People always talk about how mean New Yorkers are, and how intimidating it can be to visit here. I used to feel that way, too. I was born about two hours from here and did not come very often as a child because my parents and extended family didn't like all of the noise, dirtiness and rudeness. After I moved to North Carolina I came back up a couple of times, and while I realized that it really isn't all that dirty here, I was still taken aback by the fast pace, seemingly angry demeanor and loudness of it all.
But then I moved here, and I realized that pretty much every time you think someone is being rude when you are a tourist in New York, it's actually you. I realized that when someone on the sidewalk glared at me, or when I couldn't get off the train before the doors closed, or when a cashier rolled their eyes, it was because I was doing something annoying and didn't even realize it. (It was also because I was always in the really busy parts of Manhattan, which intimidate me to this day.)
So I'm going to give you a few tips about New York that I wish someone would've told me before I visited. Also, let me preface this by saying that I love tourists. I know that a big part of this city's income is fueled by tourists, and for that I am eternally grateful. And heck I am still a tourist a lot of the time. So take the following as notes on how to make sure you have a good time in the city. (I will do a follow-up post about actual things to do and see later.)
1. Sidewalk ettiquette.
It should be illegal for more than two people to walk side-by-side on a sidewalk in New York, and in some cases we should be required to walk single-file. One complaint I often hear from friends who have visited is that New Yorkers are very rude on the sidewalks - they will push through you or tell you to walk faster. While New Yorkers may be more willing to do those things than people in other places, they are doing them for the same reason you hit your steering wheel or honk your horn in traffic. When you are walking in a row of three or four people down the sidewalk, you are traffic, and the sidewalk is the way most people here get to work and other important appointments. Tourists often walk very slowly because they are looking at the sights or aren't sure where they're going, which is fine. But I promise you are not going to lose each other if you clear some space on the sidewalk and split into maybe two groups of two. New Yorkers in a rush will go right on past you without any incident.
Also, it is illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk. I'm not sure if they tell people that when they rent bikes to ride around and look at the city, but it is illegal, you can be fined, and it is so incredibly dangerous. Just think about what I said above - there are tons of people trying to get somewhere and (depending on where you are) tons of tourists slowly meandering around. Not a great place for a contraption that can be hard to stop or ride slowly.
2. Subway ettiquette.
This is something I want to tell fellow New Yorkers all the time, too, because many people do forget it. There is a person operating the doors on the train. This person looks out onto the platform and can see how many people want to get on, and knowns when you are running down the stairs to catch the train. They are not going to give you an unreasonable amount of time to get on or off the train. There is no reason for you to get stuck in the doors, or stuck on the train at your stop.
The reason this happens is that people are rude or unaware of their surroundings and stand in front of the doors. If you are getting on the train, wait until it stops, and stand next to the doors until it's clear that everyone has gotten off. I promise it works, I do it every single day. Then, when you get on, move as close to the middle of the car as you can. Even if you have to get off at the next stop, trust me. Because it infuriates people when you get on the train, and stop. That means less people can get on behind you, or that you should be prepared for people to push past you and fill in all the empty space you left in the middle of the train. And if you do get stuck near the door because it's just that crowded, it is nice to step off for a second, even if it's not your stop, to let people get off. Then jump right back on - usually the people waiting to get on will understand the situation and go along with it.
I think the reason people do these things when they visit New York is that they are taught to be aggressive and not trust the trains or anyone on them. I get that it's a special situation that you wouldn't really understand unless you live here, so that's why I would give you the opposite advice. Being aggressive and having an "every man for himself" type of attitude usually makes things worse. Just chill, do what seems natural, and be aware of your surroundings.
3. Be aware of your surroundings.
New York has not been on the list of Top 10 Most Dangerous Cities for years. Last year, there was less violent crime than ever before, and there was actually a whole 36 hours where no one got stabbed or shot or killed. You might think it's a little odd to celebrate something like that, but if you think about it, there are more than 8 million people in this city, which covers only about 300 square miles. Just by sheer math, bad stuff is going to happen. But I think it's really saying something that with all of the math stacked up against us, we are prettydamn safe here these days.
So instead of telling you to gird your loins and wear your money and identification strapped to your chest, I will tell you to just be aware of your surroundings at all times. If you wander into an area that looks sketchy, don't hang out there. If you're in a really crowded place, make sure your valuables are tucked away in a purse or zipped pocket. This includes phones. But in reality, these situations don't crop up that often, so don't walk around expecting to be robbed at every second, because you will create more problems for yourself, and not have a good time!
4. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Pretty much everyone who lives in New York has been a tourist here or at least new here before. Most of us aren't from here, and have been lost at one time or another. I still get turned around in certain parts of Manhattan that I don't often visit. Don't be afraid to ask for directions. Probably twice a week I see/hear someone who obviously lives here giving directions to someone who obviously doesn't. Sometimes people go far out of their way to help tourists and other lost people find their way. I have never seen or experienced someone being rude when asked for help, and I think that's because at one point or another we all need it.
This also goes for non direction-related help. If you are sick or hurt or think something fishy is going on, tell someone. There are cops all around in Manhattan and there is a See Something, Say Something hotline for calling in unattended packages and weird stuff like that.
5. It's expensive/have cash.
Most parts of New York City are going to be more expensive than where you are from. There are a lot of reasons for this that I won't go into because this is already too long, but just expect it. It does vary depending on where you are - the super touristy spots are always going to be more expensive. Don't do what I once mistakenly did and go to the Applebees in Times Square expecting to get "regular" Applebees prices. Ain't gonna happen. But venturing across the river to Brooklyn can cut the price of food and drinks by a lot, and I promise it is not scary over there! The areas closest to Manhattan have become really popular with tourists and that makes me happy. Please come to Cobble Hill and Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO! We have cheap(er) food and drinks and lots of art and cool parks!
But please bring cash! There are a lot of places that only take cash, or have credit card minimums. Technically the latter is illegal, but it's not really a high priority for the NYPD, so. Bring cash. Because there aren't a lot of bank ATMs unless you use Bank of America or want to pay a $2 fee.
THE END. I hope that was helpful and didn't come off as obnoxious. Maybe I am actually a super rude New Yorker and all of what I just wrote just cemented the fact in your mind that we suck...