New York City Survival Guide

Your New York City Survival Guide – Keeping Your Bearings in the Big Apple

“or How Not to Annoy a New Yorker”

Every time I talk to my friends upstate or anyone who hasn’t lived in New York, they ask me with awe, “how can you live there – it’s so crowded, the streets are so dirty, there’s no sense of community, oh and the people… the people in New York City are so… mean.”

Then they go on a rant about how they were visiting New York a while back and were almost run over by a taxi, or were assaulted by a fellow pedestrian, or spent three hours walking in circles around Union Square because no passerby would give them the time of day when they asked for directions.

Whenever I hear something like this, I feel the need to jump to New York’s defense.

New York City is a hectic place.  It’s a little gritty in certain areas, and like any large city it has a broad spectrum of “interesting” characters but New Yorkers as a group are not “mean.”

Vocal, maybe, but not “mean.”

The thing is that in a place as crowded as New York City, there are certain rules that need to be followed to keep things organized and running smoothly. And ignoring any one of these rules will guarantee you a spot on any New Yorkers’ bad side.

Seriously, would you have held her hand?

Over the past couple of weeks, I have compiled a list of the most common mishaps capable of setting New Yorkers off.  Follow these basic rules to keep your New York City trip as friendly and accident-free as possible:

Rule #1

Walk briskly – New Yorkers are always in a rush and Hell Hath no Fury like the New Yorker stuck behind a dallying commuter.  If you absolutely must walk slow, make sure you walk on the outermost part of the road and refrain from “zigzagging.”

Rule #2

Know where you’re going before you leave – websites like will give you detailed directions from any two addresses in New York City.  Knowing where you are going will also ensure that you move along quickly and without mishap.

Rule #3

If you must ask for directions keep your inquiries direct and to the point.
Good Example: “Excuse me – which way’s North?” (Even a simple “Park Avenue?” while pointing in your supposed direction will usually suffice).
Bad Example: “Excuse me Sir… (long pause)… “Can you tell me how to get to… wait, uhh hold on a minute…” (turns to his wife) “hey, honey, what’s the name of the place again – the hotel – where we’re going”
“The Waldorf Astoria, dear.”
“Uh yeah – the Waldorf Astoria.”
New Yorkers just don’t have the time to wait for you and lengthy “excuse me’s” and “can I have a minute’s” are usually followed by requests for money, which New Yorkers have learned to ignore.

Rule #4

Don’t stop to take pictures in the middle of the sidewalk.

Rule #5

Don’t change directions in the middle of the sidewalk.

Rule #6

If there is any reason whatsoever that you must change course smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk, please first make your way to the outermost edge of the sidewalk, then look both ways before proceeding with caution in your desired direction.
You wouldn’t just slam on your brakes and pull a u-turn in the middle of a busy highway, would you?
Of course not.  Exercise that same caution on the sidewalks of New York.

Rule #7

Walk-in groups no more than two people thick (lined up hip to hip).  Three or four people walking in a row stall traffic.

Rule #8

When using the subway, let the passengers inside the train get off before you enter.  Step directly to the left or right and let them exit through the center.

Rule #9

Once inside, make your way towards the back of the train – please don’t step in and stop in the doorway.  Everyone is going somewhere and trains fill fast so make room for the people entering behind you.

Rule #10: Be aware of your personal belongings at all times.  You may forget you’re wearing that enormous hiker’s backpack (with the padded shoulder straps and hip belt) but your fellow commuters don’t appreciate being assaulted by it when you weave through a cramped train forgetting it’s there.

Rule #11

Ever notice how crazies always seem to come in pairs?
Example: You get on the train and there’s some obnoxious guy wearing his underwear on his head and ranting about Jesus or communists or whatever.  Everyone on the train ignores him because he’s obviously crazy.
Everyone that is except one man.
Enter the second crazy.
“Yo man, shut the f— up.”
“I swear – that mother f—er – if he don’t shut up, I’m gonna shut him up.”
“Ahhhhhh” starts pounding his fists against the train window.
“Yo – shut-uuuuupppp…”
The second crazy is somehow always substantially more obnoxious than the first crazy.
Don’t be that second crazy.

Rule #12

Keep your political beliefs to yourself.  You may think that that “Free Tibet” sign you’re sporting in the middle of Chinatown packs a strong political punch but the rest of us just think you’re being obnoxious.

Rule #13

Don’t take pictures of “the natives.”  There are a lot of “characters” in New York and some of them seem to be asking to have their picture taken.  Still, exercise caution when a photo-op involves a fellow human being.  This isn’t the zoo people.  I once saw a group of tourists at the South Street Sea Port taking pictures of what they thought was a reenactment of the maiden voyage of the Pilgrims.  The “Pilgrims” were Hasidic Jews and the picture-takers looked like idiots.

Rule #14

Be courteous.  In a hurry?  So is everybody else.  Remember, you’re now one of 10 million.  The first thirteen rules were really just sub-rules of the golden rule.  Respect others and their time and you’ll be well on your way to a most pleasant New York City experience.

So there you have it, 14 pearls of wisdom to keep your New York trip as mishap-free as possible.  This isn’t a complete list but it is a good starting point for New York etiquette.

Got a tip I forgot?  Leave it in the comments section below.

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