One day in May this year, in the midst of panicked revising and one too many snacks, my friend called me up to ask if I wanted to go with her to see a play she’d spontaneously bought tickets for – only after I said yes did she tell me that the play was in New York. So began the months of booking flights, finding an airbnb, and mass excitement as we planned are first trip to New York (for the grand total of four days there). I thought, instead of doing a day-by-day description of what we did each day, I’d go through the things that were completely different to London – from transport to food to the weird and wonderful.
Our first full day we managed to find our way to a CVS to pick up the necessities, swinging by a Dunkin Donuts on the way back to see what the fuss was all about. Then we started our journey to more central Manhattan, which is where we first experienced the subway, which still confuses me. We succeeded in finding the right station and descending into the depths of their underground, purchasing a Metrocard that we could use for the rest of the day. We then failed by going through the barriers, only to see that we were on the Uptown platform. ‘Not a problem’ we thought, our naive London minds going instantly to memories of ending up on a Northbound Victoria line train instead of Southbound. Surely this number 6 train would be the same.
We were very wrong.
Turns out that for some stations, the only way to get on the right platform is by crossing the road above the station itself. There’s no underground path to the right platform, no, you’re stuck. So starts the hasty exit and the pleading with the staff on the other platform to please let us through because our Metrocards told us that they were ‘just used’ so couldn’t possibly let us onto another platform. It’s safe to say that for the whole subway trip we reminisced about the London underground system, with the coloured tube lines that have names instead of a mix of numbers and letters. We also missed the armrests some tubes have, which stop people from taking up three seats instead of one. (It seems we also lived up to British stereotype and complained a bit).
What I found most interesting about the layout of New York was the fact that it was a grid, all straight lines and corners – very much unlike the higgildy piggildy layout of London with it’s various twisting alleyways and secret paths. With New York, your directions were just ‘straight up until you get there’ or ‘take a left then a right’. Each street was a number, counting up and down. Still didn’t mean that we had an easy time not getting lost. We had numerous, desperate hunts for wifi spots in order to connect to Citymapper so we could find our way around.
On a side note of public transport, their traffic light system needs some serious work. For pedestrians, there are no buttons to press in order to get the lights to change – you just have to wait until the red man turns white (instead of our green). Not only that, but when you cross the road, cars can still turn in. No wonder there were so many signs for the majority of accidents happening on corners – as you cross the road, cars are still speeding around bends, hurtling towards you as you try and make sure you don’t end up being roadkill.
Besides the obvious highlight (aka Hamilton is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen/heard/experienced), food was what I was most looking forward to trying. Everything seemed to be bigger and far sweeter than anything we’d ever tasted, and experiencing a proper Diner was great fun – from all the memorabilia on the walls to the waiters carrying fishbowls of filter coffee. However, there were a few things that weren’t as good as I had hoped – chocolate, for one. Hershey’s chocolate doesn’t even hold a candle to the classic cadbury bar. There was also a place that asked me whether I wanted my tea ‘hot or cold’, as if ‘cold’ was an option for a mug of green tea. Barbaric, I tell you.
And the final thing that left us completely perplexed, was tipping. My god, the tipping. We had some vague idea that you tipped around 15% at lunch, 20% at dinner, and that was all we knew. We were already astounded by the fact they had notes for $1, and the coins were all cents and quarters. Somebody seriously needs to write an ‘idiots guide to tipping’, though come to think of it there probably already is one. What had us confused was the way you tipped when charged by card. How it’s supposed to happen is this:
Your meal costs $20, so they charge you that amount and on the receipt you write on the tip, eg. $5, and then the total $25. They then take that receipt and ‘close’ the cheque (side note, you don’t ask for the bill, you ask for the cheque), charging you for the total you’ve left.
Yet no one told us this. So up until the final day, we were asking to be charged $25, and writing $20 total and $5 tip on the cheques. After getting the impression that the waitress was acting offended when we asked to be charged $25, we asked if she could explain. Then came the laughter, the look in her eyes which, as someone who works in retail knows, meant ‘I am so telling everyone this when I go on my break’, and general amusement at the British girls.
With a lack of signs and queues, it’s sure that NYC is a very different place to London, but I loved it nevertheless. The pancakes were incredible, Broadway simply magical, and the High Line is a sight I won’t soon forget. Part of me wished those four days would never end, but my bank account was very glad that there was a limit to our stay. And that, in a nutshell, was my experience of New York.
p.s – to any English travellers, do not, I repeat, do not, ask where the ‘loo’ is. It is always the restroom. ‘Toilet’ might get some funny looks too.
p.p.s – to any London travellers, be warned that not only to people make eye contact out in the open and on public transport, but Americans are prone to starting up conversations with complete strangers. Gone are the subtle sighs and tuts, instead are out-loud complaints and nudges to the person next to you. *shudders*