NYC Survival Guide

Coney Island

Recently, a Cincinnati friend of mine got transferred to her employer’s NYC office for two months, so I wrote up a little “survival guide” to help her navigate the big city. Not a list of must-see attractions or my favorite restaurants — that’s all subjective, and I figured that everyone else would barrage her with their recommendations. Mine is a list of more mundane, practical tips to help her fit in, posted here for your enjoyment and possible education.

First off, don’t call it New York. Once you’re there, it’s just “the city.” When you’re in the metro area but outside city limits, “the city” means NYC generally but, when you’re within city limits, it means Manhattan. Don’t EVER actually say Manhattan, though.

The subway is just “the train.” If you take the Long Island Railroad, that’s the LIR, even though the signs say LIRR.

Long Island is pronounced Lon Gisland.

Long Island City is in Queens.

Manhattan Beach is in Brooklyn.

West New York is in New Jersey.

New Jersey is just Jersey.

If someone checks your ID in a bar, you didn’t get carded; you got proofed.

A Jap is a Jewish American Princess, not a Japanese person.

Your debit card is an ATM card.

When you’re in a store, waiting to pay for something, you’re ON line, not IN line.

Last night, I went OVER your house, not TO your house or OVER TO your house.

A slice of pizza is just a slice, and a whole pizza is a pie. A lot of pizza places sell Italian ices, which are really good and always plural, e.g. “Can I get a lemon ices?”

Also, don’t bother asking anyone about where to get the best pizza or bagels. The beauty of the city is that they’ll be at least pretty good, and often excellent, anywhere.

A taxi is a cab, and a taxi you call is car service. Since you’ll be in Manhattan, you won’t ever need to call car service. If you do get in a cab, take note of the number, just in case something happens. Don’t act like you don’t know where you’re going, because the cabbie will take the long route for a higher fare. You should tip a cabbie, but don’t let them tell you it’s required or a set amount.

You’re likely to hear that Junior’s in Brooklyn has the best cheesecake. I wish that were Brooklyn’s honor, but I actually think the honor belongs to Veniero’s [also, best cannolis, best fruit tarts, best everything].

The most important thing is: don’t ever look up or make eye contact with people. Don’t ever act surprised or impressed by anything. It’s best to always look vaguely annoyed and just keep your eyes trained on an imaginary spot about 8-10 feet up and half a block away.

Finally, people always say that New Yorkers are mean, and New Yorkers seem to relish that perception, but it’s not actually true. If you’re lost or need help, people will step up. If you’re waiting for a train and hear an announcement about a cancellation or route change and don’t know what to do, people will help you. You just have to ask the least friendly-looking person, because that’s who’s most likely to be a native.

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25 thoughts on “NYC Survival Guide

  1. Excellent post, Maya!

    Being 6’9″, I frequently made direct eye contact with fellow NYCers…

    most were receptive to my connection.

    Luv Veniero’s….Junior’s is kewl!

    My 2 most frequent visitor suggestions:

    #1. Never/ever open up NYC map out on the street…

    set yourself up big time for trouble.

    #2. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge….

    sunrise & sunset walks are glorious/sublime!

    So sad & sorry to read in NYT of the pending changes @ Coney Island…

    that truly SUX!

  2. Well, now you can slyly use your smartphone’s map app, and no one has to know that you’re lost.

    The latest NYT article about Coney broke my heart. “Those stores don’t fit our vision,” etc. Wow.

  3. Nice, very detailed advice there. A few new ones in there for me even, such as “over your house” and “proofed”. This one is just so spot on: “Don’t ever act surprised or impressed by anything. It’s best to always look vaguely annoyed and just keep your eyes trained on an imaginary spot about 8-10 feet up and half a block away.” And it’s so true that NY-ers actually do look out for eachother when it counts. When there is not problem or emergency though, you will be invisible to them, and you will return the favor. Great post.

  4. Houston Street: “Houston” is pronounced like a combination of the words “house” and “ton,” and not like the city of Houston, Texas thanks to William Houstoun, who was a delegate from State of Georgia to the Continental Congress from 1784 through 1786 and to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

  5. amateurs. For people who don’t really know themselves and have no culture, it seems fun to talk about all this relatively irrelevant shit. But for native New Yorkers, we go about our day creating culture, instead of constantly asking ourselves, is this ok? what do you think? Where did you get those shoes? And all sorts of insecure mindlessness that makes you stick out like a sore thumb. Oh yeah, and New Yorkers love to hate ;)

  6. This is a largely irrelevant [and irreverent] guide to the minutia that every New Yorker has already internalized, but I think it’s a handy list of mundane tips for someone who doesn’t know.

    Barbara, we must be from different parts of Brooklyn because, where I’m from, it’s always “ices,” which is so absurd that I had to mention it.

  7. I think you confusing “ices” with “icey” which is what the piragua man sells if you don’t speak Spanish.

    Also, Veniero’s is Italian cheesecake; Junior’s is Jewish cheesecake. Apples and oranges. But Veniero’s does have the best cannoli.

  8. No, I’m referring to the “ices” you get from a pizza place which, in my experience [that being perhaps more narrow than I'd thought] is always plural.

  9. I call it New Jersey… and I refer to Manhattan by both it’s name, or as ‘the city’ or simply ‘New York’ which is what most old timers call it. Or I just call it Blandhattan because that’s what it is.

    And I wouldn’t say Jap at all. It’s vaguely racist either way you put it.

    And what is Long Gislland? How do you even pronounce that?

    There’s too much wrong with this list but I’m a jaded New Yorker so I guess I’d find fault with everything, especially in this heat.

  10. “Lon Gisland” seems like a pretty obvious breakdown of how the name is actually pronounced.

    I’m not advocating the use of the term “Jap,” but it is something you occasionally hear, so it seems apt to mention what it usually means there, versus what it tends to mean elsewhere.

    If you find fault with the list, corrections and additions are absolutely welcome. Even jaded New Yorkers can find a way to show off their knowledge and be helpful, no?

  11. It’s Long Island. Proper pronunciation. Just say “coffee,” or a “coffee,” but hold the “cawfee” pronunciation till you get back to OH. Unless you are a native going back several generations, fun as it is, skip the Fran Drescher shtick. The New York accent really does pop out in the word “coffee,” but no need to work an accent if its not your own. Otherwise, as long as you are speaking proper English, your Mid Western pronunciation is just fine. (Though having visited Dayton recently, I was alarmed by the tendency for locals to drop the “g” on any words ending in “ing.” So, lazy English no, proper English, yes.)

    No apology needed for being from wherever you are from. Bear in mind, NYC is a city of immigrants. Everyone is from somewhere else, especially those who are accomplishing things–since they came here on a mission–be it a century or a week ago. Do your research, be open to new experiences and, if it’s important to you to dress the part, then do a little research if you don’t want to stand out based on appearances alone.

    Its true, New Yorkers are very proud of their city and everyone one of them claims to know the trains, streets better than the next, which works in your favor. Ask directions on a train and watch how fast those bored faces snap to attention to give you the fastest route form point A to B.

    New Yorkers go about their business with little regard for strangers more out of a survival technique in this ADD city, than anything else. If we seem unfriendly, that’s on your, you’re probably not registering on our radar. (Again, like with the train, pierce the bubble and ask for directions, you’ll likely get a smile.)

    Our sidewalks are our transportation. We rarely stroll, at least not during daylight hours. So, when you hit the pavement, walk to the right, never more than two abreast and walk fast–be aware that there are people behind you who actually need to get somewhere.

    Finally, New Yorkers love to complain. It’s a recognized art form (ask Woody Allen), but few are snarky or mean-spirited for the sake of it or would have the hubris to claim that they are “making culture.” This is the guy who’ll give you attitude, but rest assured, it is not typical of real New Yorkers and you’ll have spotted him long before he gives you the once-over.

    To some, being a New Yorker means giving the rest of the country the back of the hand, but part of being a sophisticated New Yorker is being smart enough to realize that though we may be the biggest and best, there is still equally important culture across the Hudson (not the least of which is your Zaha Hadid-designed museum).

  12. Thanks, Andy, for your detailed and reasonable advice. Thank you, too, for acknowledging the “culture across the Hudson.” My friend happens to be from Cincinnati, but she’s no country bumpkin. Living here now, I’ve come to appreciate a lot of the things a place like this can offer, and try to avoid complaining about the “big city” things that are lacking.

    Since I no longer live there, I find New Yorkers’ impulse to out-New York each other pretty amusing, sometimes annoying, and definitely immature. [I realize that I probably do this as well sometimes.] It doesn’t matter if the “cred” is based on living there a few years or going back generations. So, thank you for not falling into that and instead taking the time to be helpful.

  13. Another one – if you are are not going to walk on an escalator wide enough for two people, STAY TO THE RIGHT so other people can push past you. We don’t have the extra 30 seconds to just stand there like they do in other cities :)

  14. Always assume that everyone else has to get somewhere quickly. And it isn’t a pizza pie. It’s just a pie. It isn’t a submarine sandwich. It’s a hero. Egg Creams are delicious but they have no eggs or cream in them. Hot dogs get mustard not ketchup. There are two types of hot dogs sold on the street, boiled hot dogs (affectionately called dirty water dogs), and grilled (usually Hebrew Nationals). Hot pretzels from carts on the street are like heaven. East New York is in Brooklyn. Brooklyn and Queens are on Long Island but when people say Long Island they almost always mean Nassau and Suffolk counties (the part of Long Island outside of NYC). If someone says they are “going out to the island” they mean they are going out to the part of Long Island not in the city. A regular coffee is with cream and sugar. The Bronx is always THE Bronx. It is the only borough connected to the mainland.

  15. “(Though having visited Dayton recently, I was alarmed by the tendency for locals to drop the “g” on any words ending in “ing.” So, lazy English no, proper English, yes.)”

    Lazy like saying cawfee instead of coffee, right? Andy, if New Yorkers get allowances for accents I think Daytonians can get allowances for what sounds like a Southern accent. I know there is a definition for proper English out there but I think Americans, New Yorkers and Daytonians alike, have long moved passed that. Calling Dayton/Southern accents lazy is frankly unfair and quite elitist of you to say. I’m not trying to start a quibble but comments like that should not go unchallenged.

    You should stick to your own advice “Do your research, be open to new experiences…”

  16. Hello! So we are from a little town out west and we are coming to Manhatten in Nov. Any advice for a cheap but decent hotel? We have been looking at hostels to… Any advice?? Plus My BF will be in classes for parts of the day so I’ll be on my own for a few hrs a day. Any advice for safe sight seeing for one person?
    Thanks!!!!

  17. Hi there! Unfortunately, I don’t have any lodging advice, but hostels and Air B’n’B seem worth checking out.

    In terms of sightseeing, just keep your wits about you and pay attention to your surroundings, and you’ll be fine checking out whatever you might want to check out. Over all, NYC is fairly safe, and you’ll most likely never find yourself in a deserted place, so just have fun and explore!

  18. Pingback: Breaking News: In Fact, Cincinnati Bears No Resemblance to Brooklyn | Visualingual

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