Observations on living in New York christineknight.me

I called New York home for three-and-a-half wonderful years. As we’d visited many times over the years as tourists, I hadn’t thought our countries were that dissimilar until our immersion in daily life as New Yorkers began. It’s the little things that you really notice as time goes on – the small details that are head-tiltingly perplexing at times, and Earth-shatteringly good at others (BAGELS where have you been all my life?). A few notes I’ve finally written down that have been running around my head for the past few years on life in New York.

1. Pizza is served by the slice in tiny holes in the wall all over the city, and is an acceptable lunch or after school snack.
2. Bagels taste like heaven. Just don’t ask for one toasted, particularly from Murray’s.
3. Corn syrup is in everything, even Tomato Sauce (which is also oddly named “Ketchup”).
4. The daily average temperature is below 10dC for six entire months of the year. That is very very cold.
5. Capsicum are called “peppers” even though they’re not spicy.
6. You need to tip literally everyone. At Christmas, you can expect to tip your USP delivery guy, building manager, cleaners, building concierge, your child’s teachers, your hairdresser and basically anyone you’ve had contact with over the year.
7. Even if you get shitty service you have to tip. A tip of 10% is considered too low. 15% average and 20% desirable.
8. There is no such thing as a flat white unless you find an Aussie-run cafe.
9. The Jewish holidays are just as important as Christian ones and kids have days off school for them.
10. Cold weather removes the importance of looking good. Embrace a marshmallow man coat that goes below the knees and pull up the hood to prevent frost bite.
11. Brunch is anywhere from 11am-2pm and alcohol, like bellinis, is served from midday.
12. No one gets up before 10am unless they’ve got a newborn baby.
13. There’s nary an avocado let alone haloumi at brunch. If you ask for tomato with your dish it will arrive cold and sliced.
14. Chemists are called drug stores, and the big pharmacies are like supermarkets that sell pretty much everything from milk to photo frames and toilet paper.
15. Trader Joe has the best bargain groceries, as well as original creations like “Cookie Butter”.
16. Kids go to see a pediatrician from birth, not your local GP. They also see a pediatric dentist.
17. There is garbage piled up high on every street but no one seems to ever talk about it.
18. You know it’s summer when the pavement smells like dog (or possibly human!) wee.
19. Central Park and Prospect park more than make up for not having a back yard.
20. You can’t call yourself a New Yorker Until you see your first flasher, groper, masterbator or person doing a poop on the subway.
21. Paying 15% of your yearly rent to a broker is called the “New York tax”. You painfully shell it out when you rent your first apartment, then do whatever you can to avoid every paying it again for subsequent homes.
22. You’ll pretty much never get a quiet subway ride without buskers or beggars, so forget about trying to finish your novel.
23. Speaking of buskers, you’re always at high risk of getting kicked in the head when the street dancers start swinging around the poles on the subway.
24. Everything is sooooo cheap – until you take into account the falling Aussie dollar. Unless you’re earning US dollars, in which case, everything is INCREDIBLY cheap and you wonder how you could ever adjust to paying rip off Australian prices ever again.
25. You think you’re prepared for winter, but by January 1 you’d give your right arm for a day over 10 degrees.
26. Spring flowers start blooming well before the weather actually warms up. Don’t get excited too far in advance.
27. The only way to survive New York winters is to not be there for them. Leave the country, do it now.
28. Waiting an hour for brunch is a New York institution. If you don’t have to wait, it’s probably going to be crap.
29. A third floor walk up in a traditional brownstone is going to seem a lot less charming after you have to carry your groceries, stroller and child up and down the stairs 20 times a day.
30. Heating in brownstones is antiquated. Your choice of heating settings is on (heat level “furnace”) or off (heat level “arctic”). Expect to spend winter with the heater on and your windows open.
31. Walk fast so you don’t make New Yorkers angry.
32. If you see a TV show filming, the correct response is to sigh about how inconvenient it is, and pretend not to notice the famous actor waiting for his cue. Even if it’s Ben Stiller, it’s so uncool to stare or, God forbid, whip out your iPhone to take a photo.
33. Kale is disgusting and yet is served everywhere. Everyone pretends to like it.
34. Times Square is for tourists.
35. Layer cakes taste like heaven.
36. Every corner seems familiar because it’s featured in a movie or TV show at some stage. The city feels instantly like you’ve already been there before, even if it’s your first time.
37. Supermarket bread tastes terrible and goes off within days.
38. American chocolate tastes disgusting, particularly Hersheys, which is made from sour milk.
39. When faced with bureaucracy you’ll think it was designed to make you return to the country from which you came. It takes serious stamina to get anything done.
40. If you don’t have private health insurance, do not get sick. If you go to a doctor without insurance expect to shell out several hundred dollars for a 10 minute GP visit.
41. Expect to be treated like a second class citizen by officials in any formal capacity if you’re not an American.
42. When on the subway you’ll frequently hear announcements but won’t be able to understand a word of them.
43. Milk comes in fat-free, lowfat 1%, reduced fat 2% and whole milk. That’s a lot of choice for milk.
44. The pressure to buy organic food will drive you to shop in Whole Foods and then regret your over-priced fruit and vege for the next week.
45. The nursery schools admissions process will turn you into a lunatic.
46. If you drop something on the floor of the subway, leave it there. There’s no coming back.
47. There are so many rules. “Ma’am, you’d can’t put that stroller there”, “Sir, you can’t carry your child on your shoulders (at the American Museum of History)”.
48. There is ice cream everywhere but very little gelato.
49. Kinder Surprise Eggs are banned.
50. People are helpful. Ask one person on what station you should get off at on the subway and the whole carriage will pipe up with their opinion.
51. People are warm and welcoming. New friends who barely knew me invited us into their homes.

Christine Knight
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!
  • jayneytravels

    I love this! I’ve noticed a lot of Americanisms since living here in Australia so I was starting to think Oz had more in common with the US than the UK. Reading this makes me think otherwise!

    • Thanks Jayne! Australia is such a funny place isn’t it – British history but American aspirations.

  • Now I’m homesick! You’ve got it spot on.
    I used to go to Florida in the winter. And, I’d give a limb for a Murray’s bagel!

    • Thanks Cristin – I was missing those bagels too! We found a place in Brooklyn that makes rainbow bagels last time – really wanting a rainbow bagel!

  • We are heading to NYC next year for a few days. I intend to study this list carefully and see if I can blend in – lol.

  • This is so entertaining! I’m an American moving to Australia in a week and am trying to read your list in reverse to figure out all the things I’ll soon be missing and what I should be looking forward to. You’ve left me wondering what choices of milk there are in Australia – I didn’t even think that was something that should be on my radar to worry about 🙂

    • How was your move Megan? Hope it went smoothly and you’re enjoying Australia!

      • Everything has worked out really well. We found a great home, bought a car, and now are working on settling in. It has been a lot of work, but we are liking Sydney a lot so far.