.
Once you’ve made it to your destination, don’t stand in the center of a busy street and gawk at the buildings. This has the dual effect of again, getting you shoved into a corner or even worse, made a target of scammers and thieves. If you want to look around, take a photo, research restaurants or anything else that requires you to be stationary, the best thing I can tell you is to Stand Off to the Side. This is not the time to ask a passing pedestrian for directions. Wait on the side, Follow the Flow of other commuters, often feeling like a salmon swimming upstream and you’ll be fine. Do not walk slowly, ever.
The best place to ask for directions? Google maps. Do not play 20 questions with the barista at the coffee shop with a dozen angry people behind you waiting in line. Do not ask the corner cart guy unless he’s completely devoid of all patrons-and even then, be weary of why he’s got no customers during morning rush hour while the cart across the street has a line 10 people deep.
Learn the Slang. In the wintertime, understand that the statements, “It be mad brick out here”, “why does the wind hurt my face”, and “this scarf is giving me life” ALL express the idea that it’s really cold out here. Similarly, if two New Yorkers bump into each other the entire conversation can go like the below description.
” Yo, You good?” phrased as a question followed by the reply “Yeah you good?” and a inquiring look after which the first person would nod and/or wave off the help and reply “Yeah, you good” with a nod and the two would go their separate ways.
In this specific case, “You good” simultaneously asks a question, states an apology, and then accepts the apology…or could mean any of the other half a dozen meanings. In NYC, You Good is 10% statement, 90% body language.
If ordering breakfast, decide what to eat while on line. Do not strap your face to a phone, have a full blown argument with a friend or otherwise inconvenience anyone else in the store with your presence. Having a Friendly Smile and Respecting other Peoples Time, are really two of the best things a traveler to New York can bring with them. If you and another stranger happen to both witness something weird or interesting, it’s okay to bond over the moment before hustling off to your next appointment.
On the subject of eating and food in general, you’re probably here on vacation so enjoy yourself. Skip the Chain Restaurants all together and go on google or yelp. Soon, google will likely take over our lives but for now, there are a plethora of apps to find the best food in NYC. NYC pizza is called a “regular” slice, calling it a “cheese” slice means they’ll add extra cheese. If you’re from Chicago, I suggest you not argue that your pizza is better than ours. Just don’t.
Same thing with repping Massachusetts/Boston sports teams, you know who you are.
A good safety tip is that no matter how picturesque Central Park looks in the movies, don’t buy anything or be there after dark unless you want to get ripped off. There are perfectly good well intention-ed street vendors in Central Park that will happily up charge you 5 dollars for a 1 dollar bottle of water because they know you won’t leave the park just for water.
Another safety tip? Research the events you’re headed to and their respective neighborhoods. For example, there are many movies and TV shows filmed in New York City but it does not mean you should go into several very Dangerous Neighborhoods to visit those famous steps from that famous comic book movie about a sad clown because then you’ll be the sad clown because you got mugged for your tourist money.
The phrase, “Time is Money” is very appropriate for New York City because the Pace of NYC is brisk, to say the least. Most people by and large, are good people who just don’t have time for any of your touristy BS. They will help you in a pinch and be gone before you’ve even finished saying thanks. They will ignore the person running down the street wearing a werewolf mask in the middle of July but absolutely defend an entire train car full of people from a racist red-hat pigeon.
If you must hail a cab, walk into the street to do it. Use a parked car as a guide for how far to go. Go too far and another car or cyclist will not even blink before honking and/or screaming profanity at you. Argue with a Cabbie at your own risk but sometimes, if you do know a faster way to get there than they do, Speak Up. This city is not for the timid and in fact, may save you from getting scammed on that cab ride.
Speaking of scammed. Going into a corner store, bodega, deli or other small neighborhood store almost certainly requires Cash. Of course you can use a card or go to a nearby ATM but I wouldn’t want to risk getting spotted taking out money or giving my card to a guy I don’t trust. If you need an ATM, go to a real bank, not a random ATM. It could have any mixture of germs, bugs, food, bodily fluids or smell. It’s just not how I roll and I’m from here. Cash is still king in NYC.
Lastly, expect everything to cost more because of Location. Don’t let it shock you, especially if you’re near attractions. Venturing out of the City and into the other boroughs can be a fun day trip out to see things other than the big city. Do your research and you could end up at a fun Brooklyn flea market, a concert in Long Island, or an authentic food experience in Queens. In a city where the train literally never stops running (usually), enjoy your time here, I dare you.