There is something about New York City that gets people excited. The history, the energy, and the feeling that anything can happen no matter the time of day make it a dream travel destination. When I tell people I am actually from New York, they always want to know more.
Despite our reputation of being rude, I love sharing tips about the city I am lucky enough to call home, and I find that many other New Yorkers feel the same. The faux pas often committed by tourists often fuel the “rude New Yorker” rumors. Below are some local New York tips as to how to better blend in so you don’t go home with a story of how you got yelled at while riding the subway.
Something I always hear about New York is that everyone always seems to be in a rush. It’s true, we are. We have meetings, dates, drinks, dinner reservations and SoulCylce classes to get to. If you want to fit in, walk with a sense of urgency (even if you’re going nowhere) and keep your gaze straight ahead or down. If you give someone a cheery, “hello!” they may call the NYPD and have you committed.
The culture here is walk to the right so be mindful of this to keep the flow going. Also, be mindful of how “deep” your crew is rolling down the sidewalk. Don’t let your entire family walk four straight, all next to each other, god forbid with a stroller! Please keep it to two and two, as there are people coming from the other direction, or people behind you who want to pass. If you’re walking slowly, please let people pass you – if you don’t, don’t be shocked or take it personally if you get pushed or shoulder bumped as I said, people have places to be.
When it comes to crossing the street, and the signal is red, but there is no car in sight, feel free to go for it… you’ll probably see all the locals doing it (and if you don’t want to please don’t block them from doing so by standing in the way). I always do this in other countries and people look at me like I’m crazy. In New York, you’re pegged as a tourist if you don’t do this. However, there are times when a local has the jaywalk perfectly finessed and timed to make it in those “iffy” moments. Always use your discretion.
NEW YORK SUBWAY ETIQUETTE
Don’t be afraid to ride the subway. It is most likely the most efficient way to get around if you are going far and everything is running smoothly (this is another story). However, there are unofficial “rules” to make the commute better for everyone.
When you get to the turnstile, have your MetroCard out and ready to swipe. Ain’t nobody got time for you to dig around looking for it. If you need to find it, please step to the side so other people who are ready can get through. If you don’t, you’ll be subjected to eye rolls and angry mutterings.
When the subway arrives, let everyone getting off at that stop exit the train before you enter. When you get on a crowded train, take off any large backpacks or purses. This not only creates more space but it also prevents shorter people (hi) from getting smacked in the face with your giant backpack. If you’re lucky enough to get a seat, put your bag in your lap and not next to you. If you have to stand, make sure you don’t lean against the pole as other people also need to hold on to it.
If the subway comes and an entire car is empty, you probably don’t want to get in it, especially during rush hour. An empty subway car usually means the air conditioning is broken, there is some sort of foul smelling bodily fluids, or a homeless person has claimed this car as his temporary home. Enter at your own risk.
I love taking pictures, so I get it- you see something interesting and want to stop and snap. However, I cannot repeat this enough: do not stop in the middle of the sidewalk to do this. Someone will bump into you and possibly curse you out (you can clearly see this reputation of being rude is not our fault).
Homeless people are not animals in the wild, so be respectful of them. They often suffer from mental health and addiction issues. It is rude to take their picture without their consent – how would you feel if someone came up to you and started snapping away without asking? Unless you ask them, avoid taking their photo in the name of seeming gritty and woke. If you do ask, you should probably buy them a slice of pizza or a coffee as a thank you.
Bouncing off of that, New Yorkers are jaded and really have seen it all. The other day, I was walking to the gym and there was a man dressed as Captain America, standing on top of a mailbox, brandishing his plastic sword and yelling gibberish. For me, and all the other locals, it was just another day in the neighborhood. Yes, I had a little giggle as I walked past but I did not feel the need to pull out my phone and snap a pic or take an Instagram story. There was a little crowd of people surrounding him doing just that, immediately identifying them as tourists.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
When ordering at a coffee shop, a crowded bar, or a fast-food restaurant know what you want when it is your turn. If you haven’t figured it out by now, time is money to New Yorkers and we value things being done quickly and efficiently. If you’re not sure what you want yet, just let the person behind you jump in – it will be greatly appreciated by all.
WHAT TO WEAR IN NEW YORK
If you want to walk around in an “I <3 New York” shirt I can tell you right now that New York will not <3 you. Save these for when you’re back home or better yet, just when you’re alone in your bed about to go to sleep… or just don’t buy one.
It is very easy to blend in as a New Yorker when it comes to getting dressed. We love wearing black, no matter the season. Dressing for comfort and being on your feet all day while still looking cute is so easy. Throw on black leggings (bonus points for fake leather ones), an oversized, chic sweater, and a funky pair of sneakers and you’re golden. In the summer, any cute sundress or romper works. Perhaps top it off with a Yankees hat (they do have a bit of a global brand going) to support a local team… just make sure you know who Aaron Judge is.
You might have heard of the M&M’s store in Times Square. It draws in tourists like bugs to a light. I could not tell you why, as in my opinion, there is nothing that special about it (even though it is still a bit touristy, I prefer Dylan’s Candy Bar). If you insist on going there, hide what I refer to as the “yellow bag of shame” aka the yellow shopping bag you get when you purchase something. A cute tote bag is a travel essential for me, so I recommend bringing one along and immediately stashing your touristy purchase.
NAVIGATING NEW YORK CITY
It blows my mind how many people I still see who walk around New York with and use actual, paper maps. Obviously, walking down the street with one of these and stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to open it, screams tourist. Even if you don’t have international phone service, there are so many maps and navigation apps that can be made available offline – embrace technology!
If you do find yourself lost, don’t be afraid to ask for directions. When I’m not in a total rush, I actually like helping people get around. Just be strategic with who you ask (not someone who looks laser-focused on getting to where they need to be) and be strategic with how you ask. If you say, “excuse me”, a local might think you are trying to sell them something and will ignore you and keep walking. Just go right into it with “how do you get to Bleecker Street” or “which way is Rockefeller Center”. I guarantee that the approach will garner much better results.
Yes, I am aware that most cultures don’t tip. However, as they say, when in Rome, so when you are in the U.S, please, tip. Even if it does not make sense to you, and you believe all cultures should be non-tipping, understand that it is this way here for a reason.
Servers, bartender, and taxi drivers often rely on the money made in tips to live, as they make a much lower base salary. 20% on a nice meal is standard. If you are at a nice bar, and the bartender is mixing you a fancy cocktail, that rule applies here as well (not the one dollar per drink one).
LEAVE MIDTOWN/TIMES SQUARE
Times Square is the tourist mecca that New Yorkers avoid at all costs. We will literally go out of our way to not end up in Times Square. Besides Broadway shows, there is nothing good here. If you come to NYC, and only stay in Times Square, then you did not go to NYC. I would recommend staying somewhere out of midtown to really get an authentic experience.
Chain restaurants tend to be rampant in Times Square as well. Why eat at Olive Garden when you can eat at one of the many authentic Italian restaurants found in any neighborhood in the city (don’t say the salad and breadsticks). New York has one of the best food scenes in the world and it would be a shame to travel all the way here and not experience it. Get out of your comfort zone and explore!
I hope these tips will help you navigate New York City like a local the next time you are in the Big Apple!
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