Life in New York City

No, we're not going to offer you a seat just because you're carrying a backpack!
No, we’re not going to offer you a seat just because you’re carrying a backpack!
They descend like swarms of bees. They cut in front of us in Starbucks.* They dawdle on Broadway and get in everybody’s way. They block crosswalks and subway exits. They take the width of a sidewalk to photograph each other. They climb onto subways and buses during rush hours, carrying backpacks, cameras and other gear, and proceed to chatter at glass-shattering volume in foreign languages. They eat in our restaurants and don’t tip the waiters. They complain about how rude the locals are. They are …


Tourists bring in a lot of money, at least for those of us who own camera shops, sell tee shirts and souvenirs, run bus or boat tours or produce Broadway shows. In other words, tourists are supporting at least some of us locals in the manner to which we have become accustomed (eating and paying the bills). Here is a short guide for those tourists who didn’t do their homework before heading for us.

DSC03207 (449x800)Tips for Tourists

1. You’re not in your country. You’re in America. Correction: you’re in New York City, which prides itself on being the center of all universes and unlike any other place on earth, including the rest of the United States. Remember that at all times. You might think the locals are certifiable, and we probably are. Most of us are harmless, but you will be expected to go along with our customs, so pay attention.

2. The cheap bastards who own our restaurants pay their wait staff almost nothing, and they do not add a service charge to the bill. In other words, tipping is expected, and if you don’t do it you are a terrible person with a rotten life whose parents didn’t raise you right and may every pigeon in the city poop on your head.. Fifteen percent of the bill is acceptable, twenty percent is even better. If you don’t leave a tip – waiters have good memories. If you dare show your face again, you just might get the worst table in the restaurant, service that is slower than a constipated snail and the wrong food. We also hear stories about restaurant staff spitting in the food of patrons who are not nice to them, and we hope that those stories are just gossip.

There are two ways to tip a server:

a. Hand the cash directly to the server, or leave it under a cup or a plate on the table. Some servers will love you for this, because being paid in cash means no paper trail. No paper trail means they can forget to report it on their income tax returns without repercussions. I know. Shame on them.

b. If you are paying by credit card, you can just add the tip onto the little receipt that they make you sign. The server will have to report this as taxable, of course, but you won’t have to use up your dwindling supply of cash. This is not exactly a win-win situation, except for you and the government, but two out of three isn’t bad.

3. You have to tip cab drivers, too. And manicurists. And hairdressers. And the maids and bellboys in the hotel. In other words, spread it around and make people happy and don’t be cheap. If you didn’t budget those tips into the cost of your trip, shame on you.

4. On the other hand, you don’t have to tip the guy who owns the food cart on the corner, in spite of that little plastic bucket marked “tips.” They own their businesses. Owners get profits. Wage slaves get tips. Those are the rules.

5. The price you see on an item is the price you will pay, plus sales tax. Of course, the prices are inflated. They’re business people marketing to tourists!** Don’t try to bargain them down. We don’t do bargaining. Bargaining is beneath the dignity of a New York business person. (Actually, we don’t know how to bargain and we don’t want to risk looking like morons.) They’d rather just toss you out the door.

6. Our cab drivers come from all over the world and speak varying degrees of something resembling English. You won’t be able to understand them. Just be sure that they understand your accent, and don’t forget the tip.

7. For tourists from other parts of the USA: we call it soda. If you ask for a bottle of pop, they’ll think you are looking for some new drug. Oh, and if you are from New England and you are dying for a frappe – we call it a milk shake down here. If you are looking for New England’s idea of a milk shake, ask for an egg cream. If you’re lucky, the Asian, Latino or Arab behind the counter will know what you’re talking about and won’t look at you as if you have just escaped from a home for stupid people.

8. Please don’t crowd onto subways and buses during rush hours, especially if you are carrying all your gear with you. We already have enough locals who do that.

9. The next time I come across any of you taking up the whole width of a sidewalk just to get a picture, I am going to walk in front of your camera, stick out my tongue and flip you the bird. If you don’t know what flipping the bird is, just keep taking up sidewalk space and you’ll find out.

10. It’s perfectly safe to ask a New Yorker for directions. In spite of what everyone says, we won’t deliberately steer you wrong – unless you do something to piss one of us off, but that’s a whole other story. Oh, and if you collapse on the street there will always be one or two people who will stop to help. See? I just flattened two New Yorker stereotypes in one paragraph.

11. New Yorkers are in a hurry. Even when we’re not in a hurry, we like to move fast. Please consider that the next time you decide to stop and gawk at something. We’re going to bump into you if you do that, then glare at you because you dare to exist.***

12. Some of us locals would also like to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center or take a stroll up Broadway from Times Square. What discourages us is the thought of having to nudge, dodge and wend our way through impossible crowds containing a large percentage of – you guessed it – tourists. Just saying.

DSC_543013. You tourists can have Times Square on New Year’s Eve. It’s a lot easier for us to just watch it on TV from some nice, warm place or sitting at home in our PJs, where we can feel superior to all the suckers standing in the cold just to see a ball come down. Whatever.

14. I’m just adding a No. 14 so that those of you who are superstitious about the number 13 won’t get nervous.

In other words, dear tourists, please keep coming and spending your money. Just behave yourselves when you do. We like surprises.

*That can get you the death penalty here. We take our caffeine very seriously.

**Oh, come on! Merchants in your countries do the same thing to American tourists and you know it!

***Sometimes we’ll also give you a dose of “The New York Excuse Me.” This is delivered in a loud, nasal, sarcastic manner, elongating the second syllable: “Ex-C– USE-me!” The meaning is, “Get out of my way, Lard-Ass!”

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6 thoughts on “Life in New York City”

  1. Hehe! I grew up in a small town, and am now enjoying the noise and pace of the big city!

    1. Don’t tell anyone, but I think tourists are kind of fun to watch, too. I have also been guilty of the following:

      1. Riding the Staten Island Ferry just for the fun of it. A great cheap thrill!
      2. Going to Rockefeller Center with a friend and staring open mouthed at the Christmas tree. Of course, I photographed it — and the ice skaters below.
      3. Walking up Broadway from Times Square just to look at everything.

      Please don’t let this get around. I have an image to maintain! 😉

  2. I think I need to go to New York, Cathy. I’ve been the centre of my own universe for far too long. If the locals are certifiable, I think I will fit right in!

  3. I lived in New York for 3 months. It felt very much like Chicago. Cab drivers drove just as crazy, people were in just as much of a rush, and nobody had time for anything other than rushing to wherever it was they were going. Still, I probably would never move back to Chicago or New York. I’m enjoying the peace of living in a small town now.

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