We’re Walking Here: A Behavioral Guide for Tourists to NYC

My Father, my Aunt and my grandparents in NYC circa 19402

My Father, my Aunt and my grandparents in NYC circa 19402

With high-tourist season about to begin, a New Yorker tells visitors how to navigate New York like a native.  Or close enough.

NYC has a love/hate thing with tourists.  We need you. You stay in our hotels, you buy stuff, you fill the seats at Broadway Shows starring b-list celebrities.  You go to the Olive Garden.  Thank you for being a big part of what keeps my city afloat.  We love you for it.

But we also hate you.

Why?  Because you don’t follow the unspoken, unwritten rules of NYC that we New Yorkers feel in our bones but clearly need to explain to visitors so we don’t kill   get too frustrated with them.

I’m here to help.  How do you know I know what I’m talking about?  My great grandparents came to Manhattan in 1898. My grandparents were born in Manhattan, my parents, too. My kids. All of my aunts and uncles, all of my cousins, my siblings, my husband, my husband’s parents, his sibling, aunts, uncles and cousins.  Me?  I had the great misfortune to have been born across the river in my parents’ momentary blip of suburban fantasy play – but I’ve lived in Manhattan for 30+ years. I have ROOTS, baby.

So here are real rules and dictates from a real New Yorker.  Heed them.  Or else.

  1. Jaywalking is a way of life.  New Yorkers do not wait for the light to change to cross the street.  Simple, right?  Evidently not:  I’ve watched countless tourists watch New Yorkers cross against the light, aghast, then smile, decide they’re going to be just like the natives, and attempt to cross too.  Right into on coming traffic.


I don’t know that I can explain how to jaywalk, but I can tell you how NOT to do it:  do not wait, tentatively, when there are no cars coming, and then suddenly spring out into traffic when cars are in your sight.  That’s just dumb.  And please, until you get the hang of it, don’t attempt to jaywalk the big avenues; stick to the sidestreets, until you’re ready for the big leagues.

2. There are rules for walking on the sidewalk too.  You think I’m kidding?  I’m not.  Learn the basics, or we will mow you down.

a. Stay to the right.  There are LOTS of people walking down the street.  Some of them live and work here, and need to get places.  They do not need to have to dodge some out of towner swimming upstream.  Unless you are from Great Britain, you have no excuse.  Stay to your right. Stay to your right, stay to your right.  Did I mention you need to stay to your right?

b. Speed up – However fast you walk wherever you’re from, it isn’t fast enough.  Move it.

c. Pull Over Think of the sidewalks as a road (see, “stay to the right” above), if you need to stop, pull over.  Do not stop short, directly in front of someone, causing them to mow you down. Move over (to your RIGHT – are you sensing a theme here?) and then merge back into pedestrian traffic.

3.  Do not call it The Big Apple.  Just. Don’t.

4. Do not eat at the Olive Garden I don’t mean to pick on the Olive Garden.  Maybe it’s great — I wouldn’t know, because I have never eaten there. NO real New Yorker would ever eat there.  Ever.  (Amy Oztan is the exception that proves the rule)  What I mean is, you are in NYC!!  Why eat where you could eat back in wherever the hell you came from?  Didn’t you travel to experience something new?  SO — no Olive Garden, no Outback, or Applebys, or god forbid McDonalds. No national chain restaurants.  NY is a foodie’s paradise.  Expand your horizons.  There are about a bazillion websites devoted to telling you where to eat what in Manhattan.  You have a smartphone. Use it.

5. Do not act shocked when a New Yorker is nice to you – Assuming all New Yorkers are going to be rude is just rude!  We are like everyone else (just chic-er, more sophisticated, and we walk faster).  Most New Yorkers are willing to help you out with directions or answer a question.  Don’t greet our niceness with utter surprise that we’re not all complete jerks.

6. Don’t ask us “How do you live here?”  as if we are all miserably struggling, just wishing we could be anywhere — anywhere – – but here.  We live here.  Millions of people live here.  How do you live anywhere else?

7. Don’t wear your backpack in the front In other words:  relax.  New York does not even crack the top 30 most dangerous cities in the US.  We’re safer than frickin’ Toledo, Ohio. So chill.  Your insistence that NYC is all Mean Streets is not just ridiculous, it’s insulting.  Plus, I can’t think of a whole lot of things dorkier than wearing your backpack in the front.

8. DO look beyond M&Ms. I’m all for colored M&Ms.  But when you come to NYC, and the only thing you do is wait on a long line to buy M&Ms — which, mind you, you can buy in ANY big box store, supermarket, and small town grocery in America — well, you’re not just missing out, you’re pissing us off. We are proud of our city — and a giant store filled with M&Ms is not what we’re proud of.  It’s things like the High Line, a park that almost wasn’t, and while you’re down there, the new Guggenheim, which exemplifies our commitment to the arts.  We’re proud of the Tenement Museum, because we celebrate our immigrant history. And of the indie shops on the Lower East Side. Our children’s museums. NYC has a working farm, for cryin’ out loud.  And you want to buy M&Ms?

9. DO go to the theatre, and not just the blockbuster shows. Do check out museums.  Go on a food tour of Queens. Visit the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. New York isn’t just Manhattan. Talk to people.  We won’t bite. (Mostly). Experience NY, rather than just observing it and you’ll like it, not just be overwhelmed by it.

And if you don’t follow the rules, well, there still is a little bit of mean streets in the city.  I’m just sayin’.

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