New York City is a place like no other, and it’s impossible to describe it in one word. That’s why I decided to write down all the weird things about New York City that struck me as non-American, on my first visit to New York City.
First off, I have to say I don’t get that easily impressed anymore. I often say “that’s nice” out of courtesy, and still some people blame me for my lack of diplomacy. So all my opinions come from a place of innocent honesty and scepticism.
I also need to mention this from the beginning: weird doesn’t equal bad. It’s just strange to me, and I am the sum of all the things I’ve lived so far. My society is just different and because of that, it’s more obvious to me and easier to see things I’m not used to seeing.
Also, before getting into my story and all the weird things about New York City, I have to mention that NYC is an incredible place, like no other. It’s truly fascinating, no matter where you come from or what you are looking for. It’s worth at least one visit and it will change you forever. I get that, the pride of living in NYC or visiting NYC. I get it. It’s a magical city and I will probably go back.
The good things about New York City are written all over the web and they are illustrated in perhaps thousands of films. And there are countless websites, like nycgo.com, where you can find out whatever you need. But what’s actually like to be a visitor in New York City? That’s what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the weird things about New York City.
What was I expecting NYC to be like?
To be completely honest, I had no idea what to expect. I’ve seen my fair share of New York and Manhattan background movies, but how much can I trust a movie to show me life as it is. We know we can’t trust Instagram these days in illustration locations, so why trust movies?!
To be clear, I wasn’t sure what weird things about New York City was I about to discover.
Maybe I would have been so naive before I learnt the hard way the truth about Instagram. But I don’t trust everything I see to be real. Not anymore.
So there I was, sitting nervously on my window seat in an Airbus a380, the largest plane yet, waiting to arrive at this “dream destination”.
I had a hunch I will feel small, as in any big city. But that was about all I expected.
And then, as the plane was landing, I was lucky enough to sit on the side with the perfect Manhattan view. It was glorious. And that’s when I knew a great adventure was about to happen.
From the Airport to Manhattan
I arrived at JFK airport, which is a bit weird with all the terminals so far away from each other.
You need to take an airport train to get out of there or to travel between terminals. You pay for the train when you get in/out from the subway to go to the airport. It took me 10 minutes from my terminal to the exit. And $5.
On the train were a few travellers but a lot of people working in the airport. And a large diversity of people. I do not want to be racist or disrespectful, but I do want to point out some social and cultural differences that struck me in my experiences in New York. Remember, I am talking from the perspective of a non-American. To be more precise, from the perspective of a Romanian. I don’t dare say European, because I am not ready to have any contradictory arguments with anyone.
So back to the train. I was struck by the big diversity of people, even in such a small train. I was waking up to the reality that I was about to see much more of this.
By no means do I say this in a bad or judgemental way. This story is not about this. It’s about culture and the way I am used to my society.
At the exit, a huge tourist crowd, who were all queuing up to buy metro cards, airport train cards, and were asking for instruction on how to use them or for directions.
It took me a lot of minutes to decide what to do next. Finally, I decided to go to the newspaper stand to buy a 7-day metro card which cost $33. As I said before, this is a great deal for those planning to visit New York.
I found my way to the subway, and got off in upper Manhattan. As I saw the sunlight, I looked up. And I nearly tripped. I usually get dizzy when I look up to tall buildings. And these were some really tall towers, on the Lexington Av-53 St. Reminded me of my short visit to Kuala Lumpur some years ago.
People were rushing to cross the street, buses and cars were going by, … and there I was.
I felt like I just fell out of the sky and landed there.
Well, it was kinda true. Good thing I had wifi in the metro station, but once I got outside, the connection was lost and I had no idea what direction to go.
So I started walking randomly, to figure out if I was going towards my destination or moving away from it.
By the way, this is a great tip when you find yourself in a new place without an internet connection. Just make sure you have downloaded the map of the city and you can use it. GPS doesn’t need the internet to work! Google maps will be your best friend. You’re welcome!
Obviously, the first block wasn’t the best direction, but I could then realized where I was going.
First evening out in Manhattan
After I arrived at my cousin’s place and decided I need to rest after travelling for 20h.
In the evening, we went for a walk around midtown.
My experience was somehow distorted by my tiredness, but I remember how noisy it was. I tend to have good orientation, and I easily catch up on streets and places. Not this time.
It was noisy, crowded, people were always rushing, except for tourists. Street work, city lights, street artists, friends chatting.
A lot was going on.
Restaurants, bars, people going out, full parks. It was the second week of May and the weather was perfect for a nice evening walk. But I think I was too tired to understand what was happening.
After an hour or so, we got back home, chatted and went to sleep. It felt like I could sleep for a week.
Weird things about New York City that struck me as non-American
After a good night sleep, I woke up at 6 am, because jet lag is real and also our biometric clocks are real as well.
It took me around 5 days to get used to the local time.
I admit I was confused about a lot of things, and I realized that NYC is just too huge to see it all, but I think I can pinpoint some weird things about New York City.
People are very loud
Maybe it’s just me, with my sensitive hearing, but hear me out!
When you travel alone, you have time to notice stuff like this. Is this one of the weird things about New York City? I say ‘Yes’.
As I was walking on the streets of NYC, I noticed that everyone was trying to make the most out of their time. It’s the constant rush I was talking about. Headphones, earbuds, headsets, are all big around NYC. Everyone has them. And everyone uses them when they talk on the phone.
And when they talk, they are loud. And fast. You get someone’s daily crisis in the two seconds it takes for them to pass by you. And sometimes, they are walking with friends, so you actually get they are talking to someone, not to themselves like it seems when they are using earbuds. I haven’t seen anyone using their phone to talk, just to text and they all use earbuds to talk.
Everyone lives in their own bubble
As I said, everyone has headphones or earbuds on, and when they don’t use them to talk on the phone, they listen to music or watch the latest episode from their favourite series. The subway is where people really need to use their time.
I am not sure if this is an NYC thing or it’s also happening in other cities in the US, but I see it as a weird thing about New York City.
I haven’t seen a lot of people reading, though.
It’s like everyone wants to be left alone as if something bad will happen if they leave any opportunity for others to come and interact with them. And let’s face it, most people will not go and bother someone who is clearly listening or watching something on their phone.
I guess, NYC isn’t the place to go if you suffer from some sort of social anxiety. It can be overwhelming.
It’s like everyone lives in their own world. And then, I understand why it’s a bad thing when someone talks to you. There must be something urgent or bad happening and there is no other way to go around it.
I can only imagine how this can affect your self-confidence and psychic in the long term if you live there.
NYC is a crowded place
Yes, maybe this one shouldn’t be listed under the title weird things about New York City, but it’s worth mentioning. Because it is a big city, so obviously, it is crowded.
This goes without explaining, but people tend to get angry with you if you somehow suddenly stop, even if you look for a corner.
I mean, we are all annoyed by those tourists who don’t give a damn and stop wherever they feel like it. But I’m not talking about that. I have people stopping in front of me and blocking my way. I come from a crowded city too.
In NYC you have to double-check if you want to change direction or just stop because chances are someone will bump into you and will sigh disapprovingly.
I feel the need to mention that I always take care of this, and never stop where I might annoy anyone, and still it happened to me. Because it is just too crowded. Locals, tourists, groups. A lot is going on.
NYC food was not what I expected
I am not a huge foodie, but you don’t have to be to notice this one.
One of the first things I got told by people who live in NYC is that the food is incredible. As in, the best food ever.
And it might be true, but it extremely weird to say that.
As we all know, American history starts not too long ago, when immigrants started moving there. They call New York City the melting pot.
And with immigrants, food came. From all over the world. Which makes NYC one of the most diversified cities in the world in terms of food. Basically, you can find food from all over the world. That’s great.
They have an entire neighbourhood called Little Italy, filled with Italian restaurants. Locals say it’s not as good as it used to be and that the really good Italian restaurants have moved now to Queens.
There’s another famous place called Chinatown.
For me, it was weird to find such great diversity, only a couple of blocks away from each other. It’s strange but great. It’s unique. What is not so great, are the prices. Of course, life in NYC is expensive so even the most simple dishes have an NYC price tag. So the food options are fascinating, but it’s one of the weird things about New York City.
NYC is a melting pot
These are their words, not mine.
And this is true, as I already said about food and people. I guess I shouldn’t be so shocked, knowing about their history, but still, it’s strange to see how such a society evolved.
Don’t take this in any way, it’s just a fact. NYC is a rather small place to find an amazing number of different people from far away places. I haven’t seen anything like it and it’s hard to explain.
Every part of NYC is part of pop culture
NYC is one of a kind. But it’s so special that it makes you feel weird. And I consider this to be listed under weird things about New York City.
NYC has been so much mentioned in pop culture as well as in movies, it’s like walking on a movie set. Soho, Empire State building, The statue of Liberty, Brooklin, you name it. Hundreds of serials and movies have happened here. The examples are countless, and the only important question is: What are you a fan of?
Every NYC corner is somehow famous and for me it was overwhelming. It’s impossible to see all the famous spots, so just stick to what you want to see. Perhaps check out my post about what mistakes to avoid when travelling to NYC for the first time.
Can’t wait to visit NYC again. And I wonder if this time, I will see all these weird things about New York City or they will just blend in. I’ll let you know.