An Insider’s Guide to New York City

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Welcome to the Big Apple! 

They say that the best way to experience a city is to act like a local. I couldn’t agree more. I’m sure that you can spot out-of-towners a mile away wherever it is you’re from and, unless you have a heart of gold, steer clear in order to avoid dumb questions like “Where do I get onto the interstate?” Eye rolls, right?

Nope, you want to arrive not only prepared with maps and a list of local attractions but with the savoir faire to blend in and be treated like a native. Well here’s one local’s guide. As someone who has to weave his way through the most touristy area of Manhattan on his daily commute, I felt it was the least I could do. You’re welcome.

Yes, of course that Rolex is real

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You’ll see nice men from Africa wherever you go selling luxury Italian bags, French scarves and Swiss watches, and the prices can’t be beat. If you know anything about Louis Vuitton bags and the like then you’ll realize you’re getting an incredible bargain. At 80% off the retail price, it would be rude to haggle with these men and is in any case considered highly-insulting in their culture.

How do they do it? Well, no store or even table – it’s all wrapped up in an easy-to-move sheet – so zero overhead. Also, some of the wares may have slight factory defects like the accent in the “e” in Hermès pointing the wrong way or the second hand on that Submariner watch ticking rather than sweeping. Don’t worry — nobody back home will know the difference.

Stick to Times Square

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You’ve probably heard that New York has four boroughs other than Manhattan and, if you flew here, you probably passed through the one where I grew up: Queens. Sure it has about the same population as Chicago or Houston and is the most ethnically diverse county in the U.S., but there’s really nothing to see there, much less anything you’d want to eat. You can also skip the less-interesting parts of Manhattan. As a rough guide, if you’ve walked south of The Empire State Building or north of the entrance to Central Park, you’ve already gone too far.

Enjoy, and encourage, the entertainers

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And you thought Disney World had a monopoly on costumed characters! The ones in New York are way better too with all sorts of quirky costume variations. Instead of schlepping your kids all over The Magic Kingdom to see Minnie Mouse, you don’t have to walk 100 feet in Times Square to find her, and sometimes two or three of her. Ditto for Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man.

And when you’re tired of posing with characters, you can support and encourage members of New York’s budding rap scene. Don’t worry, they’ll find you. They’ll say the CD they press into your hand is a gift, and sure it probably cost them something like 10 cents to make, but what it really cost is their heart and soul. Strike up a conversation and tip generously. You’ll be the one who benefits if these young men turn out to be the next Jay-Z and you can say you met them in person. 

Walk slowly and stop frequently

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The way to tell a real New Yorker is his or her leisurely pace — nothing screams “tourist” like walking too quickly. This being the big city, we usually feel safer holding hands, even if there are three or four of us and we take up most of the sidewalk.

Not only do we stick together and take our time but, with all these confusingly numbered avenues and streets, we’re constantly stopping on busy sidewalks, and especially at intersections, to argue with our spouses about which way to turn. If we can’t keep track then who can? I wish they’d just name the streets after trees like the rest of the country!

Eat like a real New Yorker

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New York is the biggest city in the country, so naturally we have the nation’s largest Applebee’s, Red Lobster, and Olive Garden, all within a short walk of your hotel. Some of you might not want to dine in a chain restaurant just like the ones back home after flying halfway across the country, but these are a little different. For one thing, the waiters and waitresses have that “sassy” New York attitude. Another is that you’ll easily pay 50% more.

But you won’t have time for solely sit-down meals with everything there is to see and do. To eat like a real New Yorker, grab a hot dog, pretzel or ice cream cone from a street vendor near your hotel. It’s traditional for them to tell you the price only after the food is in your hand so don’t ask.

Look out for bargains

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If you can make it here then you can make it anywhere, as Old Blue Eyes crooned. Sometimes even savvy storekeepers can’t cut it, though. If you’re lucky enough to be walking by a shop that’s “going out of business,” don’t let the opportunity pass you by. The merchant’s misfortune of having to liquidate his entire inventory is your lucky break. But cut the poor guy some slack and don’t make him a lowball offer beyond the 90% he took off the original price of the merchandise — New Yorkers are hard-nosed, not heartless.

 

We love local politicians

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We don’t agree on many things, but a solid three-quarters of New Yorkers recently told a Quinnipiac survey that Mayor Bill DeBlasio, shouldn’t run for president. I guess they should have included a followup question like: “What about if he could stay mayor at the same time?” But then that’s not possible. People were so upset about losing “hizzoner” that hardly any said they would vote for him if he ran. DeBlasio knows how to take a hint and just dropped out of the race to make the subway even better and the streets even cleaner. You’ll earn extra brownie points by praising the job he’s doing.

And if there’s any doubt we’re proud of the latest New York native to occupy the White House, just take a look around. Not only are there are a half dozen buildings named for Donald Trump but MAGA hats  are for sale in souvenir shops all over. They’re the second best-selling item after the replica New York license plates that say “MAFIA.” So wear that iconic red hat proudly – only the haters and losers will be offended.

About SJ

I know, I already write for a living.
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