Experienced travelers will do a bit of cultural research before visiting an unfamiliar foreign country so as to avoid making a social faux pas. When visiting within our own country however, it is common to assume that familiar cultural norms prevail. Not so. New York City most definitely has its own, rather uncompromising, rules of behaviors and locals can get irritated – OK rude – if they are not observed.

Having worked or lived in the City for over 40 years – I consider myself one of them (albeit one with a bit of a Boston accent when drinking wine). I’m listing a few of the most commonplace New York City rules of etiquette that, if broken, define you as an annoying visitor.




Probably topping the list of ubiquitous New York City behaviors is how we walk – fast, far and forcefully. Visitors stroll, often 3 and 4 abreast, which on a crowded sidewalk is so infuriating that very nice

locals can get testy very quickly. If they can’t pass you by, you’ll most likely get bumped aside. Sidewalks need to be viewed as highways with a passing lane. Always walk in single file or 2 abreast and never stop short. If you want to stop – literally pull over to the side. When on escalators or the stairs to/from the subway, go single file and stay to the right to allow others to walk past you.

Jay walking is the norm. Visitors watch the “Walk Light” to cross the street. Locals watch the oncoming traffic – cars and bikes from all directions – and cross the street at every opportunity. Caution – some of the unsuspecting will follow an individual who is crossing and who has judged how much time s/he has to make it


safely. The timing could be very different for someone following behind.

The Subway

Taking the subway is by far the most efficient way to travel about the city and it is very safe and yes – frequently very crowded. A few tips and adapted behaviors can go a long way in making it less intimidating.

Buy a Metro card and learn the swipe technique for entering the turn style. It takes a bit of practice and most often first-time users find themselves struggling to get through because they are either swiping their card too slowly or too quickly. Impatient New Yorkers behind a stalled visitor will either switch to another turn style or offer to do the swipe for you.

When the train pulls into the station – do not stand in front of the car doors. One of the big behavioral improvements in the last few years has been the acceptance by subway riders that everything goes more smoothly if riders are allowed to exit the cars before others attempt to enter. Nowadays if you push your way in prematurely, someone is very likely going to push you back.


Although the MTA has made some improvements in providing riders with coherent information about route changes, weekends are consistently plagued with confusing notices about switches and delays due to maintenance work.

To navigate your way, a helpful tool is to have the Subway Map App on your phone. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/new-york-city-subway-map/id683294660?mt=8. The Trip Planner App is also useful as it allows you to enter your departure address and your destination and provides you with a couple of train options. http://tripplanner.mta.info/MyTrip/ui_web/customplanner/TripPlanner.aspx







Most everyone knows how to hail a taxi but once you have secured one, the trick is to provide the driver with good directions to your destination. As a rule providing an address is not the answer. Building addresses are increasingly useless as they may not reflect an actual building location or entrance. An Avenue address can be assigned to a building located some distance away on a cross town street. Check out your destination’s location on a map and give the driver specifics. And – we almost always tip 20%, or even more.

The City

When I arrived in New York City years ago, I – not surprisingly – referred to all 5 boroughs as The City. I’ve learned differently. The City is Manhattan. Brooklyn is called Brooklyn, Queens is Queens, Staten Island is Staten Island and The Bronx is The Bronx, not Bronx. When in Brooklyn, traveling into Manhattan you are going into The City.

City Residents

New York City may be the most diverse city in the country – perhaps in the world -but regardless of ethnicity, race or religion, there are typical behaviors that identify them:

Friendly, but not chatty with strangers,

An abhorrence of Times Square,

Always seemingly in a hurry – but a passion for favorite foods creates a willingness to wait in long long lines at food carts, at Shake Shack and at Dō, (a new shop in the Village that serves scoops of cookie dough and where the wait is easily 2 hours) – to mention a few.

And of course, the stubborn resistance to wearing any color other than black. (This is one behavior I have failed to adapt).

City Attractions

In addition to the well-known attractions of the city, I’ll add a few personal favorites. The Tenement Museum on Orchard Street http://www.tenement.org/contact.html provides an intimate and fascinating exposure to the personal experiences of immigrants to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and a back stage tour of the Metropolitan Opera House is mind-boggling as the Met is the largest opera house in the world. http://www.metopera.org/Visit/Tours. Both tours are popular with locals and tourists alike so booking well in advance is necessary.

To get an orientation of some neighborhoods, a great option is to go on a Free Tours on Foot. They are free (tips expected) and the tour guides are well informed and entertaining. Check them out at http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/new-york-tours/.

And finally, if you want to pay your respects to the Statue of Liberty – no need to stand in a long line for an expensive tour. Hop on the Staten Island Ferry which is free and departs regularly. You go right by the statue, enjoy great views of the downtown skyline and can easily do a return trip.

Enjoy my city – or wherever you next choose to visit.