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Mistakes to Avoid During Your First Few Weeks in New York

November 10th, 2010 |  Published in About New York, Apartment Hunting, As Soon As You Get Here, Living in New York, What To Expect  |  2 Comments
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Mistakes to Avoid

As a precursor to my first post on this brilliantly overdue website, I dare not claim that I have accomplished the goal and graduated to bona fide New Yorker status. 16 months does not a New Yorker make. What 16 months in this big tiny city does make, however, is a misplaced and disgruntled Midwesterner…who is now 16 months older and wiser and closer to becoming a New Yorker than she was when she first moved here. But let me qualify – had such a website as this existed when I first set out to become a New Yorker, I would have felt considerably more at home and less disgruntled much earlier on in this pursuit. For this reason, I am delighted to share with you my discoveries thus far on this seemingly never-ending journey. But really, I heart New York, and you will, too – probably quicker than I did, now that you have the help of this incredible online aid.

So, since you all are brand new to this city, let’s take baby steps. We’ll focus on your first few weeks in New York, and identify several random yet important considerations and key mistakes for you to avoid making at all costs. Side note: I realize that some of you may be innately more savvy than I was when I moved here, so please forgive me if I tell you something you already know – I don’t mean to insult your street smarts…it’s just that I had none.

  • If you plan on driving into the city, as most of you will with cars piled high with your treasured belongings and precious high hopes for your new life, DO NOT TURN ON RED. All of your dreams will come crashing to a halt as you are pulled over and slapped with a ticket for several hundred dollars within your first few minutes in the big apple. This would be a major downer, especially since you could really use that chunk of change to pull you out of the other handful of traps you’ll inevitably fall into during your first 12 months in the city.
  • You will probably find yourself walking the streets of Soho in your first few weeks out on your new town. One key mistake to avoid: Houston Street is not pronounced like the city in Texas – it is pronounced like “house – ton.” This may seem like a minute piece of advice, but should you slip, you will expose yourself as a nube and – god forbid – be mistaken as a tourist. This can lead to all kinds of embarrassment and sometimes exploitation by native New Yorkers trying to sell you things or give you directions. Keep in mind that New Yorkers have excellent business savvy and exceedingly dark humor, which oftentimes involves screwing with tourists and even new city dwellers like you.
  • While we’re on the topic of avoiding looking like a tourist, it is important that you never stop and stand in the middle of the sidewalk. This is a dangerous mistake, as you risk being physically shoved or verbally berated – or both – by the unforgiving, highly overscheduled, and perpetually tardy New Yorkers that buzz through the city streets on turbo speed. If you are lost and/or confused about where you are going, my suggestion is to duck into a Starbucks or Duane Reade (it’s a convenience – get to know it), regroup and come up with a game plan – you will find one on every corner and they are constantly filled with self-respecting New Yorkers.
  • And now for a few words on the bodega. For those of you who don’t know what a bodega is and don’t speak Spanish, the technical definition for a bodega is a mini-mart. You will find these stores in all shapes and sizes on the corners of 99% of city streets, and New Yorkers use this term loosely to describe everything from a basic beer and smoke shop to an all-service deli. DO NOT PURCHASE GROCERIES AT THE BODEGA. Little things like the milk and sugar that you certainly won’t be borrowing from your New York neighbors are acceptable to run and grab at the bodega – but make sure to check the expiration date, because it’s not guaranteed that the owner remembered to restock in between feeding the store cats and reading the Post. Do not purchase produce, frozen meals, cereal or toilet paper from the bodega – you will end paying twice, sometimes thrice the price. Trader Joe’s is an excellent solution to your discount grocery needs, but the adventure of grocery shopping in the city truly deserves its own post. Baby steps.
  • One final word for now until you have survived your first few weeks. While shacking up with friends may have seemed like no problem in your past life, in your new life in New York, no one wants an indefinite house guest. In a city where a broom closet below 86th street will eat your whole paycheck, space is a highly sought after, extremely difficult commodity to come by. Your friends might not mind you crashing on their couch for a few days, POSSIBLY weeks, while you find your own place, but be aware that they will soon want you gone even if they don’t have the stones to say it. In this city, everyone is clamoring after his or her own little piece of the New York pizza pie – or cheesecake, and they certainly don’t like to share. Be actively looking for your own place, because it’s not easy to find somewhere decent to live, and even when you do, someone will probably beat you to it. More to come on the rat race that is finding an apartment in NYC – I don’t want to scare you with the details just yet.

Alright. That should hold you over for now as you get your bearings in New York. The next most important step will be finding an apartment. Stay tuned for the next installment in your guide to becoming a New Yorker!

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About the author: Lisa Hafer

Lisa Hafer


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  • http://www.cyndizaino.com Cyndi Zaino

    Hah I love the bit about Houston St. I certainly made that mistake a few times. Even when I knew the proper pronunciation, I felt like a total jerky, snob, but now it’s like second nature.

    I was curious where it got that pronunciation from, lo and behold, Wikipedia has the answer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houston_Street_(Manhattan)#Pronunciation

  • Brittany

    Ha! Great tips in this article. I definitely pronounced Houston Street wrong…several times. I’m looking forward to the advice on how to find an apartment!

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