Moving to Manhattan from the west coast may have been more jarring than moving to a different country. I stepped off the plane into the whirling, bursting, blaring lights of Manhattan and pretty much froze with big saucer-eyes and my tail between my legs… like a poorly-dressed deer in taxi headlights.
There was a whole new language to learn (Dumbo? Is this a place?)… new etiquette (bumping and grinding a stranger on the subway during rush hour apparently = acceptable)… new foods (I’m still not 100% behind the idea of street meat)… It was all a touch overwhelming for this California girl.
Fast-forward a year. Aaaand I’m still a California girl.
I still carry my groceries home instead of having them delivered because it just feels wrong to spend all that money and leave with… nothing. I still rock my Rainbow flip flops around Soho when all my neighbor-supermodels wear stilettos. And I still feel really weird when building doormen insist on opening doors for me (as my mom would’ve told me, ‘you’ve got two arms… do it yourself!’).
But I have learned a few things about life in the city while living as a dilettante New Yawkah…
1. Green means Go. Red means Go. Walk lights mean nothing. New Yorkers- and east coasters in general- pay zero attention to walk lights. I jaywalk on a daily basis, half the time right in front of police officers. The caveat? Those taxis aren’t gonna slow down if you misjudge how much time you have to cross… as one of my best friends noted, only jay-walk if you can jay-run.
2. Never tell a taxi driver where you’re going until you’re in the cab. One too many times I found myself left standing in the middle of the street as my would-be cab to JFK airport screeched away. Throw your bags in, sit down, then give an address.
3. You can get a table anywhere in the city before 8pm. Dinnertime in my world is somewhere between 6 – 8pm. My world is clearly not Manhattan. New Yorkers are like Europeans: pre-dinner drinks don’t even get going until 9. I’ve since learned this means I get to eat Dinner #1 before Official Dinner plans (under the defense of blood glucose crash-induced crankiness). Or, like 30-yr old senior citizens, the Mr & I descend upon a fantasmic restaurant at real dinnertime, and get the place to ourselves.
4. If you have sensitive eyes and wear contacts… you won’t once you move to NYC. Although Google-based statistics tell me otherwise, I’m convinced that at least 80% of New Yorkers chain smoke. Keep in mind that I come from la-la land LA, where soy lattes & yoga mats far outnumber cigarettes & leather jackets, so my perspective may be off. Nonetheless, where I once reserved my glasses for weekend trips to Vegas, with its late nights and smoky casinos, they’ve become the norm here. Bonus points: the frames work well for a Williamsburg Hipster-Chic persona!
5. You can wear ANYTHING you want and no one will give you a second glance. Mr. M told me this when I asked whether or not a certain dress was “too much.” And I’ve since realized he is 100% correct and that this is an amazing thing. Those technicolor harem pants you bought on a whim? They’re like khaki-level standard here. PJ bottoms in the middle of the day? Umm… clearly, you’re wearing them ironically. You can even wear a Halloween costume and still be hip.
6. Don’t eat near Times Square. Nope. No… Zip it. I don’t want to hear a single retort. Do Not Eat Near Times Square. Happily, it’s 2012, and we’ve been gifted with the inventions of iPhone and Yelp. Use them, peeps!
7. Print yourself a mini subway map. The gentleman who plays the Chinese fiddle in the Canal Street subway station became my personal hero one afternoon when I could not find my train, ended up exiting then paying three separate times for one trip, and was literally in tears. Because you probably won’t get cell phone reception down in the subway (so you can’t googlemap your way to safety)… because frequent and inexplicable closures will force you to reroute… and because you can’t always count on my erhu musician to save your ass… make a pocket-sized subway map your new best friend.
8. Consider instituting a ‘Shoes Off in My House’ policy. Coming from the girl who extends the Five Second Rule to a minute (especially if it’s something really yummy) and will even blow dust off a fallen gummy candy and maintain that it’s ‘fair game’… this city is dis-gus-ting! I don’t even want to know the sources of the mystery sludge I trudge over day after day. All I know is- I don’t want it tracked into my carpets.
9. Don’t take it personal. It may be the sheer volume of people having to coexist in generally grimy, too-close quarters. You’re going to get yelled at, honked at, possibly shoved. And it’s not directed at you. This one took me awhile to learn, but it’s been invaluable in helping me keep a smile on my face while living in this mosh-pit of a city.
10. Remember your manners. While ordering nachos at a Yankees game, the gentleman to whom I handed my money told me I couldn’t possibly be from New York. “I’m not!” I exclaimed, maybe a little too quickly. “But what gave it away? I’m trying to become a native!” He smiled. “No one ever thanks me when I hand back change.” It was one of the nicest compliments I’ve received but kind of made me sad. I think we should flip the stereotype. Smile. Say please and thank you. Let someone go ahead of you. Offer to take tourists’ pictures. Like a true New Yawkah. :)