I arrived in NYC from England just last Saturday. I originally hail from Northampton, a town (not a city) just north of London. Although I have to note that does not mean it is in the North. Where I’m from is in the Midlands of England. The Midlands is an area which people from the South of England infuriatingly refer to as the North, and which people from the North of England infuriatingly refer to as the South. Now that I have been here just shy of a week, I have some thoughts on the differences between this city and my hometown. Starting with my drive from the airport because…
…The Way Ya’ll Drive is Insane
I have heard it said that NYC is one of the most densely populated cities in the country. But with the terrifying ways drivers behave around here I’m honestly surprised that there’s any of you left. The first culture shock came as early as driving from the airport to where I’m staying. Why are there so many lanes? On this drive it seemed like every stretch of road we went down had at least five lanes that cars would switch between without a second of warning. UK motorways (highways) tend to have three or four lanes. Notably, each of these lanes have a specific purpose. Essentially left lanes are for normal driving, and right lanes are for overtaking. This leads to less terrifying chaos.
All this is not to mention how it feels from a pedestrian point of view. I came to NYC with what I’ve discovered is an overblown fear of being charged with Jaywalking. It isn’t an offence to cross the road at the wrong time in the UK. The fact that there is a law about this in America made me think that everyone would be extremely careful, only crossing at the exact moment the light changes. Not only do people cross whenever they want, but drivers don’t seem to care that they’re at a crossing. Cars will not only be parked on the crossing when the light changes, but they will turn and come at you even when the light is red for them. This is not how it works where I’m from.
I can forgive this chaos however because there is a much better way of getting around.
The Subway is Awesome
I haven’t found it that hard to get used to using the subway. It’s not that dissimilar from the tube system in London. However there is one big and merciful difference. I am eternally grateful to whoever decided that NYC streets and stations would be numbered. As a newcomer to the city, who struggles with directions at the best of times, this has been a lifesaver. If I’m going from 72nd street and my destination is on 23rd, if I start seeing an increase in numbers I very quickly know I’m on the wrong train.
London is more like ‘is Euston station on the Victoria line or the District Line? And is it before or after Oxford Circus?” Although London tubes do hove one thing that NYC subways don’t. On a London tube you can always see where you are and what station is next by looking up at the digitized screen. This would have saved me from accidently staring down the person in front of the window while I try to see which station I’m at. All in all though, loving the subway.
Food Is Bigger, and Weirder
As expected NYC has plenty of great food. British people always hear about how much bigger American portions are, and I have to say that’s certainly been true so far. Every slice of pizza so far has been enough to be a whole meal in itself. Me and some other European friends ordered small fries with our burgers one night and not a single one of us could finish them. Although what stands out more than the size is how strange the combinations are. From Pizza with shrimp on it, to sausage patty sandwiched between some kind of syrup cake, to chicken and waffles. Food here seems to be thrown together with no real logic, but so far it has been for the best.
As much as I love food, and I really do love food, the most interesting difference has been the people.
Is it just me, or are New Yorkers really Friendly?
I’ve always had the perception that the typical New Yorker is hard shelled, and doesn’t want to talk to anyone unless absolutely necessary. But for me at least, everyone has been highly sociable. Pre-work chat is fascinating. I’m used to a cursory ‘How was your weekend?’ and moan about the weather before putting your head back down for the rest of the day. But here you get peoples whole outlook on life and the story of some guy they hate, and plenty of interesting questions about how England works. A guy on the street overheard a friend talking about how she want’s to get more into photography and turned around to tell her she needs to chase her dreams. That kind of familiarity with strangers only really happens in England when both parties are blind drunk. A woman served me some food and told me “I like your accent” . Drivers may not care if you live or die, but once people are out of the cars all in all they seem pretty nice.
With week one down, there’s still plenty to learn ( I haven’t hailed a cab yet, what are the rules? can you just do it anywhere you see one?) and loads I want to try (New York Cheesecake, New York Bagels, New York Hotdogs…) but I think before I leave I’ll at least have my heard around some of the ways this amazing city works.