Antipodean Etiquette in NYC

Some bridge ... I dunno

Every expatriate with a crappy blog wants to give you advice about ‘their’ city.

I never used to, but kind of feel compelled now I have a crappy blog. I also consider myself to be of two cities: New York and Sydney, so I plan on being doubly annoying, though I’ll restrict myself to my current abode for the moment.

To be honest, my ‘guide’ to New York after 17 years of residency is a boring disgrace. When friends come from overseas they tell me their plans and I can’t help but be impressed. “I wish I was doing that,” I think as they saunter off to The Frick followed by drinks at Le Bain, dinner at Per Si and catching several bands and an attitude in Williamsburg.

Like anywhere you live for a while, you don’t tend to ogle it as often as in the ‘early days’, though I’m aware of NYC’s conspicuous charms for locals and visitors alike. I certainly know a lot about many of the neighborhoods including all the mundane stuff: where the grocery stores are, what they sell at pharmacies (it’s amazing) and where you can get decent imported beer. If you get hit by a bus, I know about the hospitals, so call me.

My advice is pretty simple, walk everywhere or catch the subway, then home you go. You’ll leave with enough memories if you just avail yourself to the city. Of course, if you feel compelled, go and see the Empire State Building, a Broadway show, the Statue of Liberty, a bunch of museums and, if you really must, the former World Trade Center site, but do it all in two days then get out and actually experience the joint.

Honestly, within reason, if you leave your pants on in public, you can do what the hell you like here and find just about whatever your heart desires. It’s big, diverse, relatively tolerant and pretty damn smart. Like any huge city, respect it and it’ll reserve judgment on you if it cares at all.

PROTOCOL

Rather than just advising you where to go and what to see – you’ve read all the books and are probably far hipper than me anyway – let’s focus on a couple of observations about etiquette. There is a terrific discussion on Quora about the ‘don’ts’ in NYC, but I’ll restrict myself to issues of specific  interest to the relative hordes of bloody Australians and Kiwis coming through the place these days wielding their powerful Antipodean dollars.

Las Vegas, right?

Here are a few ideas for ANZACs to consider. First watch the entire two seasons of Flight of the Conchords then, on arrival:

  • Avoid looking the wrong way crossing the road. Everyone does it when they first get here; fortunately only a few are maimed.
  • Open your bloody mouth when you talk. Kiwis have no vowels and Australians swallow theirs. If you mumble, you’ll spend the entire trip having to point at things which makes befriending others difficult.
  • Try not to overwork the accent. Fair dinkum, why does everyone become Paul Hogan when they come to New York?
  • Don’t feed the squirrels or stop abruptly in front of people to take photos of the bloody rodent-things.
  • Don’t bellow loudly in some weirdo way about how many “Spanish people there are here.” Spanish is the second language of the city and, oddly enough, most bilingual people speak English too so they’ll understand what a closeted doofus you are.
  • Avoid stopping in the middle of the footpath (sidewalk) to look at your map/watch/phone/fingernails/squirrels. Get out of the way if you’re not walking or you’ll be run over by the throng (and by God you’ll deserve it).
  • When striking up conversation with the locals, don’t expect them to speak with that hybrid Irish-Italian drawl depicted as the New York accent on bad sitcoms. The majority of New Yorkers were born elsewhere, a third overseas.
  • Please desist from looking for a conversation about the relative merits of Australian and US sportspeople. The “no-pads” stuff is dreary.
  • You may be mistaken for a Kiwi (if you’re Australian), an Australian (if you’re a Kiwi) or a South African if the person is extremely drunk (an American doing an Australian accent often sounds disturbingly Afrikaans-like). Don’t take offence at any of these, but feel free to become violent if someone presumes you’re English.
  • Don’t expect to find good coffee as easily here as at home. Having said that, it is around, but be aware the regular ‘brewed’ coffee often sucks hard (oh, and it is ‘coffee with milk’, not ‘white coffee’).
  • When crossing the road at the lights, either completely avoid looking at the vehicle trying to turn into your path or stare the bastard down. If you only make brief eye contact, the driver will assume you’ve seen him or her and cut you off, perhaps severing a limb you may need for the rest of your stay.
  • Tip just about everyone, especially me. I know, I know, the US government should ensure everyone gets paid a decent basic wage, but they don’t and you’re here, so cough up cousin. A dollar a drink, or a few bucks a round and 15-20 percent for most other stuff (or if you can’t do complicated mathematics—percentages are hard for me – simply double the tax in NYC restaurants).
  • Don’t agonize about finding a ‘good’ restaurant. There are literally thousands of them.
  • In a lot of old-school neighborhood bars, the beer on tap is flat and room temperature – they don’t care for their lines. If you switch to spirits, be aware a nip measurement here is like a bucket of the stuff in OZNZ.
  • Avoid daytime television.
  • If you go to a cinema take earplugs and an uncommon level of tolerance. Conversations, running commentary, telephone ringtones and the ghastly smell of a butter-like substance on popcorn aren’t conducive to relaxing with a movie.
  • If someone strikes you as being really rude, they probably are, but don’t get hung up if people say “gimme this” instead of “may I have” or whatever. Everybody is in a bit of a hurry and has something on their mind or feel like they should.
  • Have your subway ticket ready to swipe when standing at the entrance so not block others and try and get your money ready to pay for stuff rather than holding up the queue.
  • Don’t expect to be able to understand any announcements over subway PAs or to get any help from the token booth person. It doesn’t work like that.
  • In summer, don’t loudly lament the fact the place is brutally hot and stinks. We know it does. In winter, don’t complain that it’s bloody freezing. Buy a coat.
  • Never-ever enter a US or city government office and expect to get anything done.
  • Even if you are the coolest most empathetic mo’fo in the hip hop universe, don’t head uptown to befriend South Bronx locals using the extreme language some African Americans have reclaimed as their own.
  • If you see a celebrity type person, don’t gawk and do the OMG thing – this ain’t LA where drooling is acceptable and celeb hunting is an industry, which is exactly why many of those people choose to live here.
  • Don’t go to Times Square for anything except your hotel (to book out), to look at the lights or see a show.
  • Know that you’re ‘safe’ just about everywhere you go, at most times of the day, but don’t be wearing your bling and have your I-phone attached to your ear when you head back to Manhattan from the other boroughs at 3.30am.
  • Don’t cheat at pool on Avenue A.
  • If someone on the street gets in your face asking for something and you don’t want to give them anything, look them in the eye and say “not now” (unless it’s me). Don’t lecture them, don’t ignore them. Be firm and direct.

WALKING ‘N’ STUMBLING

There isn’t an American city more scrutinized as a tourist destination than New York. You know all the spots to hit, but if you’re looking for an excuse to avoid eating another pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli, why not take a hike buddy?

Walk over the Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridge to Dumbo then head to Brooklyn Heights to lounge on the promenade and stare at Manhattan. Back on the island, scout around the High Line before heading up the walkway/cycling path parallel to the West Side highway and the Hudson River.

Around 125th street you might want a good lie down, but battle on, heading east, past the Apollo Theatre on Harlem’s main drag. Go south down Lenox Avenue and the handsome Malcolm X Boulevard to 110th where you hit the northern edge of Central Park – the best part of the park, where there are few tourists and lots of space.

Make your way southeast, eventually heading through the Upper East Side to the eastern flank of Manhattan where you can wander along the banks of the East River and contemplate Roosevelt Island, Queens, Brooklyn and never going home again.

No doubt you’ll have each day intricately planned in terms of where you want to eat and drink, but sometimes the best hazy memories of a trip to a foreign city are those of stumbling, literally, into a noisy bar late at night. Here’s a few ‘default’ down-market options should you need a destination at 2am.

Downtown, on Houston, the Mercury Lounge is always a good late night music option, as are countless joints in the East Village. If you find yourself marooned in Midtown, near the theatres, abandon Broadway and head west to Rudy’s Bar & Grill – there’s a giant pig out the front and free hot dogs inside (or is it a giant hot dog out front and free pig … anyhoo). If not Rudy’s, many other Hell’s Kitchen establishments, especially on Ninth Avenue stay open late and tolerate friendly drunks. Uptown, the Ding Dong Lounge on Columbus between 105th and 106th is wonderfully dark and has a worthy collection of 80s music posters on the walls.

Comrades, New York recently and proudly reclaimed its Travel and Leisure magazine title as the least friendly city in the US.

Whatever.

Frankly, I can’t see it, though I understand the sight and sense of an abundance of ‘foreigners’ here, many of them hugely ambitious and forthright by necessity – be it to make a living wage or a gazillion bucks – can be discomforting for some US communities and visitors from other places where homogeneity is revered.

And there are days – like when I tried to help the blind woman off the subway train only to cop a loud tirade of public abuse from her for a good couple of minutes – when it’s all too much to bear.

But New York’s grand allure isn’t the shows, the iconic sites or the restaurants; it’s the impossible mix of people. If you only hang around the very worthy tourist sites you won’t get a chance to tell lies about drop bears and laugh with immunity in the company of those who live here and that, welcome guest, would be a visitor’s biggest mistake.

25 thoughts on “Antipodean Etiquette in NYC

  1. Now I don’t have to ask … Or was this just a way of polite way of saying: ‘Don’t ask me…’ See you in May. (Oh, and just in case you were wondering, email subscription worked.)

  2. Nice read Greg – but you didn’t mention th important New York sites, you know the ones featured on Seinfeld. After all that is all Australians really know about New York. Unless of course you are slightly older then have a considerably broader experience of the city – having watched many years of Mad About You.

    • The exterior of Monk’s cafe from Seinfeld is on Broadway and 113 (or is it 112?) in our old neighborhood Rob (the show itself was shot in LA, pretending to be NY). While you’re in that area visit St John Divine Catherdral (to cleanse your wicked soul), wander around Columbia University and drink Belgian ale at Le Monde on Broadway.
      I can hardly remember Mad About You .. think they were supposed t live on Central Park West.

    • Not sure she’d be the regular clientele. The joint is a bit stinky and has a couple of great music posters, including a few Radio Birdman gigs and one from the Prince of Wales in Melbourne circa 1980-something

  3. I loved New York – and found New Yorkers friendly and helpful (the English try to be helpful, but they haven’t got a clue). I enjoyed the “Diner” experience and all the cosy small bars and eateries. Everything in NY was a great buzz, but I could not get my head around the “tipping” – and was even taken to task once in the Ding Dong Bar for the meagre size of my tip (good evening!!). Looking forward to returning one day- this time with a bag of coins.

    • You waz robbed Moik. That Ding Dong tipping experience was the other side of the coin … you buy a round of drinks it’s a couple of bucks, not precisely one dollar per drink… they were being aggressive with the ‘tourists’.

  4. Hi Greg,
    Good friends are heading there in a few weeks for a week and I have forwarded your article to them. Another keen and local aussi who loves to spot bargains was raving about the great 9 day cruise out of NY, down to Boston and up to Halifax and back. cheers

      • I’ll take your word and Van Morrison’s for that- Coney Is has a real tourist hook:
        Coming down from Downpatrick
        Stopping off at St. John’s Point
        Out all day birdwatching
        And the craic was good

        Stopped off at Strangford Lough
        Early in the morning
        Drove through Shrigley taking pictures
        And on to Killyleagh

        Stopped off for Sunday papers
        At the Lecale District
        Just before Coney Island

        On and on, over the hill
        To Ardglass in the jamjar
        Autumn sunshine, magnificent
        And all shining through

        Stop off at Ardglass
        For a couple of jars of mussels
        And some potted herrings in case
        We get famished before dinner

        On and on, over the hill
        And the craic is good
        Heading towards Coney Island

        I look at the side of your face
        As the sunlight comes
        Streaming through the window
        In the autumn sunshine

        And all the time
        Going to Coney Island
        I’m thinking, wouldn’t it be great?
        If it was like this all the time

          • Yeah, not sure NY’s Coney Island is worthy of Van’s poetry, though it has its own very unique charm. I remember being horrified the first time I went there foolishly expecting a real beach. As for the Belfast CI, I expect it’s somewhat more exotic.

  5. I recall walking over the Brooklyn Bridge wandering aimlessly into the cycle lane and being politely asked to move over…. the guy could have yelled abuse, but somehow guessed I was a tourist. Maybe the camera in hand was the giveaway. Always smile when I think of NY.

    • And New York smiles when it thinks of you Raymond. Greetings from central Connecticut, by the way, where we’re staying with friends for the weekend. It’s so civilised here it’s sickening. I’m in a lake house staring out at a glistening lake under clear blue skies at temperature just above freezing. Coyote and deer sniffed around the house last night. Must get back to the city soon — miss the belch of NYC fire trucks

  6. Loved Grand Central Terminal – a unique complex with style and charisma, where you can sit and happily watch New Yorkers and tourists all day. Loved the Museums, next life I am doing them all. Loved Eamon’s Irish Bar and Grill where the friendly Irish waitress showed me “chef’s unique way of tenderising the lamb” on her mobile phone.Loved the American red wines,countless blending and each one a new rewarding experience – one had on its label:” Temperance,like chastity, is its own punishment”.Loved the bus tours and the guide’s humourous commentaries.Loved hot and sour soup on a cold, wintry day in Chinatown. Had my shoes shined outside Grand Central and the guy was impressed with the “good leather” of my Blundstones. Loved the buskers, first class talent. Central Park is a must – after walking through it (it’s BIG), came out near Plaza and was standing next to Pauline Hanson – I thought it was the coffee withdrawal playing tricks on me. Enjoyed subway…all sweet memories!!!

  7. Great piece Greg, the only addition I’d make would be that West 145th Street is properly great fun late at night — the only place anyone’s ever pointed a submachine gun at me. A must-do!

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