29 Unspoken Rules of Living in New York
I polled 21 of my closest New York friends (AKA everyone I know)
Some say you have to live in New York for 10 years before you can call yourself a New Yorker. Others, 15 or 20 or for life. Some would go as far as to say you’re not a real New Yorker so long as you bother yourself with these kinds of social politics. I’m not sure that could possibly be true. Could it? This debate, like so many other things, is so ingrained in the conversational fabric of New York that it’s hard to imagine this city without it.
Which brings me to another binary that’s perhaps equally iconic and just as fraught around here: those who live in New York versus those who don’t.
The contrast, if you ask me, is comparably stark. Maybe more so? Probably because this city has a current so specific and unmatched that moving here changes people quickly and permanently and never the other way around. The personality of this city is too strong, too commanding. You can’t help but adapt! Of course New York itself can’t speak, so these adaptations are just as subtle as they are sudden, and some manifest through a geographically minted instinct.
I asked 21 New York City dwellers to put words to this subconscious push and pull. Their answers were easy to cull and they massively overlapped, which only stood to further prove the point: most of us are quietly living by the same unspoken rules. Here are 27 to get you started. Read through and then add your own below. I’ll meet you in the comments to complain about totally benign behavior.
1. Never eat on the subway — the rare and mostly unnecessary exception being snacks that don’t smell nor require a utensil i.e. a granola bar.
2. Move out of the middle of the sidewalk if you’re going to walk at a snail’s pace. Even better: move out of the way and pick up the pace.
3. Best not to make eye contact with people on the subway, unless you both give eye-contact consent in the form of a flirty expression that one or both of you may reference later on a Craigslist Missed Connection post.
4. Never, under any circumstances, take a selfie in a museum.
5. It’s okay to be overzealous in how you dress at the first sign of spring.
6. The juice streaming out of sidewalk trash bags always gets the right of way.
7. Never call someone out for blaming their lateness on the subway, even if you know it’s a lie. This conserves your own right to lie about subway delays.
8. Never acknowledge celebrities.
9. If you must stand still in the flow of pedestrian traffic to use your phone, please move as far right as possible/extricate yourself from the flow entirely.
10. Always let the people on the train get off the train before you board.
11. It’s okay to scream at cars that nearly run you over if and when you had the right of way.
12. If you’re trying to hail a cab at an intersection where loads of others are doing the same, never walk a block upstream to hail your own. That’s shady as fuck.
13. Always help the lady with the stroller on the subway stairs.
14. You are completely and totally permitted to use the Emergency Exit at every subway station, even in the calmest of times and even if the alarm sounds (but it probably won’t).
15. Do not ask for directions. Map it.
16. If you see someone you know on the train or the subway platform, you are allowed to either give a simple hello and walk away or not acknowledge each other entirely. Almost no one likes small talk.
17. “Bridge and tunnel” is a derogatory term for people who live outside the city, come into it by bridge and/or tunnel and are not hip to its culture.
18. If you live above the first floor, always remove your shoes when entering your apartment for the sake of your neighbors below.
19. Never cause a scene about a rat. It’s just a rat. You do, however, have full permission to panic at the sight of a water bug.
20. Failing to carry cash is always a mistake.
21. When transferring subway trains, hurry up the stairs or you’re dead in the minds of those behind you.
22. Never be an escalefter.
23. If you need something from a bodega but a cat is laying on said item, you must respect the cat and find your item elsewhere.
24. Never be too dressed up.
25. Have your MetroCard ready and in hand when approaching the subway turnstiles.
26. If your entire party is not present, you may as well not even tell the restaurant host you’ve arrived.
27. If you fail to remove your clothes from the washing machine or dryer when said machine is done, don’t be upset when you return to the laundromat and find them out on a table or in a bin.
28. Don’t carry a sidewalk-hogging golf umbrella around in the rain. Carry a normal-sized umbrella.
29. Never get on an empty subway car. It’s empty for a reason.
Illustration by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.