I'm currently reading this book where newcomers ask a native New Yorker, Jake Dobkin, for advice . The book is called "Ask a native New Yorker" and I came to a passage that I thought would also be very interesting for you and that you would like to read it.
I moved to the city two weeks ago and there are still a lot of things I don't understand! For example, how can I swipe a MetroCard on the subway or bus without having to repeat it five times? My biggest problem so far, however, has been walking down the street. Yes, you heard me right. At least three times I've walked carelessly down the street when someone sighed angrily or shouted harshly, "Sorry!" This was usually on crowded streets in Manhattan, but it has happened at least once in the subway, on an escalator. What am I doing wrong? And why do New Yorkers leave so quickly?
New Yorkers don't walk too fast: they walk too slow. You probably grew up in a place where people mostly get around in vehicles. This means your running muscles are weak compared to those of people who walk everywhere. We also know where we are going, which makes us seem to move faster. It just so happens that half the time is lost getting your bearings or admiring the skyscrapers that we haven't been impressed with for many years.
Give yourself six months - by then your body will have been sharpened by walking the usual five miles a day that most New Yorkers do during their daily routine, including the many flights of stairs required for most subway commuters and Apartment houses are required. During this time, you'll also learn to get around with the goal of the seasoned New Yorker: never stop in the middle of the street looking for directions in your phone or to catch a glimpse of a New York landmark - a red-faced one Alec Baldwin; A man in an Elmo costume smoking a cigarette, two taxi drivers having a fist fight over a fender, etc.
Learning to walk like a New Yorker is an important skill. During your stay here you will constantly be under time pressure. The unacceptable condition of our subways and buses, which New York's car-loving governors have been denying necessary infrastructure funding for years, means that getting to work is always a game of Russian roulette. Then there is the work itself, the hours will be long, partly because of the workaholism of our highly competitive industries, but also because most New Yorkers have to work overtime to make enough money to pay our exorbitant rents. There are twenty minutes left for lunch. Getting to the deli has to be quick as there are ten people in line when they arrive. If you have to yell at a waddling tourist or two, then so be it.
Even at night when you think people would slow down, they don't. Most New Yorkers are either rushing home to see their friends and family during what little free time they have left after work or trying to get to whatever restaurant/bar/club they happen to be at have. They have to get there early to get there before the crowds, or - even if they have a reservation - they know that if they're even five minutes late, the reservation will be lost. No matter what they plan to do, they will still have to move quickly.
For similar reasons, punctuality is a much more important virtue in New York City than in other places in America. We have far less free time and don't want it to go to waste. Therefore, being late in New York is viewed as a character flaw. Of course, we occasionally forgive delays caused by a comatose G train or some other unavoidable problem, but do it often and you'll soon find yourself very unpopular here.
Some advice that should help you achieve local speed:
First, and most importantly, consider where you are going before entering the stream of human traffic. It's like melting into a Fiat on a busy highway: there's no time to suddenly stop and look at a map, reach for your phone to text a friend, or find out you're going the wrong way turn around abruptly. Thus forcing someone to move out of the way quickly or, worse, bump into you.
You'll be much less likely to get lost if you buy a map of New York and stick it somewhere in your apartment. Compared to most cities, Manhattan is actually pretty sensibly organized on a grid, with the exception of famously labyrinthine neighborhoods like the West Village or the Financial District. Either navigate by landmarks like the Empire State Building or One World Trade Center, which can be seen from almost anywhere, or harness the power of the sun. Because New York is north of the equator, the sun is always in the southern part of the sky, facing east in the morning and west in the afternoon. If that doesn't work, just walk a few blocks. You will inevitably notice street numbers changing in the right or wrong direction, or you will come across an important path that you recognize.
Second, go right - as far right as you can without dragging along a building. Like other mighty rivers, New York traffic moves fastest in the middle and slowest at the edges. Walking on the edge of the crowd also gives you access to numerous places to step out of the flow: behind street lamps and street signs and in building alcoves, etc. When you need to stop and orient yourself: keep to the right on escalators, Stairs and subway platforms doubly important - anywhere there's a crowd trying to squeeze through a narrow passage and you accidentally block traffic, you're likely to attract negative attention. And God help you if you inexplicably stop at the turnstiles as the subway pulls into the station.
Third, don't "jaywalk" until you've been here at least a year. Your brain hasn't yet learned how to reliably calibrate the speed of passing taxis, buses, and delivery cyclists, and there's a good chance you'll screw up and get run over. Use your first few months here to observe their movements and learn timing. If you do this too, stick to the side streets and quieter areas until you really get the hang of it. I'm pretty sure bad intersection is the leading cause of death for New Yorkers. That and ordering Papa Johns. You live in the pizza capital of the world; What's wrong with you?
I also have a theory that a large part of New Yorkers' reputation for being rude comes from tourists' experience of our walking speed. You come to the city for a week, see the crowds walking back and forth, maybe get bumped a few times, and come to the conclusion that New Yorkers are mean and don't like outsiders. Nothing could be further from the truth. Approached the right way, New Yorkers are among the most helpful people on earth, trained in where to go by a long history of helping immigrants and lost tourists.
What is the correct method? First, find a knowledgeable New Yorker. An easy option is to choose the person who feels most comfortable and doesn't have any telltale signs of being an outsider: short, uncomfortable, I LOVE NEW YORK gear, or any type of fanny pack that's obviously not being worn ironically. Second, approach them at a natural lunch break location - a line at the halal cart. Third, ask your question in a clear, loud voice and then pay careful attention to the answer as it will not be repeated.
You'll find that the vast majority of New Yorkers want to show off their knowledge of the city. A personal example: I lived in Brooklyn Heights near the Brooklyn Bridge for five years. Almost every day on the way to work I found a group of lost tourists outside High Street Station trying to figure out how to get to the steps of the Brooklyn Bridge, and nothing made me happier than successfully leading them to their somewhat hidden destination , under an overpass two blocks away. I did this almost every day when I lived there, and I still feel a certain glow when I think about the many confused visitors I was able to send on the right path.
A word of caution: It's often best to listen to directions from two different people or check your phone's map. The local tendency to help with directions sometimes conflicts with New Yorkers' sense of direction, which sometimes leaves much to be desired outside the five blocks around their home or work. There's also a strong desire to not look like a jerk who doesn't know his way around and just admits he doesn't know where you need to go so he just takes a guess and suddenly you're on a PATH train to Jersey City instead of taking a 7 train to Queens.
But sometimes New Yorkers don't even need to be asked for help. I'm not talking about emergencies - hurricanes, terrorist attacks - when the local response makes the news. I mean the little dramas you see here all the time, like when someone faints on the subway and ten people immediately clear a bench and offer water, or a cyclist gets hit by a car and five people nearby rush over to make sure that he is not too seriously injured and call an ambulance.
Or how about this one: I parked my bike at Third Avenue and Twentieth Street last week and met a friend. When I suddenly saw a dog break his leash and run into the middle of Third Avenue while his owner screamed. Before I could even get up, at least 20 regular New Yorkers dropped what they were doing and immediately ran after the dog. One second they had their typical unforgiving New York faces, the next they were running down the street after a strange animal. I wasn't surprised at all - New Yorkers love helping people.
One final thought: New Yorkers walk with speed and focus because otherwise they'd have trouble getting anything done here. Try to live all aspects of your life with a similar purpose during your stay. In the first few months, you'll find that New York offers you endless distractions: bad tabloids that promote toxic values of wealth and fame, superficial careerists more interested in networking than friendship, overpriced trendy spots that just make you want to feel ripped off. Ignore as much of this stuff as possible. Choose your goal - fulfilling work, nice friends, stimulating art - and always keep your goal in mind.
Also avoid open manholes and rusted basement doors on the sidewalk - these can be really deadly.