The mythology surrounding New York City, for the most part, is as true as it is compelling. Neurosis is common and endearing. 20-somethings live sitcom-esque lives. Dating is a bitch. Concrete jungle where dreams are made. If you can make it here you can make it anywhere. Yep—New York is a city full of clichés to the foreigner, and those clichés become all the more real when you touch down in New York for the first time and actually begin living them. However, in my experience, New York City carries certain traits and expectations outside of the aforementioned elements that no one tells you about before you get here.
There’s a lot of yoga going on
No, really. Everyone does yoga, all of the time. It’s all about yoga. If you don’t do yoga you’re not a real New Yorker. If yoga was an Olympic sport New York would win. You can never do too much yoga in New York. You’ll probably try to avoid yoga for as long as possible but you’ll succumb eventually. I used to practice very casually in Australia, but as a New Yorker I’ve joined the yoga militants. Yeah, I’m one of those wankers walking down the street with a yoga matt strapped across my back, but mark my words—you can try and fight it as much as you want, soon you’re going to be shopping for yoga accessories on Amazon and floating around talking about your downward dog.
New Yorkers have sponges for brains
Everyone knows everything about everything, all the time. Everyone has seen that obscure new art house film, oh and that Jennifer Aniston blockbuster, which wasn’t actually so bad. Everyone has seen every relevant TV show and Youtube clip. Everyone has read all the most important contemporary literature in fiction and non-fiction books and magazines. Everyone has a timely understanding of the news and politics and opinions to go with it. Everyone knows all the events happening in New York and attends gallery exhibitions and gigs constantly. New York is a mishmash of high and low culture, and you’re going to need to find a way to fit it all inside your tiny foreign brain or you’ll find yourself nodding and smiling at parties as everyone around you talks about the latest episode of Game Of Thrones or some obscure art gallery you need a password to get into (note: this will make you feel like an idiot but chances are you’re not. I swear these people carry around flash cards or something).
It really is the city that never sleeps
I think everyone is sort of like, “Hah, Frank! You rapscallion, you! Fooling us with your exaggerated notions of New York City!” BUT FRANK IS NOT EXAGGERATING. NEW YORK DOES NOT SLEEP AND NEITHER WILL YOU. When you first arrive you’ll probably be introduced to the 48-hour day—the one where you go out for a ‘quiet drink’ on Monday evening only to find yourself at a party in some stranger’s loft on the Bowery at 5am, at which point you quietly bow out, sneak home for a shower before creeping off to work feeling very, very sorry for yourself. The novelty of partying all night quickly wears off, but the theory applies to other things as well, including trains (New Yorker, I know this seems like a no brainer, but most major cities I’ve been to close their subway around midnight), food, and even haircuts. You want it, you got it—New York is open for you 24/7.
It’s not that dangerous
Before you get to New York City you sort of expect that you’re going to get mugged all the time, but in my experience, the city isn’t as dangerous as it’s made out to be. In fact, I’ve been more afraid after dark in cities like Melbourne, Sydney, London and Paris. Sure, New York has its bad areas, but even the nice areas in other cities have a tendency to get very scary after night falls and a few drinks are passed around. New York, by comparison, is quite tame. I’ve been here for almost a year and haven’t seen one bar fight or felt uncomfortable walking home alone after midnight—which is more than I can say for other cities I’ve been to or lived in.
There is no Central Perk
Friends wasn’t even filmed in New York. I always knew that it was filmed on sets—but I still assumed they were in New York. The disappointment of learning this harsh truth was synonymous to realizing the truth about Santa. It hurt, dammit.
It’s cheaper than it looks
Again, coming from cities like Melbourne and London, the cost of living is somewhat of a dream in New York. Rent is still cheap enough if you’re willing to live somewhere other than Bedford Avenue or the East Village. Groceries are abundant and affordable (again, if you avoid obviously overpriced places like the Brooklyn Natural) and drinking/ partying is offensively cheap. Even nice dinners are about half the price they are in Australia, including tip and tax! On a writer’s wage, New York has been the most pleasantly affordable city I’ve ever lived in, although before I got here all I heard was how expensive it would be. LIES AND SLANDER.
Everyone is really, really nice
The generally accepted perception of New Yorkers by foreigners is that they’re all assholes. You’re told that the rudest, meannest, most obnoxious people in the world inhabit this city, but when you arrive you find it’s quite the opposite. People are helpful, jovial and kind. Of course, you encounter the odd dickhead, it happens everywhere, but the city is generally full of very accommodating, happy people—overwhelmingly so. People are more than willing to go out of their way to help you when you’re lost, to give you advice or to befriend you when you’re trying to make your start. And even after you arrive, almost a year later, New Yorkers never fail to disappoint with their generosity, smiles and openness.
Time is irrelevant
Time does not exist in New York. You have to do your job, go to yoga, watch, read and know lots of relevant things, socialize, party, get a mani-pedi, date, visit galleries and museums… and there are no excuses. Living in New York, you have to learn to maximize every single second of every single day. They don’t tell you how irrelevant time is before you get here—you think that 2pm means three hours until you knock off work, but it doesn’t, not in New York at least. To the New Yorker, it means NOTHING. Work must be finished. People must be met. Things must be seen and done. It doesn’t matter what time it is or how much time is left in the day, TIME DOES NOT EXIST IN NEW YORK CITY.