Friday, September 13, 2013

Some Dos and Don'ts of New York City

A few years back, I moved to New York City for an internship at The Martha Stewart Show. The plan was that I would be enrolled in classes through a program at my school (sic em) while working for a live television show and living in an apartment with THIS view:

That was literally the view from my Long Island City apartment provided by Baylor University. Ridiculous.

It was an obvious dream come true for me on several levels, but still, in the weeks leading up to the big move, I was really nervous. As much as I wanted to play it cool, I had no idea what it took to live in a city like New York. How did the subways work? What was a borough? Did anyone actually say fuggedaboutit? Was I allowed to say it?

Fortunately, in my program, my professor gave us a great presentation that covered all of these questions and more. He showed us how streets & avenues worked, the difference between an express and a local train, and NYC's crime stats as compared to other major US cities. I took notes feverishly, and throughout my four months in New York, I found myself mentally referencing that lesson multiple times.

Now that I am an actual resident of this crazy-complicated-beautiful city, I can't but help think that everyone who moves here, or even visits, could benefit from such a lecture. After all, this place is a whole new world. I would liken moving to New York to Harry Potter learning about the wizarding world. At the start, he didn't know that you paid for things in galleons or that speaking Parseltongue was typically a characteristic of dark wizards. He didn't know how to get on Platform 9 3/4 or what the Knight Bus was. And if you had asked him how to get to Diagon Alley, he would have just looked at you like...

That eye...
And that kid went on to be a flippin wizard hero.

Even though I have only lived in New York for a short time, I find myself becoming unjustly impatient with tourists or newcomers. It is so easy to forget that I live somewhere special -- somewhere different from anywhere else in the country -- and that I once had to learn all of the norms, too.

That being said, today I'm going to throw down some quick Dos and Don'ts of living in or visiting New York City that I've gathered in my time here, and maybe I'll devote another post to the nitty gritty stuff like how to get around and why you shouldn't take a Two-Dollar taxi in Brooklyn.

DO use whatever bathroom you come across

When you see a bathroom in New York City, I don't care where you are, I don't care what you think your body is telling you -- be an American and use it. People often wrongly assume that the bathroom situation is just like in their hometown -- liberally-placed rows of stalls in every store with bountiful selections of toilet paper and magazines. Guys, that is not the case. Public restrooms are far and few between here, and owners are understandably stingy about letting un-paying customers use the ones that do exist. At one point, Starbucks closed some of their public bathrooms and people FREAKED THE GEEK OUT. Most of them are open though, and my advice there is to just avert your eyes and b-line it in and out. Don't lock eyes with a barista and let guilt overtake you to buy a passion tea. That will only create more problems for you later. 

My favorite public bathrooms (this is obviously an issue I care deeply about): Barnes and Noble, Old Navy, most hotels, Hill Country Chicken (Broadway & 25th), and Pearl River Mart (Broadway, between Broome and Grand). 

DON'T block the sidewalk

If you're new here, there are a whole host of things that might make you halt while walking. You could stop to check your directions. You could stop to take a look up at the Empire State Building. You might have run into this guy. 

You'd see him in Coney Island at the Mermaid Parade. (Via)
It's natural. But you have to understand that the sidewalks in Manhattan are rivers, constantly flowing with a few salmon swimming upstream. If you need to stop, move to the side. Think of it as pulling over because it is essentially that. If you don't, you are going to have a lot of angry people behind you, and you'll think to yourself, "Man, New Yorkers sure are rude," but they actually aren't -- you are just totally threatening their path to work. You'd be pissed too. I mean, imagine if a car stopped in the middle of the highway. You'd lay on the horn, I'm sure. Same thing.

And by the way, don't be these guys either:

Imagine four cars scooting along at 20 mph right next to each other on the highway. That's what that mess up there is. Two-by-two, guys. Just like Noah did it.

DO look up

I know this seems to stand in contradiction with that last thing I said, but hear me out. 

I will never forget the first time I saw this city in-person. It was on a trip with my sister when I was sixteen-years-old. We flew into Newark one evening and took a train to Penn Station. The first place we went was Times Square, and I remember how my eyes burned at the very sight of it. Every single one of my senses just felt absolutely electric. With our adrenaline pumping, we found ourselves buying rush tickets to see the revival of Sweeney Todd with Michael Cerveris and Patti Lupone. It was unbelievable. Where most things that we imagine in life tend to disappoint in actuality, New York was the ultimate exception. It was like magic, it just was. That night remains one of my life's happiest memories.

Now that I live here, I sometimes forget that this city is positively made of magic. I think a lot of us do. That's because we are always rushing to work, trying to avoid stepping in dog crap and garbage, keeping our head down to avoid eye contact with that one crazy guy. The problem is not that the city has lost its magic. It's still there, we are just looking in the wrong direction.

The simple solution, New Yorkers: look up. Take your face out of your phone and take a moment to realize where you are. You're in New York Flippin City. You made it. You're here.

DON'T assume that all New Yorkers are rude

Kindness looks different state-to-state, city-to-city. In Texas, kindness often looks like people calling you "hun", "sugar", and "darlin" and saying things like, "Well, bless your heart." Sometimes they will say all kinds of wonderful things to your face and then talk shit about you behind your back. New Yorkers don't play like that, which is why I've had visitors come to the city who assume everyone is just in an overall terrible mood. 

But that's not true at all. New Yorkers are guarded, sure. They have to be. It's a tough place, and no one in their right mind would say that it isn't. But as far as I'm concerned, people in New York are some of the most helpful people I've ever met. 

Test me in this. Ask a New Yorker how to get somewhere and just see if they don't go out of their way to make sure you are going to the right place. Tell someone a joke, and see if their smile doesn't completely brighten your day. The thing I like about this class of kindness is that when it spills over into a smile, you know it's coming from a genuine place. You know you're getting the real deal.

Also, New York City is one of the most diverse places in the world, so if you think someone is rude, you're probably talking to someone who just moved here from Kansas. 

I have SO many more, but I think I'll leave it there for now. You haven't seen the end of this list though, don't you worry. 

If you live in New York or you've visited, what are some of your NYC Dos and Don'ts?


While we're on the subject of this vibrant wonder city, I'd like to introduce you to a New York City author, Stephanie Lehmann.

Website -- Blog -- Bloglovin' -- Facebook -- Twitter -- Pinterest 
Stephanie has written a novel called Astor Place Vintage which takes place right here in New York City, and let me tell you, if you are a lover of history, fashion, New York life, or just well-written literature, you are going to want to check this one out.

This book tells the story of two women, one working in a Manhattan department store in 1907 and the other living in 2007 who owns a vintage clothing store in the Lower East Side. I was first attracted to the book's title. Being a total sucker for vintage clothes (and, let's be honest, reasonably priced falafel), I find myself hanging around the East Village a lot. I was so intrigued by the historical details of Astor Place Vintage. It is so fascinating to imagine what each New York City street corner and storefront must have looked like a century ago. This book has definitely enhanced the way that I see the city I live in. 

Stephanie also has a website that you should all go check out right now ( There, she's curated a collection of photographs that inspired the book. Here's a little taste...

Love this 1920s depiction of a woman wearing a cloche hat

Siegel Cooper Department Store on Sixth Avenue and 17th Street - 1896
Be sure to follow her on Pinterest for more similarly inspiring images. You will also want to check out her Facebook page where she is currently running a contest where you could WIN $50 FROM ETSY! Why wouldn't you want to get in on that?!


  1. My favorite is "Don't assume all New Yorkers are rude." It's SO true and yet a common assumption. I can definitely vouch, I was lost the ENTIRE week that I spent taking my class at UCB and AT LEAST four different people actually lead me to subway stations. Truth!

    1. The perfect example! I'm glad you were shown kindness, Brittany, and I hope it's enough to get you to move here!

  2. I lived in NYC for a year while I was a nanny. When I first got there I actually found that it was the tourists who were the most willing to give directions. ha ha. But I agree that the genuine kindness you can find is amazing. My suggestion is to get involved in some group, whether it be at church, a dance class, something... to help you meet new and interesting people. Also a definite don't is going into central park (or others) late at night. I always felt safe late at night on the crowded streets, just be sure to be aware of your surroundings. :-)

  3. These are so spot on!! The 'look up' reminder is great-- as a New Yorker I always forget that really tall beautiful buildings are not the norm for most people, hah.

    1. Totally! This place is seriously a miracle. I don't know how I could ever forget that, but I do. Glad to hear from a fellow New Yorker!

  4. I love this! This is so true! I grew up in NY and raised until I was 9 and then we moved to sunny ole Florida! One of my NY friends on Facebook posted this buzzfeed and I thought it was so true! I enjoy reading your blog. Keep it up!

    1. Love that article! I am always fascinated by kids who grew up in NYC. What was it like? And thanks for all of the bloggy love! I checked out Her Vintage cute! Absolutely love.


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