9 Things I Learned In New York City

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” ~ Mark Twain

They say that travel broadens the mind but I think you have to open that mind up first. No amount of travel is going to change your perspective if you arrive expecting (or even demanding) it to conform to familiar territory.

New York City was not my pick. It wasn’t even anywhere on my bucket list after a bad experience in my youth. (It was a much scarier place back then.) I agreed to it because it was what the Husband wanted and these are the kinds of things you do in a marriage.

NY Manhattan

I didn’t want it but I left my mind open to the possibility I might enjoy it.

And I did. And I learned things.

1. New Yorkers like to live on the edge. Either that or they’re all born with a death wish.

NY Crossing

And no, I am not talking about the lax gun laws. They don’t wear seat belts or bicycle helmets and pedestrian crossing lights are merely decorative. Coming from a country that introduced mandatory seatbelt laws in the 1970s, compulsory bike helmet laws in the 1980s and strict gun control laws in the 1990s, this laissez-faire attitude to their safety was concerning.

2. If you want to drive in New York City, your vehicle must be either a yellow cab or a black Suburban.

NY Traffic

I don’t know why anyone would want to drive in New York City but those who do (and who are not taxi drivers) almost all seem to drive large black vehicles. Grey or silver is also acceptable and white is tolerated (but could be mistaken for a delivery vehicle). Driving a colourful car (say, red) is stepping way outside the line.

3. The best way to see New York City is on foot.

Yeah, sure, the subway is a useful way to get from one end to another. And I get that you may need to be somewhere in a hurry and jumping in a cab works for you. But if you’re there as a traveller (as opposed to a mere tourist), the only way to really experience New York City is to take Shanks’ pony. It’s the only way to notice the differing architecture, to recognise the iconic places, to stumble across the quirky and bizarre.

4. A bagel goes a long way.

NY Bagel

Baguettes in France, Würst Im Brot in Germany, wherever we travel we find the one thing that is cheap and filling to eat and pretty much live off it. In New York, that was the bagel. I’m going to miss that bagel shop.

5. New Yorkers don’t really understand customer service.

I don’t know if it’s the prevailing tipping culture (more on that here) but New Yorkers just don’t seem to ‘get’ the concept of customer service for the customer’s sake. If they think they’re likely to score a large tip, then yes, they will turn on the charm, pay attention, make sure you have everything you want. But I lost count of the number of cashiers and ticket sellers who conducted a conversation with their workmate whilst serving me. I found it horrifying and, frankly, insulting. Dear Customer Service Representative: You are being paid (lowly, I admit) to serve me. Not to glance at me, tell me how much and then proceed to ignore me and talk to someone else while I pay my money and take my goods. Just saying.

6. They don’t drink wine in New York City.

Well, yes, that’s a sweeping statement and obviously untrue but it was certainly more difficult to find a shop selling wine than it was to find one selling beer. Fortunately, we tracked one down eventually and tried a bottle of the local drop as is our wont.

NY Wine

7. New York City is really just one big television/movie set so things may not always be as they seem.

NY Movie Set

Like the crashed FBI van outside the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.

8. Good coffee in New York City is hard to find.

NY Starbucks

I don’t care if there is a Starbucks on every corner. I said good coffee. Thankfully, several Australians – actually, more importantly, Melburnians* – have opened Aussie-style – actually, more importantly, Melbourne-style – cafés in New York City.

Cafe

Why is it important that they are Melbourne-style? Because Melbourne is the coffee capital of Australia. The waves of Italian migrants arriving after World War 2 brought us out of the dark shame of International Roast consumption and into the glorious light of true espresso. Two weeks without proper coffee is too much to ask of anyone. It cost me nearly double what it would at home but that first true cappuccino was oh so worth it.

Coffee and Avocado Smash - An Aussie Café Tradition

Coffee and Avocado Smash – An Aussie Café Tradition

*No, this is not missing an ‘o’. Yes, that is how you spell it.

9. Spring in New York City is colder than the depths of winter at home.

NY Snow

And let me point out that I live in a part of Australia that has a winter. We wear coats and gloves and scarves and complain about the bitter cold (when it gets below 10°C). I’m not sure what I was expecting. I knew it wouldn’t be warm. But I don’t think I expected snow falling out of the sky (even if it didn’t stay on the ground). When the temperature climbed to 15°C one day, we were practically in t-shirts. (Not really, but we did see others in t-shirts and shorts!) I had to keep reminding myself that this sort of weather was the average for the middle of winter back home.

 

There’s good and bad in that list. But there’s good and bad wherever you go. In the end, I came, I saw and I changed my mind about New York City.

 

“Give me such shows – give me the streets of Manhattan!” ~ Walt Whitman

 

 

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78 thoughts on “9 Things I Learned In New York City

  1. Sounds like a very educational trip! And oh, that bagel….has to be one of the great treats of life…..bagels! Funny little thing about your winter/spring observations…..as you know, we’re new to our area here and while we were out for lunch yesterday, we were astounded to see great gobs of people out on a shop’s picnic tables eating ice cream cones as if it were the middle of summer! Meanwhile, we were all bundled in jackets and jeans heading for the great indoors of the restaurant next door! I guess it’s all relative, huh? Glad you had a good trip and got a new perspective on New York!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Any city that allows bike riding without helmets is worth visiting. Any good appartment for a couple of oldies during May in NYC, let us know. About three weeks. or more depending on the coffee and good bagels. Do they have Big Macs there?

    Liked by 1 person

    • In the likes of Holland, Finland and Belgium, I could see that not wearing a helmet is a negligible issue. I’m not sure it’s wise in NYC.

      I don’t want to talk about apartments. Finding one nearly gave me a nervous breakdown. Did you know it is illegal to sublet an apartment for less than a month in New York? Forget AirBnB – it’s full of people breaking the law.

      Presumably they have Big Macs. The Golden Arches were prevalent as they are all around the world. (Well, except Vietnam. But they’ll allow KFC. I never understood the distinction.)

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    • I just had to go and look both of those up. I remember Blue Bottle at the Rockefeller Centre now but it was closed at the time. And I can’t help thinking I must have walked past a Stumptown on our travels. But it’s dangerous to walk into an unknown coffee place so I wouldn’t have gone in. Ah, if only I’d known!!!
      Thanks for the tips. Will file them away for future reference. 🙂

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  3. In some respects, your list could also be applied to Toronto … but definitely NOT #1. I think of seatbelts, helmets, and anti-gun laws as the Holy Trinity!! … but that just might be me being a rebel 😉

    … and substitute Tim Hortons for Starbucks, although we certainly have a significant number of those too. What’s worse – Tim Hortons coffee is god-awful. From your post I can almost smell the glorious aroma of a real Italian cafe ❤

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    • I forgot to add that they can also drink more before driving than we can. [shakes head]

      Apparently only tourists stop for pedestrian lights. Doesn’t even matter if there’s a police officer standing there. You can walk against the light and they don’t care. If you tried that here, you’d find yourself slapped with a $74 on-the-spot fine.

      The only thing resembling Starbucks in Australia is a company called Gloria Jean’s but they’re nowhere near as prevalent. Why would they be with so many lovely little cafes selling excellent coffee? What I also forgot to whinge…er…write about was the waste. How much rubbish do all those disposable coffee cups generate? I took my KeepCup and asked them to put my coffee in that. The lovely espresso place near our hotel didn’t bat an eye. Bonus points. 🙂

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  4. Have you been elsewhere in the US? NYC is world onto itself yet in ways a microcosm of the country. Each region and each city has it’s own distinctive flavor. I’m partial to Boston but I know people who absolutly hate it. Glad you had a good trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was in San Francisco and LA six years ago and before that you’d have to go back to 1991/92 when I crossed from New York to LA by Greyhound bus on my own. Adored SF. Quite liked Boston when I went there but had a weird experience there that put me off a bit.

      I did love visiting the different areas of NYC and noticing how different they seemed. (Still couldn’t trust the coffee without a personal reference, though.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • One of my favorite things about Italy was the Cappuccino – I’ve never found anything like it in the states. So I understand the coffee thing (I really enjoy coffee in France, too). That being said, I like Starbuck’s Dark Roast. Don’t like their espresso or cappuccino, but a dark roast with a very, very small splash of cream and a little sugar…. I haven’t been to the west coast since I was a kid. From what I know of SF I’d love it.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Residents of NYC tend to believe they are at the center of the universe, and many people in the USA receive all their opinions from the NY Times….but this is a country of many, many places different from that. Visitors–and movers and shakers—tend to gravitate to the two coasts, and refer to the vast rest of the country as “fly over” country. I enjoyed your take on NYC. You’re right about the need to keep an open mind. As I may have mentioned before, I avoid the place.

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      • I love that ‘Little Collins’ logo – is that clever, or what ?
        Delighted to see you posting about the trip, H – or at least part of it.
        Not entirely in agreement re Melbourne, mate … But as I lived there throughout my 20s, I am at least in a position to make a comment, eh ? Still, it isn’t the same place it was from the mid-’60s to the mid-’70s – no matter how much that surprises you.
        [grin]

        Liked by 1 person

        • They had a Lt Collins St blue street sign inside the cafe. 🙂

          You mean Melbourne isn’t the same as it was fifty years ago?? Inconceivable! [smirk]

          Melbourne’s not even the same place it was when I was working there 20 years ago.

          One of the other cafes is called Brunswick and another is Bluestone Lane. 🙂 They’re all Melbourne-themed. Then there’s Toby’s Estate, also started in Melbourne. There’s one called Two Hands started by a couple of mates from Sydney so you can have that.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I visited New York about a year or so ago. I am not a “city” gal but I must say, we had a wonderful time. Would I want to live there? NO. But we enjoyed the city very much. We did manage to secure a great little apartment through Airbnb, only a 10 minute walk to Times Square. For anyone visiting, one of the things we did which I would highly recommend, is one of the food tours. We did this one: http://www.foodsofny.com/greenwichvillage.php which was fabulous. If I was to go back, I would actually try to source an apartment for rent in the Greenwich Village area as it was awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We had a bad experience with AirBnB even just in the enquiry stage so we ditched that idea (and I was stressed about the illegality and the potential to get scammed). We ended up booking a suite in an apartment hotel on the corner of Lexington and 37th which cost a little more but worked out great. It was a good central location and a quiet area.
      I’m so glad you had a fantastic time. Thanks for the tip about the food tour. I’ll remember that if I ever go back. 🙂

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      • Yes, we were reluctant as well but thankfully had a good experience. My preference is to use sites like vrbo.com, homeaway.com or holidaylettings.co.uk. All are reputable sites & ones I have used a number of times.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, we’ve used the same ones particularly in Europe and never had a problem. Until New York, it never even occurred to me that the property wouldn’t be there or wouldn’t be what we were expecting and we were always happy. Particularly when travelling with three boys, the option of an apartment was cheaper and more convenient than hotels. (Although, we used the Youth Hostel system in Germany, Austria and Finland where they are designed for families.) I think the fact that NY bans the practice made me wary of the sort of people offering properties.

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  7. New York City is the place for bagels. But my idea of the perfect NYC street food is a “slice.” Of pizza, folded over and devoured with gusto. New Yorkers are a breed unto themselves, much like Texans. We spot them easily down here in the civilized South because they are LOUD and have that accent. Also they are immediately recognizable in traffic. A Richmonder would politely wave you through an intersection with a smile; a New Yorker would gun it and try to cut you off. BH and I flew up to NY last summer and within seconds of getting into our rental car, the bee-yotch behind us blew her horn loudly and aggressively at us because we had not lurched into the intersection within a nano-second of the light changing. Welcome to NY, honey!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes, we had a ‘slice’. (There’s another post about eating ‘quintessential’ American food in the pipeline.) Although, I did find it hard to get my head around the pizzas being cooked in the morning and then the slices reheated for you. Here, if you order pizza, they cook it for you from scratch.
      I couldn’t get over not only how LOUD everybody spoke but how FAST! We were constantly having to say, “I’m sorry, could you say that again?” And sometimes it took three goes to work it out. 😀

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    • New Yorkers? Barbara, I have never seen anyone for that like south Florida drivers up and down the entire coast. Jeepers! Never just a tap–immediately, leaning in on the horn like they’ve slumped over after a heart attack, and their face the same color. Ruuuuude!

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  8. One thing I learned today is the there is a coffee center in Australia! But perhaps I mis-read, thinking that coffee is grown there. After reading Joanne’s comments, I believe now that you meant Melbourne-style Italian coffee?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Well this is good timing. Daughter and I are flying to NYC on Thursday for our first visit. The weather doesn’t look hot but no snow expected. That would be a raw deal for this Canadian! I will be very careful crossing the streets. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. This was so interesting to me. The customer non-service: I find that almost everywhere in major cities across the States now, not just NYC. It certainly is endemic in L.A., which beats out NYC for rude (dis)service.

    What was most interesting to me about the entire post was how you found almost nothing to enjoy. I LOVE NYC, because I LOVE the architecture–so much to look at–and LOVE the museums. It is too bad you didn’t enjoy yourself. I can’t disagree with the aspects you did not love.

    You did make me miss bagels again, darn you, MoSY!
    🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I am sorry the post came across as so negative. It wasn’t meant to be a “this is what we did/saw and it was great” kind of post but I accept your point that it is dominated by the things we didn’t like (or at least found odd). I did enjoy it – I liked the architecture and the different look of different neighbourhoods, the museums were good and I LOVED Central Park. (It was my only sad point when we left – that I wouldn’t be able to run there again.) Would I go back? If I lived a couple of hours away, probably. But 35 hours of travelling to visit again? I didn’t like it THAT much. Too many other places we haven’t been that need to be explored anyway.

      Oh, those bagels…. 😀

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  11. Most interesting post Heather. Since I haven’t been to New York City, we do have a daughter in law from there. Her mum comes out about twice a year, so I feel somewhat familiar with it. I agree that flight is off putting, being on a plane for so long. Wonderful experience for your boys!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Except that they didn’t go this time. Just the Husband and me for the first time in many, many years! We did feel bad about it but we’re hoping we’ll manage at least one more family trip before they get too old to travel with their parents. 🙂

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  12. There are issues with customer service in Wisconsin as well. It’s the minority, thank goodness, but I find it so disrespectful when a cashier can’t look me in the eye and say “hello” or finds it more important to talk to a co-worker about their weekend. It really doesn’t take much to be pleasant to a customer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s pretty rare where I live. I’m sure it happens but given I was so shocked by it in NYC, I don’t think it’s something I’m used to. As you say, it doesn’t take much and really it’s less than a minute out of their day. Chat to your co-worker when the store is empty or on your lunch break for Pete’s sake. [grump] 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  13. My only visit to NYC was over 20 years ago, and only a brief passing through. Would love to go back. I couldn’t even buy booze there then! Agree that walking is the best way to see a city. Love that so many places now have little companies with walking tours. Especially the foodie ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you laughed and weren’t offended! We became quite expert at getting across the roads (well, we have travelled in Vietnam – now THERE’S a road-crossing challenge!) but I never got over being able to cross against the lights in front of a police officer….
      And thank you so much for the reblog. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Great post, great comments. I promised my daughter I’d take her to NY on her 18th birthday, but didn’t as couldn’t afford to. She will be 40 next year. I think maybe I owe her one. And I have been told that Kiwis make the BEST coffee 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I remember I was so looking forward to going to NYC. For some reason it is on every 20-year old girls wish list. I seem to remember I enjoyed it quite as well, but I can definitely remember the bad service. But that could very well because this was our first time in the States and had no idea what to tip for and how much it was normal to tip… A nice city, but a bit too busy for me:)

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    • Thanks for coming by and commenting. Isn’t the people watching great? Such a mix.
      I am a person of permanently itchy feet so I’ll take a trip to somewhere new if it’s offered even if it isn’t high on my priority list. And I was happy to make the most of it and gained much enjoyment. 🙂

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  16. Pingback: 2015: A Year For Doing Stuff | Master of Something I'm Yet To Discover

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