If you’re coming to New York City for the very first time – there are a few essential things that you need to know. Some of these things might pertain to the U.S. in general, and some of them are very specific to the city of New York. So let’s review them:
- The weather in New York can be quite unpredictable – with a boiling, hot sun shining at 90F degrees on a Monday, and a pouring rain with gusty winds at 60F degrees on a Tuesday. Therefore, to be fully prepared – pack for “anything”.
In general, Summers in New York are very hot and humid, while Winters are very cold and windy. The Spring season normally lasts for only several weeks, right after the cold front ends sometime in the mid or the end of April, and the hot Summer climate kicks in, sometime in early to mid June. The best season (weather-wise) in New York is unarguably Autumn, when the most pleasant and temperate days settle in.
- There is an 8.875% NYC’ sales tax surcharge on most of the items that are available for purchase, which is not included in the total listed price. For example – if an items’s cover price is listed as $14.99, when you get to the cash register to pay for it – your total amount will be $16.32 (the 8.875% tax times $14.99 listed price results in an additional $1.33 amount, which will be automatically added to your final bill).
The sales tax excludes most of the food items purchased in a supermarket; as well as the clothing and footwear merchandise – which is under $110, per item (or a pair, if it is shoes). It is added to most other purchases, including books, restaurant meals, beauty supplies and other necessities, alcohol, hotel and car rentals, movie tickets, etc.
- Unlike most of the countries and cities in Europe, South and Central America – it is forbidden to drink any alcohol outside any establishment (i.e. restaurant, bar, hotel room, or your own house) in U.S. So if you were dreaming of having a nice picnic in Central Park, with a baguette and a bottle of wine – you might as well save this idea for your next trip to Paris, where it is totally permissible to drink a glass of wine, or a beer outside. NYC police takes this rule very seriously, and you will get a fine (or possibly even jail time depending on the level of your intoxication), if they catch you with any open alcohol container on the streets of the city.
- A quite opposite rule applies to smoking – it is completely forbidden to smoke inside any bar or a restaurant, unless you’re seating at a table outside (and even then some restaurants have their own policies in regards to smoking – so you better ask the waiter before you lit up). Many other outdoors places also have a non-smoking policy – so if you spot a sign which states “No Smoking”, you should definitely abide.
- Speaking of restaurants – please keep in mind that all of the waiters, as well as bartenders, do expect a tip for their service, which is normally 18%. Some people might give 15% or 20%, depending on their personal preferences, and how good the service was. In some extreme cases, when the service was truly bad, you are okay with not leaving any, though it is very uncommon. Please note: the tip amount must be calculated and added by the person paying the bill. Though some restaurants do include a tip amount to the final bill automatically – so you should definitely study yours carefully.
- There are many things that you should know about the NYC’s subway system, and we have an entire post dedicated to the topic. But if we were to summarize and give you the most important advice about the NYC’s transportation – it would be to avoid any prolonged, direct eye contact (or any staring for that matter) at the fellow passengers. It will be perceived as rude in the best case scenario, or as an open invitation to a fight in the worst.
- Another thing that we want to mention about transportation is that despite NYC’s omnipresent, famous and iconic yellow taxis – it is the subway that is still the most convenient and efficient way to navigate around the town. And yes – a very safe one at that.
- Quick fact about meeting strangers and acquaintances for the first time in particular – most New Yorkers do not kiss each other on the cheek, upon greetings. However, the rules governing the general type of greetings depend on the occasion: if it is a business, professional, or a work-related meeting – a hand shake is required (from both genders); if you are meeting with a close friend, or even a new friend of a close friend – then a quick hug would be considered appropriate, but if you are meeting with a new, random acquaintance or a stranger – then it is okay to just say hello, without any close bodily contact.
New Yorkers, and Americans in general, have a very particular concept of personal space. You will almost never see any two people standing too closely to each other while speaking, or even touching each other (unless they’re a couple, of course). For this reason, you also won’t find any friends holding hands while walking, regardless of gender and how close their friendship is. The only “friends” that usually hold hands are couples.
- Since its early days as New Amsterdam, New York has been a melting pot with numerous cultures, religions, traditions, and languages, boiling together as “one”. There are various neighborhoods in New York populated with a particular immigrant group, such as Italians, Colombians, Mexicans, Jamaicans, Jews, Chinese and many others. All of these communities also include newly arrived immigrants who speak their own language, and retain their particular customs and traditions, as well as many amazing ethnic restaurants and shops.
Because of its strong diversity and its deep multi-cultural roots, New York is quite an open and tolerant city, where numerous groups, such as LGBT, orthodox Jewish and Muslim religious practitioners, Tibet monks, goths, hippies, and many others, feel safe to express their individualism in traditional clothing as well as their sexual preferences. So please do not panic if you see two men kissing in public, old women with neon-pink or green colored hair, or any other persons wearing traditional (or even “non-traditional”) clothing (such as Muslim women wearing abayas) because, well – this is New York!
- New York is generally a very safe city, without any major issues, such as pickpocketing, rape or murder. However, there are a few general scams that you need to be aware of:
– If you take a picture with one of the dress-up characters on Times Square, please know that they they will expect a monetary tip. If you do not give them any, they will ask you for one, and they can sometimes act in a somewhat aggressive manner (and for that – they even end up in the evening news, at some point).
– If you are approached by anyone offering you a “free CD” with their music on it – do not take it, otherwise the person will immediately demand a payment for it. It is much easier to decline it with a smile in the first place, than to avoid the harassment later.
– The most recent NYC scam involves a so-called Buddhist or Tibetan monk, asking you to sign a piece of paper. Once you sign it – he (it’s always a male) will demand a monetary donation, also quite aggressively – so please try to stay away from them too (and yes – they’re fake).
- If you like to go for a stroll outside after dark – please keep in mind that most parks close after sunset. NYPD (New York Police Department) often patrols the parks to make sure that no one disobeys this rule, and if they catch you seating on the bench in the dark – they might give you a ticket. Plus, it is not recommended to hang out in a park after dark for the general safety issues. One of the few exceptions would be the Washington Square Park, which is always crowded, no matter the hour.
- When crossing a busy street or an intersection – please obey the traffic signs, even when you see most of the New Yorkers disregarding it. New Yorkers have a deeply ingrained “six sense” when it comes to crossing the streets, and it is not recommended to follow their footsteps, if you are a non-native. There are a ton of traffic accidents that happen every year in the city, resulting in death (usually of the pedestrian).
- Finally, do not be shocked to discover that unfortunately New York is quite a dirty city. Chances are, you will spot rats running freely on the subway tracks, subway platforms, and event streets and public parks. Cockroaches, giant “water bugs”, mouses and centipedes are also very common and you might encounter one or two during your stay in New York. Well, now you know!
We do hope that your visit to New York City will be enjoyable and you will fall in love with this city of dreams. In the meantime, if you will have any questions in regards to New York in general – please leave them in the comments section below, and one of our local staff members will answer them promptly. (It is Global Storybook’s beloved headquarter city after all!).