I got a kick out of this post on Quora, Cultural Faux Pas in New York, and thought I'd share it since it's funny and actually contains some good advice if you're visiting NYC for the first time. And who knows, that could be you if you win our giveaway for a 5-star hotel suite with stunning views of Central Park! We've already covered some of the Best NYC Restaurants with a View, so with that and these helpful tips (which I've added my own comments on) you'll be all set to win the suite and visit New York like a New Yorker.
Don't say you're “from New York” when you're from New Jersey or Long Island. There are very nice parts of New Jersey and Long Island; some very nice people live there. But this is not Boston – you don't get to say you're “from New York City” if you're from slightly outside it. If your prevarication is discovered, this is a quick route to contempt.
My take: The corollary to this is that not only can you not say you're from New York; don't count on anyone from Manhattan visiting you if you're staying anywhere other than Manhattan, even if the commute is faster to you than to some other parts of Manhattan. I had first hand experience with this, since the first couple years I was here I lived in Weehawken, New Jersey. The apartment was literally on a pier in the Hudson, and the ferry ride only took 8 minutes to get to the Manhattan ferry terminal at Pier 79 (39th St. and 12th Ave.) yet I can count on one hand the number of times friends from Manhattan came to visit, even though we frequently got together in Manhattan in places that took longer for them to get to.
Never ever ever EVER refer to the city as “the Big Apple.” If you say this, you are a tourist, and a clueless one at that. Using the phrases “only in New York!” and “a New York minute” falls in the same category, but they may be used, sparingly, by long-time residents, with a heavy dose of irony.
My take: Yep–it's kind of like referring to San Francisco as “San Fran” or “Frisco”–makes the locals wince.
Don't wear “I Heart NY” t-shirts, or indeed any article of clothing that mentions New York in any capacity, with the exception of gear supporting a sports team.
My take: I don't know any New Yorker that owns one of these, and in general, why would you want to wear anything that screams “Tourist! Feel free to rip me off!” while in New York?
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.
My take: Spot on. Unlike some other places, such as Moscow, where only one line is a given color, a given colored line that you see on a New York Subway map often reflects more than one type of train, because of there being both express and local trains and different destination points once you get into Brooklyn, Queens, etc. That's why it's important to refer to the actual number or letter of the train.
Form a line. If there is a wait for something or a bottleneck, don't mob it – form a line. And when a line has been formed do NOT try to cut it. Seriously. This is for your own health.
My take: Although good advice, don't expect New Yorkers to be anywhere as good as the British when it comes to lines (or as Brits would say, queues). We're not, although if one has formed, you should definitely not attempt to cut it. That said, we're a lot better than Russians when it comes to lines, no offense to my Russian friends!
Don't be a bottleneck. When you get on a bus or step up to a subway turnstile, have your change or MetroCard ready. There's a special circle of hell devoted to people who waste 20 seconds of everyone else's time with their fumbling.
My take: Hah! So true–you'll have a lot of people furiously mumbling under their breath (or yelling at you) if you hold them up. Also take note if passengers are going out, since unlike in some other subway systems, people can go into the subway or out of it through the same turnstile. The simple rule is whoever gets there first, so make sure you don't run your card through right as someone is about to exit.
Don't ask people where you can find good “New York Pizza.” In New York, it's just called pizza – most New Yorkers don't even know “New York Pizza” is a thing outside New York, or that there is a “New York-style”. Just go to the local corner pizza shop and help yourself; I promise it'll have “New York-style pizza” unless it says very explicitly otherwise.
Corollary to the above – do not say you prefer Chicago, New Haven or (God help you) California pizza. This is a direct route to a heated argument.
My take: I don't have much to say on this, since I never eat pizza out, and as a foodie, prefer my own homemade pizza anyway.
Refer to a corner by the street name then Avenue name. 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.”
My take: Yes; although you may as well be precise if you're giving directions to a taxi driver. You don't want to chance ending up in the wrong place just to sound like a New Yorker.
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.
My take: This is especially important when referring to the subway: uptown trains vs. downtown trains.
Don't complain about having to walk. New York is a walking city. Very few places are located directly on public transit and most journeys require at least some walking. It's often the fastest way around, and it's definitely the healthiest, cheapest, and best for the environment. If you're in New York, don't complain about having to walk.
My take: This is actually one of the things I love best about New York, and why I'd find it hard to live most other places in the U.S. I hate driving, and the good thing in NYC is that, even if you don't find time to work out much, you end up getting a fair workout just going anywhere, since even public transit requires walking a bit at both ends of the journey, walking up and down stairs in the subway station, etc.
Don't steal another's taxi. I've seen more petty spats over this than over just about anything else in New York; 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.
My take: This is a big deal, especially as it can be really tough sometimes to get a cab, during morning rush hour, when there's a shift in drivers around 4:30-5:30pm, etc. I'm always amazed when I see people walk upstream from someone who's trying to hail a cab–you might as well have just slapped him/her in the face. Go to another block, or get help hailing one from a hotel (obviously, tip).
Don't propose dinner earlier than 7pm unless the other party has kids. New York eats late; people won't hate you for violating this, but they may give you a strange look.
My take: Actually I wouldn't say 7pm is late–it's absurdly early by standards in Spain, Buenos Aires, etc. The nice thing is that if you do opt to eat early, say because you have kids, you should find it relatively easy to get a 5:30 or even 6pm reservation at great restaurants in the city. Sometimes you can even get bonus points via OpenTable for making early reservations. Or, if you prefer Spanish dining hours, you should have no problem eating around 10pm (but don't try eating at 11:30pm or midnight–most kitchens close around 10:30pm or so).
Perhaps less of a faux pas and more of a pet peeve; don't ask “What's a good restaurant?” or “What's a good hotel?” There are literally thousands of restaurants and hotels in New York, many of them good. Specify what you're looking for (price point, atmosphere, neighborhood or access to neighborhoods, type of cuisine, etc.) and you'll get a much more positive response.
My take: That's where TravelSort Hotels can help (shamless plug!)
Don't interfere with others' privacy. This one is absolutely vital – 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, buddy, and let others do the same.
My take: Unfortunately I've run into offenders, especially in the subway, that do clearly live here in New York, but to me (and I daresay to other New Yorkers) it doesn't reflect well on their manners. Note that there are situations where it's fine and friendly to strike up a conversation (say, with other parents at the playground, with a friendly fellow shopper at Trader Joe's) but always be sensitive to any cues that the person simply wants to be left alone.
Do not touch a stranger's kid. This is a sad rule, because nearly all the people who break it are extraordinarily warm and sweet and have nothing but the best intentions. In a lot of places, children are raised communally; it may be normal to high five or pick up a stranger's kid who walks up, to lift her onto an empty seat on the subway, to play patty-cakes with her, or to chastise her if she misbehaves. But do NOT try this in New York. While New York is one of the safest cities in America, parents of city kids are protective and will not be happy.
My take: I'm guilty of being one of those protective New York parents; not so much because I'm afraid of kidnappers or the like, but more because my kid is miserable when sick, kids' immune systems are not as robust as adults, and public transport can be incredibly germ-ridden. So, particularly on the subway and bus, the rule is no touching.
Don't tip like you do at home; tip at New York rates. This has already been touched on by a few other answers, but it needs some explanation. The people who make life easier for you in New York –taxi drivers, servers, etc.– are paid scant wages and depend on tips for a large part of their income. Yet they still have to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the world. If you fail to tip at New York rates for decent service, you are not paying for that service. Tipping 15% is an insult and 16-18% is parsimonious. While I hate to point fingers, I'm looking particularly at our friends from Europe here. If you think Americans' being loud, fat, monolingual, and ignorant in your beloved cities is obnoxious, your failure to pay for service rendered is downright criminal. It's an expensive city; pull the Gauloise from your lips, reach into the pocket of your lederhosen, pull out an extra quid or two and pony up!
My take: It's true–for restaurants, expect to tip 20%; I'll tip a bit more for superb service. And for taxi drivers, don't just tip 50 cents or try to not tip at all–for many cab drivers, the only money they actually make is from tips, because they don't own their own cab and the fare amount goes directly to the company they work for.
Don't fake a New York accent. You'll sound like an idiot, and most people here speak either with a foreign accent (if they speak English), or with a nondescript accent anyway.
My take: I haven't run into anyone attempting this, but it would be pretty hilarious (and yes, unless you're a master of accents, you'd sound like an idiot).
If you're looking for additional practical advice on New York, check out our Romantic Getaway Guide to New York, New York City with Kids, Where to Go for the Best Brunches in New York and our New York Q&A or view all our New York travel posts.