29 Unspoken Rules of Living in New York

I polled 21 of my closest New York friends (AKA everyone I know)

03.02.17
29-Unspoken-Rules-of-Living-in-New-York-Man-Repeller

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.

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  • Bee

    Praying hands emoji for #22. Escalefters are one of my biggest pet peeves in life.

    • Elizabeth Tamkin

      I just use the stairs (if they’re not a mile long) to avoid such people. It’s also my daily workout.

    • Lizzy Lou

      in DC, if you stand on the left of the escalator you WILL get a staredown or yelled at lol.

  • nevvvvave

    How is #12 shady? lol no one is stopping other people from doing the same

  • Holly Laine Mascaro

    I always hear friends who have moved to NYC debating how many years before you can consider yourself a New Yorker, and I’m going to burst everyone’s bubble – we native New Yorkers privately do not ever consider you a true New Yorker unless you were born here. Period end of story. lol. This list is perfect though, especially everything about being a slow walker. I would also add, I recently twice experienced the terrifying phenomenon of hearing a rat(s?) shuffling around ABOVE your head on the subway platform in a situation where it could definitely fall on top of your head at any moment, which was absolutely terrifying.

    • kaytee

      Aww, I hate that attitude. C’mon and just share your city with the rest of us! You may have been born here, which is great, but many people have dreamed, planned, and sacrificed to get there. I have to imagine that counts for something.

      • CM

        Sure it counts for something, but apparently that something is not “being a New Yorker,” lol. I personally see it as being something like religion… i can say i’m a catholic, you can say, “no you’re not because xyz” and at the end of the day, who is right?

    • B

      Not a native New Yorker, and 100% agree that the only “true” New Yorkers are those that were born there. The debate seems so silly to me.

      • Holly Laine Mascaro

        I think part of it is, to me this isn’t a negative thing – you should rock wherever you’re from. If you’re from the boroughs, you often DON’T meet a lot of people NOT from New York (or obviously from other countries, but not as many from the rest of the US), so it’s cool to be from elsewhere! Rather than viewing being “a New Yorker” as a goal instead of just who you are/where you’re from. That’s more what I find funny, when people try to “achieve” being a New Yorker like it’s better than other places. It’s great, but so are many other places.

        • lilyelle

          love this 🙂 proud Kansan livin in NYC.

        • Nancy

          I’m a Californian living in New York, and I am happy to be a Californian because that is the identity I feel most strongly. That said, to people who are here for decades, I think it’s only normal for their identity to change. At a certain point for many people they feel much more aligned as a NYer, than as a “XX”er (wherever they are from, be it Kansas or Calcutta). Identity in many cases is fungible and personal, not always such a black and white you are or aren’t based on birth.

      • Robin

        Awesome! I was born there but live in the Midwest 😂

    • Summer Fulp

      I understand the attitude. I’m an LA native and people who blog about ~LA life~ but have lived here for 2 years gets annoying. But many of my friends and family are from mexico, here legally. Does that mean they aren’t true Americans? All this to say, tribalism takes many shapes.

    • kellymcd

      Same thing with SF! I’ve been here 4.5 years and have friends and a boyfriend who grew up here and I’m never going to insult them by pretending I’m a SFer now

      • Grace B

        people who can it frisco….*shudder*, i only lived in the bay area for a year but thankfully my husband (a native) gives me some cred, i think…

        • kellymcd

          NEVER EVER EVER say “frisco”.

    • I have had intense debates with native New Yorkers about my status. I was born in NY and moved when I was 5 and recently moved back. I’ve had people INSIST that the simple act of being born here and returning make me a native New Yorker, as if the 20+ years I was gone were a mere aberration.

      • Holly Laine Mascaro

        Haha – I guess in this case you still need like, TIME spent here for it to count. But I think you could reclaim it!!

    • LM

      it’s different in london. you are wherever you come from *and* a londoner while you are here. if you study here, if you work and comute here, if you’re here on a sabbatical… as long as you fit in with the city ethos. i prefer this approach, it’s inclusive and less clique-y.

  • Suzan

    I can’t imagine this list being very specific for NYC, sounds like any Western metropolis to me! At least a whole lot applies to Rotterdam too, where I live.

  • Anna

    This is so much fun! And useful, too. As a Finn, #16 is a piece of cake for me. Sending love! xo, Anna (who at times wishes she was a New Yorker)

    http://www.arcticvanilla.com/

  • nicole

    a real new yorker knows precisely where to stand on the subway platform to make any commute as efficient as possible.

    • Haley Nahman

      SO TRUE!

    • Isabel S

      Guess I’m a real new yorker then!!!!

    • Aydan

      Still learning, but getting there! Ask me in a couple months!

    • Taste of France

      Indeed. This is known as “exit management.”

      • kes

        or “Pre-Walking”

    • Cordelia

      The same is true for London. You get in the car you know will be closest to your station’s exit so you don’t have to walk half a mile down the platform in heels.

      • Nat Preston

        too true

    • laurenkuhlman

      Seoul has an app that tells you what door to board (and therefore exit) at. All the doors are also marked on the ground for waiting in the right place.

  • Alex

    Another thing New Yorkers can agree on – Penn Station is the woooooorst

    • Imaiya Ravichandran

      oh, so this is a real thing?? i was really confused by that episode of Broad City wherein abby’s bf dumps her because he’s so grossed out by penn station….it all makes sense now…

      • Alex

        Imaiya yes yes! This is a real thing LOL

      • As someone who up until recently lived in NJ and traveled to NYC for work, I can categorically say that yes it’s super gross and I died with laughter over that scene on Broad City.

    • Meg S

      Not even a New Yorker and I agree.

  • #22 is a given for life, but it will take a few years to get used to #19!

    Laila from Townhouse Palette

  • Millie Lammoreaux

    Sorry guys but these are just…city rules. Useful, but not NY exclusive!
    love, a gal from Boston

    • Court E. Thompson

      I have to disagree. Maybe just East-coast cities?

      Some of these are true for Chicago but some, like having everyone in your party arrive before being seated, aren’t true in most places in the city. We also don’t need cash all the time. We totally freak about rats but not about coyotes. Centipedes are a much bigger issue than water bugs (but they eat the water bugs so perhaps it’s a good problem?). Dressing warmly supersedes any and all fashion choices. And our Midwestern-ness keeps us from screaming at cars. We just give passive-aggressive death stares.

      Meanwhile, Bridge and Tunnel = Burbs. The derision is the same.

      • ValiantlyVarnished

        Chicago girl here. We also cannot be seated until all of our party arrives. We don’t need cash all the time. We also freak out about rats – and coyotes and the overly aggressive racoons and squirrels. Chicago winters are LEGENDARY in their frigidness and we are experts in layering and the Michelin-man look. People flip off cars here all the time. And if you live outside of Cook County? You live in the suburbs.

        • Court E. Thompson

          I’m also a Chicago girl. Even Beatrix seated half our party before the rest of us arrived. Where do you see rats? I’ve lived in Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Lakeview, and now South Loop and have seen barely a handful. Squirrels and raccoons are a new one. Yes, we flip cars off, but we don’t scream at them. And concur on the Cook County distinction.

          • ValiantlyVarnished

            Beatrix? Really? That’s actually surprising to me. I’ve lived here all my life, born and raised. Was born on the South Side and lived everywhere from Hyde Park, Uptown, to Rogers Park. I now live in Irving. And I saw a rat in October while walking to the train. TWO actually. HUGE. Scared the shit out of me! And then when I told a few people they also mentioned their slightly traumatizing rat experiences (my friend’s encounter with one in an alleyway near her condo is the stuff of nightmares). As for the raccoons…gurl. When I was living on the South Side a friend of mine had a family of raccoons living in her yard. She once threw an empty can in an attempt to scare them off and one of them picked it up and THREW IT BACK. And just a few weeks ago I encountered the biggest raccoon I’ve ever seen in my life casually crossing the street. As for the squirrels – it may just be my neighborhood, but we have some of the most gangster squirrels you’ve ever seen in your life!

          • Court E. Thompson

            It was actually super surprising to me too! The last two times though they seated people before I arrived. And I’m officially avoiding Irving Park. EW! I’m never leaving my neighborhood again O_O

          • Amelia

            Chicago girl as well! I live in the West Loop and see rats all the time. Must be all the restaurants :p

      • b.e.g.

        My 28 year old son lives in Chicago. Attended Columbia and decided to stay because it is such a great place to live. I love to visit Chicago. Midwesterners are such wonderful people. First time I went there and airport staff greeted me, so friendly and all, I was immediately on guard.

      • Kattigans

        A lot of these apply to SF as well. We have muni and bart – similar to subway/metro/tube in other cities.

    • kellymcd

      True story. I’m in SF and my god, do I HATEHATEHATE “escalefters”

    • allie

      Maybe, but some of them are definitely NY exclusive. Bodegas (and bodega cats!) are absolutely more common in NYC, and while I’ve lived in London, Chicago and L.A., the biggest subway transfer rush I’ve ever experienced is in Union Station. Sidewalk trash bag juice is also a much bigger phenomenon in NYC.

    • Caroline

      I don’t know if all of these apply to Boston – I see people eating on the T all the time, and there’s never an empty subway car because there aren’t enough cars to go around! Plus, people aren’t in nearly as much of a hurry in Beantown :p

  • Kelsey O’Donnell

    Nailed it.

  • alien princess~

    omg i need to re-write this for philly because everything’s so backwards here compared to nyc

    • tmm16

      If you need insight for the philly one, LMK. I’ve been here 5 years and sometimes I say water like “wurrrrter” now…

      • Abby

        I’ve been here 10 and I sound like I’m from Delco 🙁 🙁 🙁

      • Grace B

        went to college in pa and have family there, dude do i have a love/hate relationship with pennsyltucky (i love visiting friends in manayunk/exploring philly but i haaaaaate the driving and the weather).

    • b.e.g.

      Philly is hilarious. It’s like let’s have zero common sense as to how to navigate city streets, protocol on the subway (if you dare use it!), and courtesy towards others, e.g. talking loudy on your phone on the R train. Ugh! On the other hand, I’ve had strangers grab me and yank me out of the way of a speeding taxi. So we take the good with the bad.

    • MadameMidlifeCrisis

      In my first 5 years of living in the Philly ‘burbs, I did the mass transit hustle & after an incident on the subway in Center Shitty; I swore it off & am happier for it. Philly is crazy hostile & I’d rather be stuck in my car than next to a farting landwhale preaching about Jeebus for what seems like forever & being grifted by every other passenger for money (fo’ sumpin ta eat, of course, & not another bottle of MD20/20, Night Train or that GINORMOUS Colt 45, fer reals lady, scouts honnuh! *eyeroll*) or being called a “white debbil, honkey, crackuh ass, etc.” when I don’t shell out at least a dollar. I rather like the visitors to the city who believe it’s still the “city of brotherly love.” They are excited to see historic places & do things like leave their purses open, carry wads of cash which they take out to buy a pretzel or slice of crappy pizza & get all misty eyed over the Rocky statue. When the Pope was in town; that was unmitigated chaos & the rubes were fed upon by the stone hearted monsters & it was absurd how few people would protect or help those in need. Having lived in the NYC area for my first 24 years of life & dealt with it long before 42nd St. became the touchy-feely, family friendly hellhole it is now; I still prefer NYC over Philthy. Sure, you can be sized up & preyed upon by the ill-willed, but not nearly as often nor as violently as you will be in Philly. If your plan is to stay here; get yourself a big, behemoth of a vehicle & carry a lead pipe filled with cement so you don’t need to deal with the masses as often but if you do, you can help them decide you’re not an easy target! I wish I was saying this all in jest…

      • Kiki F.

        Your “reenactments” of your encounters with less fortunate people who ask for money are racist. Your whole comment make you sound like really shitty person.

        • MadameMidlifeCrisis

          D’aaaaaaw! I’m all aghast that you used the way too overused label “you’re racist” because yanno, in your mind ALL of the scammers are black, right? They weren’t, however the ones who resorted to violence were. Mull that over a while… You need to stop your psychological projection Kiki. Calling me out is actually your own crying out for your own problems with hating Caucasians/Asians/Hispanics & even carrying hatred for those amongst your own race for having lighter or darker skin color or having different hair than you & for “acting white.” I’m comfortable with how I treat & help others (when I can.) You may think of me as a shitty person, yet I am nowhere near as shitty as you are!

  • Rheanonn Clarissa Perez

    NUM👏BER👏TWEN👏TY👏NINE!!!!
    it probably stinks or there’s a crazy creep in there!!! don’t get excited at the sight of a empty/half empty subway car. GET SCARED!!! lol.

    frheak.net

    • BarbieBush

      Omg the amount of times I have walked into one so hype just to find something expelled from someone’s body on the floor..

  • Fat Monica

    #24= huh?
    #25= YESSSSS. good god the people who block the turnstile while fishing for their card irk me

  • Number 29 makes me think of the intro to an episode of Broad City when they move through all the subway cars! It’s def empty for a reason, so leave it be!

  • kimberly

    too many city rules for me.Now I’m scare if I ever move to New York.

  • ValiantlyVarnished

    LOL! A lot of these can be applied to Chicago as well.

  • bicoast

    Well, I once ate an overstuffed tuna sandwich on the subway, and *still* got hit on, so…

  • Rebekah stein

    As someone with joint issues I can’t stand people complaining about slow walkers.

    Also, I carry the oversized Tumi umbrella. Most hated person on the sidewalk for both fair and unfair reasons.

  • Everything is the truth but especially #2 and the exalefters.

  • CatMom

    Counterpoint to 12: If you’re trying to hail a cab at an intersection where loads of others are doing the same, ALWAYS walk a block upstream to hail your own.

    So long, suckers!

    • Lyla

      To be avoided, but necessary at times haha

  • Aydan

    20 and 24 speak to me

  • An escalefter!! Love this phrase. I’m from Toronto and it drives me nuts- LOL

    http://thedianaedition.com

  • Meg S

    I don’t live in New York but I guess I’ve been enough that I know the rules. Still not sure how I get tourists asking me for directions. Have I mastered blending in? I’m not sure.

  • Panic

    I disagree with #15 because I actually take pride in knowing how to navigate the city and where things are and I am always happy to give people directions, not to mention that I myself have had to rely on the kindness of strangers to get around in other cities.

  • Lyla

    I eat on the subway, but only if I have a seat and lots of room and only ever a turkey sandwich from Hale & Hearty or a bagel and cream cheese.

  • LEM

    BLESS YOU for #16. A girl who works in my office that I’d never met before came up to me on the subway once and said she sees me ALL the time but never came up to say hello before. I started leaving 15 minutes earlier for work because f*ck that noise.

    • Nat Preston

      I get into work 30 mins earlier than everyone else *just* so I can avoid people on the commute (Londoner not NYer, though).. and I start at 8am so that is serious commitment to avoiding people

  • Karmiya Jordan

    The person that stepped on Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin didn’t read rule #4!!

  • Nicole E. Spears

    It’s not brunch if it’s before noon. Don’t pay for Central Park concerts just go have a picnic on the lawn. And curb furniture is fair game..albeit a hygienic risk.

  • lateshift

    As a fifth-generation New Yorker: endorse! Great, great list, for the most part…just one small thing: in my experience, most people who use the term “bridge and tunnel” are people who are themselves originally from somewhere that is not New York, and are maybe a little insecure about their own New Yorkiness, which makes use of the term a pretty quick way to identify the person who uses it as a non-New Yorker themselves (or at the very least, someone who is not “hip to its culture”)

  • Shahi Biscus

    it’s the same in Paris !!

  • Born on 77th and Lex

    Real New Yorker = someone born and raised in NY.

  • Sara

    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.
    This ^^

  • I’m for sure not a New-Yorker. But a Parisian, and said amen to all these rules.
    Now I know why I always feel so well in New-York.
    Exit management is huge in Paris métro as well… but it is in all cities with efficient subway system (ask Londoners).

  • Kara Zawacki

    Ugh reading this warmed my cold, New York heart <3

  • I’d like to amend clause 19:

    19. Never cause a scene about a rat UNLESS YOU STEP ON IT.

  • gwendomouse

    All of this applies to London. Except nr. 12. People order their own Ubers.

  • all so true

  • Olivia

    I’m a baby New Yorker (three years) and I’ve always known that I shouldn’t walk upstream to hail a cab, but I. Can’t. Help. It. There they are – all of the cabs over there just waiting to take me where I want to go… Why must I stand in line with the desperate masses? Can someone explain why this is a problem? Why can’t we fan out instead of clustering on one corner?

    • Holly Laine Mascaro

      Unless it’s a line at the airport, I say fair game lol. To me, aggressive cab grabbing makes you a TRUE New Yorker – my grandmother has gotten into physical fights over it in the past!!

  • Style-Maven

    sounds like your 2 friends are not from NY, nobody walks at a snails pace unless they are visiting

  • Adam

    Ambivalence, it’s like horse blinders for humans… Use it…

  • Mackenzie

    #29 is the best rule. Every.single.time you get in an empty subway cart you will inevitably have to switch carts the next stop. Somebody is always on the verge of death.

  • Hayley

    27 also applies to dorm living. Ah, nostalgia…

  • deathdoctor

    I moved out of the city almost a decade ago and #20 has never left me