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July 5, 2012

The ESC's Guide To NYC: General Etiquette & Advice

We are so excited that the BlogHer Conference is coming back to New York City for 2012! Since we know Manhattan can be a bit overwhelming for some out-of-towners, we thought we'd offer some helpful tips to making the most of your stay in The Big Apple. (Tip #1: Don't call New York "The Big Apple".)

Note: Those of you from other metropolitan cities similar to Manhattan might find some of these tips to be obvious or common sense, but you'd be surprised how many people aren't familiar with this type of area and really just have no idea what to do. So we're here to help!

So here's our fourth installment of The ESC's Guide to NYC:

General Etiquette and Advice


Not all New Yorkers are rude! Sure, some of them are, but generally it's easy to mistake the fast-paced frenetic energy of New York City as rudeness. We're really almost friendly as long as you don't get in our way or fuck with our day. The main difference between tourists and New Yorkers, is that we know the unwritten rules, so we can get frustrated when someone breaks those social norms.

There's also something to be said about the uniqueness of New York in August. We're all a little extra pissed off because it's hot and humid and we're stuck in the city (instead of somewhere in the Hamptons or something).  So just try to not fuck with us.

Interacting with New Yorkers

While walking down the street, you don't have to engage with every person handing out flyers or trying to get you to donate to their cause (those are the ones with the clipboards, just a warning). It's okay to ignore them, or say "no thank you" or "I can't stop, sorry". The same goes for homeless people.

For some of you from suburban middle America, it might be weird or uncomfortable to see homeless people on the streets of NYC, but we have a lot of them. They're just there, part of the city like the rest of us and you don't have to be afraid of them. Some of them may ask you for money. It's okay to give them money if they ask, but it's also okay to say "no, sorry" and keep walking or just keep walking without answering. (You'll notice that a lot people might walk right past them, not even noticing them or just ignoring them.) What's not okay is to make any kind of verbal judgment - don't speculate what they're going to spend that money on (seriously, anytime I want to hear someone say "oh he'll just spend it on drugs" I want to punch that asshole in the face) and whatever you do, don't tell them to get a job. Just don't fucking say that.
  • Don't waste our time
It's okay to stop and ask someone for directions (even if you're just not sure which direction the streets are going - up or down). Remember that most people on the street in NYC are on their way somewhere and don't want to spend an hour listening to your life story. We're also used to people trying to sell us shit or asking us to sign something or giving us a scam story to get money. So if you need to ask someone on the street a question, don't preface it with "Can I ask you a question?" or "Do you have a minute?" because the answer will be no. Just get straight to the point as ask it, "excuse me, do you know where _________ is?" and then say thank you. If you ask "where's a good place to eat around here?" you're probably not going to get a straight answer. There are a million good places to eat. It's New York! Don't waste our time with questions like that. Plan ahead.

The "don't waste our time" rule of thumb applies to so many aspects of New York interaction. If you're at the ATM or buying a Metrocard, have your debit card ready before you get to the front of the line. Make sure you're on the right line for Metrocards, if it says "Cash Only" and you're holding a credit card, you're wasting our time and yours. (More info on the subway system in our Transportation guide.) At a bar, know what your drink order is before you go up to the bartender. Have your money in hand, ready to pay before the bartender brings you your drink. The same rules apply to coffee shops, delis, fast food restaurants and anywhere else you go up to a counter to order food or drink. (More info on bar and restaurant etiquette in our Dining/Drinking guide.)
  • Unwritten rules of the sidewalk
Don't walk too slow, especially if the streets are crowded. In fact, if you can't handle the pace, you should think about staying inside during the peak "rush hour" times during the week (beginning of the work day or end of the work day). Don't stop short suddenly in the middle of the street. Really, don't do it. Especially if you're stopping to check your map or point at something inconsequential. If you need to stop, move to the right and slow down gradually. In general, slow pedestrian traffic should move to the right; the left is for passing.

Stay to the right on the stairs as well (unless you need to pass someone). If you have a big suitcase, that stays on the right with you. When riding an escalator, the right is for standing and the left is for walking, so if you're traveling two people together, standing one behind the other, not side by side. (And your suitcase goes in front of you, not beside you.) Don't walk and text unless you're really good at it.

Don't walk more than three people across (unless maybe, two of those three people are children - but even then expect some people to be annoyed and shove past you if you're moving too slow). And if you insist on smoking, don't wave your arm around. No one wants your smoke (or ashes) in their faces.

When crossing the street watch out for cars making a turn. They will not stop for you just because you're in the crosswalk; look where you're going. Also, watch out for people riding bikes. They don't always stop at red lights (or follow any traffic rules whatsoever). Don't jaywalk. Yes, almost all New Yorkers do it, but it's an acquired skill and you'll end up getting yourself killed if you do it wrong.

For more tips on navigating the streets of Manhattan, check out our Transportation guide.
  • Show New York some respect
Don't complain. Yes, New Yorkers love to complain about our own city, but we get pretty defensive when someone else does it. So don't bitch about having to walk too much, about it being too crowded, about the subways taking too long, or about everything being too expensive. And don't claim that something is better where you come from than it is in New York. Most likely, you're wrong, but even if you're not, who cares? Definitely don't suggest that the pizza or bagels are better where you're from than in New York because you're just wrong on that one no matter what you think.
Don't litter. New York City is dirty enough without you dropping your garbage in our streets. There are trash recepticals all over the place, use them. Don't mock, stare, or point at anyone who you think it dressed "weird". NYC is wildly diverse, not just in race/culture/religion/custom but also in terms of fashion. Respect that. Especially if you're wearing any indication that you're a tourist (an "I heart NY" t-shirt, a fanny pack, or a back pack worn on the front - really, why?)

Don't fake a New York accent - it's not cute or funny, you just sound stupid and obnoxious. And no, we're not pronouncing "Houston Street" wrong - it's pronounced "House-ton", after William Houston, and it has fucking nothing to do with Texas!

Don't bring up 9/11. We know the rest of the world felt connected to New York when the towers went down, so we appreciate your interest and that you care, but we don't always feel like talking about it. Wait for a New Yorker to bring it up first. If they don't, leave it alone.
  • Celebrity sighting
If you see a celebrity in New York City (on the street, at a cafe or restaurant, etc.) leave them alone. Seriously, they just want to finish their meal/coffee/phone call/conversation in peace, just like the rest of us. Don't stare or point or scream or freak out or ask for a photo or autograph. Feel free to look up at them and smile or even mention a quick "I'm a big fan" (but only if you're not interrupting a conversation). If it happens to be someone who is absolutely the most important celebrity figure in your life, okay, you can make an exception and try to talk to them/get a photo, but be forewarned that your illusions of them be shattered if they give you an attitude. If you aren't their #1 fan, leave them alone. Especially if you aren't sure who they are "aren't you that guy from _______?" is unacceptable. Unless they're at a promotional event of some kind, they probably just want to be left alone. If they're with their kids or having a fight, stay the hell away. If they are at a special promotional event, like say, a BlogHer party, then all bets are off and go for it! 

Tourist Attractions

  • Plan

There are so many museums, landmarks and attractions in New York that you will definitely want to do your online research first. Check for opening and closing times, rules, information on specific exhibits, directions and more. You can also find helpful apps for your smartphone that will help you navigate your museum outing, such as the American Museum of Natural History app or the MOMA app. (There are just too many museums and galleries and attractions to list here, so just do a Google search on whatever interests you and be sure to do your research before you venture out!)

Some helpful apps:

- Museum Without Walls
- I Parks NY
- NYC on the Cheap
- Time Out New York
- New York Times: The Scoop
  • Purchase
Visit any of the TKTS booths around the city (three locations: Times Square, South Street Seaport and Downtown Brooklyn) to get discounted tickets to shows. They even have a TKTS app for your smartphone. To save time, you can buy advance tickets to the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art performances, the American Museum of Natural History Space Show and IMAX movies and so much more.
  • Prioritize 
Consider whether you really need to (and will have time to) see three Broadway shows, go to ten different museums and five different NYC landmarks. There is a lot to do and see in New York, but you don't need to do it all. If you try, you'll end up being so rushed that you don't even get to enjoy half of it. You'll go back home broke, exhausted, and kind of cranky (like a true New Yorker, perhaps).

Miscellaneous Advice

  • Public restrooms
If it's the evening, you're probably fine just finding any local bar. In the daytime, your best bet is a Barnes & Noble bookstore or Starbucks coffee shop. At some of the Starbucks you might need to purchase something (only if it's one of the few locations that makes you get a key to the bathroom instead of leaving it open to the public) but really, you probably wanted another cup of coffee anyway didn't you?

You can check out the website The Bathroom Diaries or download the free Sit or Squat app for your smart phone. There you can search for and rate public bathrooms.
  • Laws about smoking and drinking in public

Check out the rest of the ESC's Guide to NYC

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