Thursday, December 1, 2011

Things I've Learned Since Moving to NYC: Part 1

Two of the questions I am most frequently asked (aside from the annoying ones about marriage, career, and other things I'm clueless about) are "What's it like to live in NYC?" or "What have you learned?" So, I've decided to make a little mini-series on my blog about my ponderings around those subjects. This go-around, I'm focusing on the day-to-day life. What is it like to commute via subway? What specific qualities or skills have I needed to learn or adapt? And a few common misconceptions or assumptions that can be explained by the daily life of a New Yorker.

*Disclaimer: These are qualities and observations from a daily standpoint. It does not represent how I live my entire life or how I always am. So, don't take it too seriously and enjoy!

1. The majority of New Yorkers are not mean. I've had many fun and interesting surprise conversations on the subway, in cafes, or on street corners. I've seen two factors go into this idea that New Yorkers are mean.
       A- We have places to be in a city that runs like clock-work: DOWN TO THE SECOND. So people who stop in the middle of sidewalks, stroll with their friends taking up the ENTIRE width of the sidewalk, or get up to the register then take another minute to decide whether they want chocolate or vanilla are just plain in our way. And if you miss a particular subway or bus and have to catch the next one, you've missed the next connection and it's thrown a huge kink in your timing. And generally, the boss doesn't take the excuse of: "people were in my way."
      B- NYC has a population of over 8 million people. On a very very small island. The chances of you running into mean and or cranky people is INSANELY HIGHER than that of living in a smaller, more spread out community.

2. The elevator ride up to your office is really just another changing room. Have to wear heels with your suit to work? Throw them in your bag and change out of your flats between floors 1 and 15 to avoid the blisters and getting stuck in subway grates. Need to wear that skirt or dress in January? Throw a pair of warm sweats on over the hose and under the skirt, then strip it off between floors 12 and 22 so you avoid the flu and your leg hair doesn't grow back asap. Raining? Tuck your pants into the knee-high rain boots, wear a long trench-style poncho, and wrap something over your hair (umbrellas don't work...I'll get to that later). Then, as you go up 30 floors, you'll have time to change shoes and unwrap your hair and fluff it (because it will be dry!) I promise you won't get strange looks, because everyone else will be busy doing the same.

4. You've gotta have a "New Yorker game face" on. That includes the expressionless mouth, unfaltering gaze ahead, straight back, and quick steps. If not, you run the risk of being taken advantage of by sales-people, beggers, pick-pocketers, and other various types of people.

5. Always, always have a "plan B" route to get somewhere. Subways and trains are so amazing, but they do run into trouble at times. For instance, last night, my subway home was shut down due to someone being struck by a train. If I didn't know a back-up way to get home, I would have been at that subway stop for hours...or have to fork out my life savings for a cab ride.

6. If there are 3 empty seats on a subway, you don't take the one right next to another person. This is an unspoken rule, and I am not sure as to the reason. I just know it exists. And if I'm sitting on a subway or train and there are 2 empty seats across the way but you choose to sit directly next to me? I'm creeped out and on guard. Immediately. I may also give you a strange glare...

7. If the lights flicker or you hear strange noises on a subway, and no one else is panicking, THEN ITS OK. Generally speaking, New Yorkers have seen it all. So if at any point and time, you question whether you should panic, look around. If everyone else is still on their crackberry, reading, or have their eyes shut, you are just fine. Chill out. No need to cause a scene.

8. Umbrellas during major commuting hours rarely, if ever, actually keep you dry.  Ever tried sharing a sidewalk with 250 other people with umbrellas? I have. It doesn't work. And they don't care whether you get wet, they only care if they get wet. So don't expect them to avoid you or lift their umbrella up a tad when passing. I've found I should just wear a hood and walk quickly, weaving in and out of the umbrella people. That way I stay dry and I'm not cranky because my umbrella was attacked by 22 others.

9. And finally, after all these other things, you have to learn not to let stuff get to you. New Yorkers have a resilence like I have never seen before. From little things to big things. Guy pushes you out of the way and takes the last seat on the subway? Give him a dirty look and a scoff, then move on. If you let that ruin your day, you'd never have a good one. Have two major and uncommon natural disasters in one week, resulting in weeks of no power? Survive, share the funny story of you saving your Snapple Apple, then go to work the next day, because inevitably they will get the trains working before your hot water. New York never shuts down, so the faster you can recover, the easier your life is going to be.

All in all, my biggest lesson on daily living in NYC is to try and make light out of all the shit that happens. Because living in this city is hard. And stressful. And can really wear you down if you don't learn coping mechanisms for the day to day stuff that is bound to happen sooner or later. But, even through all the madness, I love this city. I love life in this city. Everyday is a new and unpredictable adventure! And I wouldn't trade it for anything.


  1. Enjoyed tremendously, Geny! Thanks for sharing your insights so that we "small-town" folks can live vicariously thru you!!!

  2. Well, it didn't post my name above,'s from Cindy Gibbs

  3. Great blog! I agree with most of these, but I don't think number 4 is a necessity. I look like a tourist pretty much all the time. In America it was because I took my camera with me everywhere, and it Asia it's because I don't look Asian.

    When I worked/went to school in NYC, I choose not to put on a game face because I think radiating a friendly smile out into the world is worth a few extra offers to buy tickets for the sightseeing buses or comedy clubs. There are a few things I refuse to let the world change about me, and my smile and friendly outlook is at the top of that list.