Tips for Getting to Know New York City

Just like any city in the world, NYC has its own quirks and “insider” culture. Many people find it easy to adapt and embrace some of the city’s unique habits—while there are other facts of life in the city that are almost unspoken. Here are some things you should know to help you feel more at home in NYC, and before long, you’ll start to feel like a local yourself.


It’s all about the corners and grids

If you ask a local for the address of a store, bar, restaurant, office, or you-name-it, chances are you’ll get something that sounds like “sure, it’s on the corner of 50th and Park [Avenue].” That’s because most of Manhattan (Lower Manhattan is a little tricky) is on a grid system. Most streets run north and south or east and west. The island is essentially divided by Central Park into the East side and the West side.

So, wouldn’t that mean they should have said “East 50th and Park” instead? Well, sure, if you’re being technical. However, those who know the city well, know that Park Avenue is east of Central Park, so the address would have to be on East 50th street. If someone said “sure, it’s on the corner of 50th and 9th” you would know that it’s West 50th because 9th avenue (which runs north to south) is west of Central Park.

Long story short—memorize the grid! Once you have a good handle of the streets that run north-to-south and which are east or west of Central Park, you’ll find getting around much easier.


Stand on the right, pass on the left

This is actually a common practice in most large cities. If you’re taking an escalator and decide you want to just stand and enjoy the ride, make sure you’re doing so on the right-hand side of the escalator. People who decide to walk up or down the escalator will want to pass you on the left. If you decide to be a hog and stand in the middle, expect someone to say, “excuse me please!” as they try to pass.


Don’t just stand there

New Yorkers are known for being quick about their business. They walk fast and talk fast because they spend more time working and commuting than the average American. So, when you’re standing on line* at the coffee shop, make sure you know what you want before you get to the counter. If you want to take a selfie on the sidewalk, quickly walk to the left or right edge to do so — don’t just stop in the middle. People won’t be shy about shoving you out of the way of foot traffic.

Not sure if it’s the train you want? Don’t stand in front of the open doors looking at the stops posted inside the car. Need directions? Just say “Hi, can you tell me how to get to Grand Central?” Someone will be glad to help. If you open with “Hi, I’m new here. My name is John. Do you know how to get to...” it’s likely the person is just going to keep on walking.

Be aware of those around you—it’s a city with a lot of people. Be respectful of other people’s time and space, and you’ll do just fine.


*You’re ‘on line’ but not on the internet

In most places in the US people say their “waiting in line” but in NYC, you’ll hear “waiting on line.” Don’t ask us why. That’s just how it is.


The train (or walking) is probably quicker

The yellow cab has become an iconic New York symbol. What you may not realize is that using a cab or car service (like Uber or Lyft) can sometimes be much slower (and more expensive) than hopping on the train. Traffic in Manhattan can come to a standstill for ages — if you’re only going a few blocks it’s worth it to travel by train or just try to walk it.


Pop’s your dad — soda is what you drink

Depending on where you’re from in the US or around the world, you may have a different word for your favorite carbonated beverage. In NYC, most people call it soda — if you ask for pop you may get an odd look. Ask for a coke, and that’s what you’ll get — a Coca-Cola or Pepsi. If sparkling water is your game, ask for ‘seltzer.’


Downtown vs Uptown

In some places in the US, the word “downtown” is used to describe the center of a big city. In NYC though, downtown literally refers to going ‘down’ (south) toward lower-Manhattan, and uptown — you guessed it — is going up (north) towards the Bronx. You’ll notice that trains are labeled based on if they’re going Downtown or Uptown.


Bring your walking shoes

New Yorkers like to walk; Don’t be surprised that if you go out with friends, you’ll be walking to a lot of the places you’re meeting up at. So high-heels, sandals, or other uncomfortable footwear may not be the best idea. If you have a pair of shoes that are super expensive or very sentimental — leave them at home. The streets and subways can get quite dirty. NYC is not the best place to keep those white pair of sneakers sparkling, and your shiny pair of leather dress shoes are bound to get scuffed.


Get an app to send money

While common elsewhere in the States, splitting a check at a restaurant or bar is not very common in NYC. Apps like Venmo and PayPal will come in handy when you’re splitting a check between friends. Don’t expect your waiter or waitress to do it for you.


No — NYC isn’t just Manhattan

If you think Manhattan is the only part of the city worth being in, we’re confident in saying you’re wrong! The other boroughs like Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx are amazing places to spend some free time, and you may find it to be a bit cheaper, too. Jersey is another great destination if you need to get out of the hustle of Manhattan. Each borough has its own unique feel and culture. Do yourself a favor and put each borough on your list of places to visit while you’re in NYC. Even visiting Staten Island gets you a free view of the Statue of Liberty!

Kim Hill