Cultural faux pas in New York City
Don’t interfere with others’ privacy. New York is a very crowded place. The way people deal with it is to create their own space. Thus, what outsiders often see as aloofness and isolation is, in fact, a sign of community; there is a shared ethos that everyone respects others’ privacy and expects others to respect his own. This is chiefly communicated through eye contact. If you stare at someone on the subway: if you linger in looking out your window into someone else’s bedroom; if you react to or interrupt a celebrity; or if you seem to be intentionally listening in to another’s conversation, you are violating one of New York’s most sacred unwritten rules. Keep yourself to yourself, and let others do the same.
Don’t refer to the subway lines by their color. Instead, refer to them by their numbers and letters – e.g. it’s not the “Green Line,” it’s the “4, 5, 6.” When referring to a specific service along that line, each is called a “train,” rather than a “subway” – e.g. the “6 train,” not the “6 subway.” When referring to the entire system, it’s the “subway” – not the “Metro,” the “Underground,” etc.
Don’t fumble with change or a MetroCard. When you get on a bus or step up to a subway turnstile, have your change or MetroCard ready. New Yorkers hate people who waste even 20 seconds of their time.
Don’t steal another’s cab. But how, you might ask, should one know a cab’s rightful owner? It’s simple. Taxi possession works on a territorial, first-come-first-serve system. If someone is trying to hail a cab on the street, he has established his territory there, so don’t infringe by trying to hail one there too. Going farther up the stream of traffic to cut him off is also taboo. The polite distance varies by location and time. In Midtown at rush hour and the Lower East at 2am, a block is standard; early mornings in residential neighborhoods can require two full blocks or more.
When you refer to locations in Manhattan, don’t give the Avenue first – always start with the Street. If you’re going to 9th Street and 3rd Avenue, say “Ninth and Third,” never “Third and Ninth.”
Perhaps less of a faux pas, but a sure tipoff that you’re a tourist; if you’re in Manhattan, don’t refer to “North” and “South;” it’s “Uptown” and “Downtown,” respectively.
Tell us more about the do’s and don’ts of The BIG Apple.