How to Avoid Looking Like a Tourist in New York City
Tips on Tipping, Transportation and What to Wear for Newcomers and Visitors to NYC
New York City. The Big Apple. City of more fantasies than any other place on earth except perhaps Los Angeles and Paris. Which means everything about the town is shrouded, if not in mystery, in false or incomplete information. Here’s a quick guide to frequently asked questions, overlooked information and mostly misguided concerns.
Let’s start with transportation. Specifically, your arrival:
- The airports, particularly if you are visiting someone in Manhattan, are not near anything. Your friends cannot pick you up at the airport, as they either do not drive, do not own a car if they do drive, or know better than to get lost looking for their friends at our truly nightmarish airports. And despite what some airports say, there is no reasonable rail or bus service from them to us, which leaves you with a few options:
- Take a cab – it’s easy, and it’s a flat rate now that they tell you when you get in. You will only need to provide directions to your destination if you are not going to Manhattan (some destinations in the notoriously confusing West Village may be an exception).
- Take a shuttle service – it’s cheap, but it also takes forever Supershuttle is your best bet.
- Reserve a black car – it’ll probably cost slightly more than a cab and be no easier. Unnecessary, but an appealing option to some. Car services can be found by dialing seven sevens or seven sixes.
Now that you’re ready to go outside, let’s discuss that popular concern, crime. Despite the movies you have seen, the stories you recall from the ’70s and ’80s, New York is the safest big city in America. However, you may see some things that alarm or confuse you, and if you’re not from an urban environment, may not know how to handle.
You will see homeless people. They are rarely dangerous or agressive in asking for change (as I have found them to be in other cities). This should not be a major safety concern to you.
You are only in danger of being pick-pocketed if you are in heavily touristy areas or are a twit on the subway. Don’t carry your wallet in your back pocket, hold onto your purse (this does not mean clutch it desperately, as that only makes you stand out), and don’t leave your bag unattended in a restaurant or club.
Do not talk to people on the street because they will keep talking to you and you will not know how to shut them down. It’s not considered particularly rude here to be lost in your own little world – so if you do’t know how to handle a situation, just keep moving.
where to go in NYC ?
Now, that we’ve discussed this you can go outside. Here’s some information on places you might be considering visiting.
Times Square is not that interesting. 80% of the people you see there will be tourists like yourself. The other 20%, New Yorkers who either work in the theatre or earn their living off tourism even more directly. If you wish to see a Broadway show, or are interested in the history of New York, do check it out, but don’t expect it to be a lengthy or repeated part of your trip.
If you are interested in visiting the WTC site, please consider the following:
- Do not ask random strangers you’re asking for directions to the site if they knew anyone who was there.
- Conversely, it’s like the New Weather and us natives talk about it a lot, so if you can’t deal, tell us, or else we’ll just go on and on about it.
- Do not complain about the cottage industry of souvenir stuff that has sprung up around the site – it may be tasteless, but please remember our economy is still reeling from this event, and people do what they can.
- People do live in the WTC area, be sensitive of that, and don’t block the sidewalks or presume everyone is available to be your tour guide.
- Do not ask people about the smell.
Do not expect it to be very interesting. It’s a big pit and not much mor right now. However, Wall Street is one of New York’s most historic areas; take time to explore it.
Shopping in NYC
- 5th Avenue from 50th – 59th Street – expensive, well-known destination shops (i.e., Tiffany & Co.)
- Madison Avenue from 60th – 86th Street – expensive, more exclusive designers
- East Village (3rd Avenue to Avenue A, Houston to 14th Street) – young designers, trends, bargains, edgy stuff and the remnants of punk rock New York
- Soho (West Broadway south of Houston) – once artsy, now Rodeo Drive
Where should I eat in NYC?
Just because New York has chain restaurants, doesn’t mean you should ever, ever go there. It’s wasting your visit and embarassing to your hosts. Try these neighborhoods:
- East Village – tons of fabulous cheap food of every ethnic description you can imagine. And if you want Indian food, go to 6th Street, between 1st and 2nd.
- Little Italy – skip Ferrars and go to Cafe Roma for Italian Cookies. And then skip the neighborhood entirely, as great Italian food can be found all over the city
- Upper East Side – 3 restaurants or more a block, every block on 1st and 2nd Avenues 72nd – 86th Street
- Tribeca – price and trendy, many of these destinations require reservations
- Flat Iron District – Park Avenue South 17th Street – 23rd Street – pricey, but largely relaxed
- Soho – an odd mix of food choices from the casual to the very price. Good for movie star sighting too.
- Harlem – Soul Food, Italian and Latin, depending on how broadly you define the neighborhood
- Punk, Goth, Youth, etc.
- St. Marks Place (8th Street, 3rd Avenue to Thompkins Square Park
- West Village (Christopher Street at 7th Avenue)
- Chelsea (8th Avenue, 14th – 23rd Streets)
Now how are you going to get there?
- Whenever possible walk or take the subway. The buses are extremely slow, and above ground traffic, especially if travelling crosstown (that is on the East-West axis of the city), can be extremely slow and expensive.
- Free subway maps can be obtained at most subway station booths. They are also posted in all stations, on all train platforms and in all trains. It’s not that hard to figure out, but do understand that our system started over 100 years ago and has grown organically. It can seem chaotic. And while the trains do technically run on a schedule, that schedule is not posted anywhere.
Some Useful information About NYC
Finally, all that stuff you heard about New York being a hassle can be true. here are some random pieces of information that should help:
- Cabs change shift at around 4 (am and pm), this means that from 3:30 to about 4:45 it is impossible to get a cab.
- There are no cabs in the rain.
- Cabs are legally obligated to take you to any destination in the 5 boroughs; if they refuse, say you’ll report them and make a scene.
- Try not to engage cabbies in conversations, lest you be hearing about all sorts of things you don’t wish to know – i.e., the guy who sells books of poetry out of the back of his cab about how his new found religious faith helped him stop his divorce.
- If you are walking alone at night, cabs will pull over thinking you need a ride. It can be annoying, but shouldn’t alarm you.
- Yes, our Mexican food is mostly mediocre. We know. you don’t need to tell us..
- There’s a phenomena here of Chinese/Cuban and Chinese/Mexican food. It’s good, but not what you were expecting, and as such, you have now been duly warned.
- Fast food costs more here and varies by part of town.
- Everyone jay-walks. You should too.
- You need photo ID to get into many large office buildings in The New New York.
- The tap water is only as good as the pipes serving it, meaning, not aways.
- Yes, we do have beaches, and no, they are not covered in needles.
- If you’re late anywhere, say you took a cab.
- We’re not rude, just busy.
- We don’t all speak like Fran Drescher.
- If you ask us for directions, respect our personal space when doing so, and don’t inquire while standing in doorways or subway stairwells.
- Do not go on about how raising a child in NYC is abusive. I’ve heard this a hundred times, and it’s tedious. There is nothing abusive about raising a child in an environment rich with cultural opportunity and that allows for independence because cars are not required to get about..
- Due to the high cost of living, there are many more only children here than in other places – so don’t start on that either.
- Just because our streets are dirty, or you’ve heard they are dirty, does not give you the right to litter.
- Do not mock people’s accents or foreign languages or be suprised that some ehtnic group you have never encountered before looks the way it does. Please keep it to yourself. Surely, this seems obvious, but the things strangers say on a daily basis here can boggle the mind.
- Museums are expensive, but many of them have one evening a week that is free. The Met has a suggested donation, you can give less.
- 20% tipping is standard.
Now you’re ready. Come blend in!
By Racheline Maltese