Overwhelming and like no other place in the world, New York City is going to leave you with questions. Part of every tourist’s travel prep should include familiarizing oneself with acceptable and non-acceptable questions for locals. For example, “Will you take our picture?” and “Which way is Broadway?” are welcome inquiries. To find out which Big Apple-related questions leave locals with a sour taste, read our guide to the city faux pas you won’t want to make.
“Is living in New York like Sex and the City?”
Unless we missed the season when Carrie is broke, overworked, and living off “rent week” dinners for a month straight, then the answer is no. Please don’t remind us that our apartments are the size of her walk-in closet.
“Where is the nearest Starbucks?”
You’re in New York City, the birthplace of the American cappuccino, home to one of the world’s most passionate (read snobby) coffee cultures, and site of countless independent cafés, and you want to stick to Starbucks? New Yorkers will always disapprove of the tourist’s penchant for chain restaurants and stores while in the city. If you don’t wish to be on the receiving end of a local’s undisguised eye-roll, refer to Yelp when chasing chains.
“New Yorkers are so nice!”
On paper, this statement seems innocent, even complimentary, but when pronounced in the shocked tone which often accompanies it, it can be downright offensive. Did you come to New York expecting the locals to glare at puppies and snatch candy from children’s hands? New Yorkers are generous, helpful, welcoming people—until you suggest otherwise.
“Hi, excuse me, sorry to bother you, but we’re looking for Central Park/the Met/the Empire State Building, and we’re lost. Can you tell us how to get there?”
New Yorkers love providing directions, if only to show off their mastery of the city and insider’s knowledge of its best “secret” routes. However, locals lack patience for the out-of-towner’s small talk. When asking for directions, keep it short and sweet, as in: “Excuse me, how do I get to Central Park?” This efficient approach will earn you a helpful response from an in-the-know local and perhaps a tip or two.
“Where can I see celebrities?”
Really? That’s why you came to New York City? With so many world-famous landmarks, cultural institutions, and unique offerings at your disposal, the tourist’s preoccupation with famous residents (and their rule-breaking lack of subtlety when sightings do occur) is disappointing at best and offensive at worst. That being said, SoHo, Greenwich Village, and Williamsburg are promising areas for celeb-seekers. (See? We are nice!)
“Does this park/train/deli have wifi?”
While many places in New York City come equipped with wifi, some spots, such as indie cafés, public parks, and subway stations (you’re underground, people!), don’t feature an internet connection. Tourists would do well to not expect free wifi everywhere they go—or at least not badger locals for the “secret” password.
“How much do you pay for rent?”
This inquiry may (hopefully) seem like an obvious social faux pas, but you’d be surprised how often New Yorkers are asked it. Regarding rent, a safe rule to follow is if they don’t offer, don’t ask, in part because it isn’t socially acceptable and partly because we don’t want to be reminded our shoebox-sized apartment costs $1,600 each month.
“I’m loving New York City! But how do I get to Brooklyn?”
Fun fact: Brooklyn is New York City, as is Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, and Manhattan. The city is so much more than the Empire State Building and Central Park—please realize that and don’t put us in a position to where we have to defend Staten Island.
“Is New York City safe?”
Asking this question reveals two things about you: you’ve seen one too many movies, and you are definitely not from around here. Every city has its good and bad areas and can seem daunting after dark. As long as you use basic common sense and are conscious of your surroundings (if you feel unsafe, take advantage of one of the city’s many brightly lit 24-hour convenience stores or taxi cabs), you should be safe in the city.
“Is the subway clean/good/safe?”
In short, relatively, yes, and it depends not only on the time of day but also the line you’re taking. Take it this way—nearly 5.7 million people ride the New York City subway incident-free each day, so being dainty about taking the train in New York is about as alienating as tourist behavior can get.
“Why is everything in New York City so expensive?”
Note: This is one question that will prompt a New Yorker to be mad with you, not at you. The short answer to this is we don’t know either! While you should expect to shell out a significant sum during your city stay, researching beforehand can clue you into the city’s best deals, such as donation-based museums and complimentary cultural events.
“How can I get to the top of the Empire State Building?”
This inquiry will always prompt the same response question: why would you go to the top of the Empire State Building? Paying for a view in New York City is never worth it, and the tourist’s willingness to shell out $30+ per person reliably baffles locals. Take advantage of the city’s many rooftop bars, where you can get a great view of New York City, a strong drink, and a sense of smugness only possessed by your New York neighbors, all for less than a standard sightseeing fee.