I am writing this in the departures lounge of JFK International Airport. I’m about to leave my adopted home town, New York City, for the final time this year. I’m very sad to be leaving, as there is STILL so much for me to discover in this incredible city.
But you know what? That’s ok, ‘cos it just means I’ll just have to come back next year!
Anyway, if you’re visiting or thinking of visiting New York, I’ve put together a list of things you can do if you REALLY want to impress the locals and not stick out like a camera-toting tourist.
I believe that the best way to experience a place is to do as the locals do, and from my observations during my time here, here’s my list of recommendations:
1. Be assertive.
When I arrived here for the very first time, I took the bus to Grand Central Station. As it was late at night and I was tired, disorientated and dragging a large suitcase, I decided to take a cab.
Unfortunately, so did everyone else in the vicinity.
I remember standing by the road trying to be seen, but other people would walk ahead of me and grab the nearest cab before I had a chance! Eventually I forced myself to push ahead and stand (almost) in the middle of the street until a cab stopped for me.
Lesson: New York is no place to be shy. You gotta hustle.
2. Get yourself the tiniest dog you can find.
Dress it up in a coat and rubber booties. Put it in a roller bag and wheel it around. (I’m not kidding. People bring their dogs to museums in wheely bags. Seriously, what’s the point?)
3. Don’t order anything as it’s written on the menu.
New Yorkers know exactly what they want, and how they want it. ie: “Can I have the beef burger special, but can I have the vegan quinoa patty instead? And can you switch onions for pickles, chilli sauce for ketchup, cheese on the side, and oh – can you make it a salad?” They will be HAPPY to oblige.
In fact, servers are so used to people customising every single damn item, they don’t even know how to respond to a standard order.
One time I asked for the ‘Caesar salad’ and the guy looked at me and said “What do you want in it?” I said “Just whatever is in Caesar salad!” He looked at me, slightly confused. “But…what do you want in it?”
I think they should just do away with menus and make every place a DIY buffet bar.
4. Don’t cook. Ever.
Not only are there enough eateries in this city to keep your tastebuds happy at any time of the day, every place will deliver through the online delivery service ‘Seamless‘. All you have to do is order when you finish work, and hey presto, by the time you’re home a little man on a bicycle will have your meal at your door.
You don’t even need to leave the house for snacks. There’s actually a place near me called ‘Insomnia Cookies’ that sells and delivers cookies and milk until 3am (not kidding).
Some of my favourite places: Bareburger (try the Roadhouse burger with elk), Hill Country BBQ (for Paleo-ites), Chipotle (it’s a chain, but my favourite cheap semi-healthy Mexican fix), and Roberta’s Pizza in Bushwick (get the J-Wow pizza).
4. Completely disregard the pedestrian lights.
As a pedestrian, you have ALL the power in this city. Apparently, if a car so much as nudges you, you have the right to kick up a stink and sue. As a result, people don’t look left-right-left (sorry, right-left-right!) – they just walk.
And it’s not just the young kids and impatient business people. I’ve seen little old ladies, hunched over their trolleys shuffling across the street whilst a taxi hurtles towards them. No concerns there!
5. Play the real-life Bike NYC video game.
Cycling in NYC is terrifying and exhilarating. You have to look out for swerving taxis, pedestrians who disregard all road rules (see above), mega potholes and little men delivering cookies. It’s certainly a good way to keep you alert.
I still choose to stop at red lights, but true New Yorker-style is to just sail right through them. My uncle told me he has a sixth sense that nothing’s going to hit him. Do any other locals agree?
6. Always maintain constant eye contact with your phone.
DO NOT look anyone in the eye when in the street, waiting for the lift, or when dining with your friends. It may prompt a brief spate of human interaction; or worse, you’ll miss the last five seconds of Twitter activity. Just be prepared to bruise your forehead when you walk into the street scaffolding.
(Tip: How to spot the tourists: tourists are looking UP at the buildings, locals are looking DOWN at their phones)
7. Only drink coffee out of cups that are bigger than your own head.
(And pronounce it “caw-fee”!)
8. Go and watch folk songwriter Passenger for free at Central Park.
Be confused by the fact that it’s one guy with a guitar and not a band. Film the whole performance on your iPhone, then leave after ‘Let Her Go’ – ‘cos that’s the only good song he does, right?
9. Balmy evening? Go to Dumbo in Brooklyn and watch the sun set over the city.
While this does get a bit touristy, lots of locals still enjoy it. I never tired of this view. Simply incredible.
10. Be grateful that you are living in one of the greatest cities in the world.
New York certainly has its quirks, and I enjoyed every minute of it. And any time I got stressed or overwhelmed, I had to stop and remind myself of how lucky I was to have this opportunity.
I don’t know how many New Yorkers actually appreciate what they’ve got – it’s very easy to get caught up in the hectic day-to-day life and forget that most people in the world will NEVER get the chance to experience what you have. So if you’re a New Yorker and reading this, please – be grateful :)
Well, it’s almost time to board so I gotta get going. Next stop is Thailand – I’ll be living in Chiang Mai for the next 7 weeks or so. It’s going to be a bit of a change of pace, and one that I’m looking forward to.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you soon :)