Okay. I lied. This is not an ultimate guide. This is something I am thinking up as I go along. But I have been living in New York City since 1982, and that makes me an expert on this place, at least in my own mind. So stay with me, alright? I promise I won’t steer you wrong, at least not on purpose and not too much.
Every year, thousands of eager people descend on New York City. You come from all over. We who live here are happy you came. We hope you will spend a lot of money and have a really good time visiting places we ourselves can’t be bothered to visit. We want you to go home and tell all your friends about your great trip so that they, in turn, will come here, spend money, visit all the cool places and then go home.
To make sure you have the ultimate New York experience, follow these simple guidelines:
1. To show pride in your identity as a tourist (as opposed to a mere local), feel free to use any of the following identifiers:
• Fancy camera equipment, preferably slung carelessly over your shoulder, sometimes in a black or brown leather bag.
• An “I Love New York” tee shirt, proudly worn in public. This works even better if it has a picture of the Statue of Liberty on it.
• Flip-flops. New Yorkers know better than to try to wear these on Manhattan sidewalks for more than 10 minutes at a time, especially in the summer, when the heat of the pavement can fry your feet even through a pair of normal shoes. Anyone brave enough to wear flip-flops under those conditions will not try it a second time. Your first set of blisters will cure you of the idea.
2. To take the best picture of your travel companion(s), have them pose on one side of a busy sidewalk, while you stand on the other side, camera in hand, ready to click the button. People will be trying to walk past you and the camera, and some of them will not want to have their pictures taken along with your friends and the scenery. This is a good opportunity for you to learn some useful English phrases that you will never learn from a guidebook. If you are lucky, you might even learn some colorful sign language.
3. There will be times when you will all want to be in the same picture. The best way to do this is to grab some kind-looking person, hand that person your camera and ask him/her to take your picture. If you are lucky, the person won’t try to run off with your camera. If that happens, though, you can rest assured that there are plenty of shops, especially in busy tourist areas, where you will be welcomed and where they will be happy to sell you a new camera at a special tourist price.
4. The best place to gather in a big, immovable clump with your companions is on a busy street corner. This will give you a wonderful opportunity to observe the customs of the local people as they try to maneuver around and/or through you to cross the street, especially when the “walk” signals light up. The useful phrases you will learn from this will be even more expressive than the ones you learned when you were taking pictures on the sidewalk.
5. For the absolutely ultimate New York experience, you must ride a subway train. Of course, you will want to pile onto it, with your friends, during what the locals call “rush hour.” Barring a miracle, you will not get a seat. You will be packed into the car like that last sweater in an already overstuffed suitcase. Your subway experience will be greatly enhanced if you are carrying a large backpack and/or wheeling a piece of luggage. In addition, please do not hesitate to hold loud conversations in your native language, especially if you can do this over the head of some poor slob who is sitting and trying to read a newspaper.
6. You have to tip your waitperson in a restaurant. For Europeans: We don’t figure the gratuity into the bill here like they do in your country. You will be expected to figure it out yourself and add it to the total. If you stiff your waitperson on the tip, let’s hope you don’t plan to go back to that same restaurant. They’ll remember you, and it might not be pretty. For Americans from other regions: I don’t care what your mother told you about how servers are being paid already and you shouldn’t have to pay them more. If you don’t tip, your name will be immortalized forever as belonging to a cheap bastard.
7. Walk into a Starbucks or a McDonalds and try to cut in line. This will be even more effective if nobody in your party speaks English (or Spanish, which is New York’s second language) very well. Your efforts to argue with an irate New Yorker will be a useful exercise in international relations. If you are a native English speaker, this will be a useful exercise in trying to avoid being punched in the nose.
These are only a few of the ways a tourist can experience New York City in the most comprehensive way possible.