Thursday, October 21, 2010


I have come to realise that there are a few little details that betray someone as an out-of-towner or as a recent implant to the City. Some of these traits are cute and some of them are damn right annoying - but of course I myself exhibited most of them in my first few months in New York too. 

It is therefore without prejudice or snobbery that I can say you are not a New Yorker yet when:

Upon exiting a subway station, you stop and stand at the top of the stairs and look confused. The chances are that a New Yorker might be confused too as it is almost impossible (despite the signage, which I believe to be a fallacy) to know which way is north or south unless you've been there before. .. but New Yorkers don't block the exit for everyone else in the process. They just start walking in a random direction and work it out from there.

You insist in paying cash in restaurants. I can't think of a single good reason why this makes sense and I also find it a little annoying as it means having to work out the tip in advance for the person(s) paying in cash, rather than just conveniently calculating it from the tax on the credit card receipt.

When asked for an address, you say "2350 Broadway" or "1330 6th Avenue", which means absolutely nothing to anyone. New Yorkers never, ever, use street addresses and always reference the cross streets and avenues to direct people.

You walk at a normal pace, or even worse, stroll along the streets instead of the competitive speed walking that New Yorkers practice on a daily basis. I have to admit that it is a particular pet peeve of mine as, despite my rather short stature, I can walk faster than most grown men I know.

You don't let women go before you through open doors and in elevators. This rather old-fashioned form of chivalry seems to have been imprinted for life in the psyche of New York men and while I am all for equal rights, it is rather endearing.

You suffer a mild panic attack when your New Yorker friend crosses the street just as the red hand flashes and sometimes even forcibly try to stop them. The flashing hand means you get at least another 30 seconds to cross the street before getting run over. If it takes you anything over that time to cross the street, then it is the City's own natural selection of the fittest process as far as I'm concerned!

You think that brunch is a meal that takes places sometime after breakfast and before lunch, around 11.30am. Which couldn't be more wrong - New Yorkers will never be caught dead having brunch earlier than 1.30pm or 2pm.

You genuinely hold hope that you are going to find a public toilet anytime now when roaming around town. As far as I'm aware, they are simply nonexistent in the City apart from the extremely clean and pleasant one at Bryant Park. But then that's what Starbucks is for.


David Hughes said...

All very true and also all applicable to those not used to London. Well maybe not the cash thing - that is peculiarly American.

Working in Covent garden I am all too aware of the difference in pace of a tourist and a 'Londoner'. Ambling, ruck-sack wearing, map clutching tourists make moving anywhere far more trouble than it should be.

My tube/subway annoyance is people that walk up to the barrier, stop and then start looking for their ticket!

I think there's a fundamental difference between those of us at home in the city and those that aren't...

Peter H said...

A lovely piece and, like David, I see many a similar shibboleth in London. Mine is people who stand on the left side of escalators. I have evolved 'London Lungs', allowing me to bark at them with ferocity to clear the path so I can gain a precious two extra seconds which is then lost when I search for my ticket while standing at the barrier.

Sam said...

Frighteningly true. I shudder remberering the times in New York when I've exhibited the traits, whilst doing my best no to. The North/South Uptown/Downtown still catches me out after 20+ trips to the City.

Take heart though, At least NYC doesn't add to it's citizens woes like London. Would the City fathers take the largest pedestrian crossing (Oxford Circus), a Mecca for touristy shoppers, install a Tokyo-style crossing to (6 ways across the junction including diagonal) then close the majority of entrances at the subway station under said crossing.

Cue: grumpy committed, backpack-bedecked transports, families ambling 4-wide, pensioners weighed-down with bags of shopping trying to cram down two small staircases into the station. And of course, someone standing atthe top of the stairslooking around and waiting for Google Maps to load, creating some kind of commuter chicane.

Still, suppose we should be thankful smart phones have largely replied the forced origami of the giant paper map.

John D said...

Remind me not to pay with cash at our next outing! :)