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How to Not Be A Tourist in NYC

Posted by Slavito in New York on 15/Dec/2003
Over 35 million people visit New York every year, including more than 4 million foreign visitors. There's got to be a darn good reason for them to come here in such numbers and of course, there is: as a tourist destination New York City simply kicks ass.

Almost everything you can think of (except palm trees) is here: art, shopping, theater, food, music, money, glamour, skyscrapers.... the list goes on (ever listened to David Holmes's "My Mate Paul"?).

As we all know, the key to having a great time while traveling is preparing yourself with just the right amount of information and leaving everything else to good luck and inspiration. If you stumbled upon this site while doing reasearch for your upcoming trip to NYC, you are already in luck. Beacause not only can you find some useful information here, but you can learn how not to look or behave like a tourist (even if you are). By looking and behaving local, you can have much more fun in the city and avoid most unpleasantries.

  1. Learn a bit about the city's layout and neighborhoods. Nothing gives out your tourist status more easily than the question Excuse me, can you tell me which borough I'm in?

  2. Dress code: It's a touchy subject and you should not let anybody (not even me) dictate what's good and what's not. However, some combinations of articles of clothing have been known to produce that well-known "Midwestern tourist" effect we're going to try to avoid.

    Specifically, try not to dress like you did back in your Pi-Kappa-Alpha (or Alpha-Kappa-Alpha) days. With the possible exception of the Upper East Side, you are unlikely to find any keg parties to attend here.

    Naturally, don't wear T-Shirts or caps with any NYC symbols. If you've bought any (which you shouldn't have) and insist on keeping them, quietly hide them in your suitcase until you're back in Columbus.

  3. Do not go on the boat to Liberty Island (I don't know a single New Yorker who has set foot there) and try to avoid the Empire State Building, too. Actually, the second one is optional, since it is probably worth doing at least once, but for God's sake, don't buy anything in that awful store at the top!

  4. Houston Street is pronounced "how - ston", not like the city, Houston. Yes, it is spelled like the city, but pronounced like the street. If you call it Houston (the city), you will be labeled "tourist", then robbed and mugged on the spot (and rightfully so).

  5. Do not walk in rows of five blocking the entire sidewalk. Even if you are a family of five. Two people maximum and that's only permissible if you're both walking fast.

  6. In general, you should only try to hail a cab that's available for hire.

    Here's how to tell: look at the lights on its roof. If all of them are on, it is off duty. Ignore it. If all of them are off, it has a passenger inside (it's occupied). Likewise, ignore. Only if the middle section is on, while the side lights are off is it available for hire. When you see one like that, just stick your hand out.

    (There is one exception to this rule, but you've really got to know what you're doing. Specifically, if you are going to the boroughs and know exactly which bridge to take, hailing an off-duty cab next to the entrance to that bridge may actually be a better idea than waiting for one that's on duty and then arguing with the cabbie. In this case, you can simply shout your destination to the drivers who slow down and look at you, and if they live close enough to where you're going, they'll give you a ride. If they don't turn the meter on, make sure you settle on the price right away.).

  7. When you take a cab, be sure to name your destination as an intersection (e.g. "56th and Lexington", meaning "56th street and Lexington Avenue"), not as the address itself ("1500 Lexington Avenue"). If you give an address, you are automatically a tourist and you'll be mugged and robbed on the spot. Ok, just kidding: probably, the worst that can happen in this case is that you'll be given a 1-hour-long tour of the city - at your expense, of course.

  8. Don't call 6th avenue the "Avenue of the Americas" or, worse, 7th avenue the "Fashion Avenue". You will be .... well, you know what will happen. Yes, yes, on the spot.

  9. Don't go to any "theme" restaurants - "Hard Rock Cafe", "Planet Hollywood" or any other place like that. You will be wasting your time, your money and frankly, if you really wanted to go there, you should have found one closer to home.

    If you need restaurant suggestions, check ours first [1], then consider buying yourself a copy of the "Time Out - New York" guide or just come armed with a guidebook on New York City. They all have restaurant recommendations.

  10. Don't use your transplanted jargon here: it's not "the T", "the metro" or "the tube". It's the subway. It's not a "green line", it has a number - 4,5, or 6. Likewise, it's not a "blue line" - it's the "A","C" or "E". And, while we're at it, it's not a "line" at all, it's the "train".

    In Manhattan, instead of "going north" you should be "going uptown" (and, similarly, instead of "south" - "downtown").

    Another small thing: at the end of a successful bar crawl, don't ask your new friend for his/her mobile number. These things are called cell phones.

  11. More proper (New York City) jargon:
    • the city = [Manhattan]
    • Alphabet City = part of the East Village, specifically avenues A,B,C, and D.
    • BQE = [Brooklyn] / [Queens] Expressway
    • Hero = type of bread
    • DUMBO = an artsy neighborhood in [Brooklyn] (the acronym stands for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass)
    • Ground Zero = a rather unfortunate name for the World Trade Center mostly used by tourists in questions like "Excuse me, how do I get to Ground Zero?". Avoid.
    • GU (pronounced "goo") - "geographically undesirable": chickspeak for guys who live way outside of Manhattan and are, presumably, not the right material to be dating (or even talking to). If you're a girl of the "Sex & The City" circuit, you might find this term useful.
    • Pie = whole pizza
    • B&T or B&T people = "bridge & tunnel" [people]: those living in the outer boroughs and New Jersey. Can be used as an insult. Not to be confused with BLT (bacon, lettuce & tomato).
    • To stand/be ON line = to stand IN line (the process known to Britons as queuing).

Using these tips, you should be able to fool most New Yorkers into thinking you're one of their own for at least 5 minutes, which is more than enough time to safely move out of their way.

Have a great trip!

[1]: link since removed

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