New York, a city whose reputation is legendary for the millions of visitors who pass through its streets each year — for the rest of us, is home. Like any other home, it can be frustrating, exhilarating and, at the most unexpected moments, magical. As with any metropolis, there are certain unspoken rules for getting around the city. Whether it’s your first, second, or twentieth visit to New York, here are some etiquette tips to remember when you are out and about in the Big Apple!
1. Know the difference between Express Subway Trains and Local Subway Trains.
The Times Square at 42nd Street subway station houses local and express trains with access to multiple districts across New York City
The MTA subway system in New York is perhaps the most efficient means of traveling through four of New York’s boroughs (sorry, Staten Island). It’s also the most complicated. Lines are either named by letters or numerically, and like many underground transport systems, it is color coded. Unlike other subways, however, multiple lines share the same color. For instance, the B and D trains are both labeled by an orange circle, though each runs differently. These two lines are perfect examples of an Express Subway Train and a Local Subway Train, the D representing the former and the B the latter. Express and Local trains may run along similar routes and perhaps even make the same stops, but make no mistake: they are not identical. Local lines will stop at every station along a particular route, while Express lines stop only at particular stations along the route; for example, while the B train (Local) pauses at each stop on the West Side of Manhattan, the D train (Express) skips the stations between 59th and 125th Streets. To add to the confusion, this schedule cannot be trusted to run 24/7. Route modifications are in place during construction, weekends, and rush hours. The one thing you can count on? The subway system remains open all hours of the day – it just might not be the train you’re hoping to catch. For up-to-date information, visit the official MTA website.
Always leave a tip when dining out
In the U.S., tips are generally given to those in the service industry: maids, bellhops, waiters, etc. as a sign of gratitude. This part of the bill is where many workers earn their best money, so be mindful when you cover the tab or check out of your hotel. Amounts vary, but accepted practices state that waiters should receive 15% of the pre-tax check for average service
; you may tip higher or lower for an excellent or poor experience, respectively, but never below 10%. Bellhops should collect $1 per bag (or $2 for just one); when checking out of your hotel, leave a few dollars per night – in cash – for the maid. Tipping is important: don’t forget to include it, and remember not to judge too harshly for subpar service – your attendant might just be having a difficult day on the job. Unlike in Europe, prices are not what you see and what you get: a 4.5% sales tax is added to purchases
once you reach the register (except for clothing under $110). Almost every other purchase is taxed by an 8.875% tax
. Looking for shopping ideas? Check out our guide to the best places for retail therapy in New York City
3. Floor numbering.
New York is an epicenter for skyscrapers, so chances are you’ll be using an elevator at least once a day here, whether at work, in your apartment complex, or both. A slightly tweaked difference between American and European floor numbering can provide a considerable amount of confusion or inconvenience while riding the lift. Remember that many buildings in New York do not have a “ground floor” – they immediately skip to numbers. To illustrate, American buildings start on the first floor; Europeans will label this story as the ground floor. If you’re European and looking to reach the fifth floor, recall that this clarifies as the sixth floor in America. Once you’ve mastered the simple math behind floor designations, utilizing the elevator should be a breeze.
American outlets differ from international sockets
Standard voltage in North America operates at 120V against the 220V measure throughout the rest of the world. As such, your electronic devices might not work stateside; sockets are shaped differently here, too, so your plugs will likely not be compatible with American outlets. Be sure to purchase chargers for all your portable gadgets that fit American specifications.
5. Subway station etiquette.
The subway is the fastest and easiest way around New York City
At any given hour of the day, people retreat to the nearest subway station for quick transport. And if there’s anything a New Yorker dislikes, it’s getting delayed in the most inconsequential way. Movement can clog up around the turnstiles – bigger stations can have as many as a dozen, less popular stations as little as two – so always have your Metro card at the ready when entering
. It not only spares you the wrath of an impatient New Yorker, but saves you precious time (which could spell the difference between catching or missing your train). The correct orientation for swiping is on the front of the card. Stand on the right side of escalators
to let those walking up the moving staircases get by on your left. Never hold closing doors in the subway
– even if your train is sitting at the platform. You will not be able to squeeze into the train car, and you will endanger yourself or someone else in the process. And lastly, beware of scammers
. It’s best to ignore them, no matter what they may be selling. There’s no need to avoid the subways out of fear – be aware, use common sense, and you’ll be fine
New Yorkers crowd the sidewalk for a springtime stroll
Any native New Yorker will tell you this is a huge pet peeve of theirs: do not stop in the middle of the sidewalk
. Fellow pedestrians need to get by, and halting in the center of pavement impedes foot traffic. (This is especially true if you are traveling with a group of people – do not take up the entire sidewalk!) If you need to consult a map or want to take a photo, simply step to the side. If you notice someone walking at a faster pace, give them room to pass. Treat other pedestrians with the courtesy you treat other drivers on the road – it’s a win-win situation.
In Manhattan, if you want to travel “north” you would say you’re heading “uptown”; traveling “south” means you’ll be going “downtown”. (There is no equivalent terminology when describing east-west orientations.) Keep in mind that this is how the subway system classifies direction in Manhattan. If you want to visit 14th Street (Greenwich Village) from 42nd Street (the heart of Midtown), that signifies you’ll need downtown transportation. Additionally, when referring to Manhattan locations, always start with the street first, then the avenue. Case in point: if you’re looking to get to 10th Street and 3rd Avenue, say 10th and 3rd, vice versa. However, even these directions are vague: remember that 5th Avenue divides east and west streets; once West 33rd Street crosses 5th Avenue, it becomes East 33rd Street on the other side. Streets run east to west, whereas avenues run north to south (or uptown-downtown). One of Manhattan’s many benefits is its grid system, which makes navigation – especially for novices – easy to master. Bear in mind that some of the oldest districts in the city – below 14th Street – do not operate on the grid pattern. You will stumble upon roads coming in at strange angles, and be hard-pressed to find numerically named streets. An inside secret: New Yorkers, despite their reputation, are not always brusque. If you approach politely and ask for directions, there’s a good chance the person – a city native or a knowledgeable expat — will be willing to help you out. Don’t be afraid to ask if you feel comfortable doing so.
8. Cab etiquette.
The bright yellow façade of Manhattan cabs dot Times Square traffic
There may be times – especially during inclement weather – where you might be tempted to cut in front of someone for a cab. Simply put, don’t do it
. It is incredibly rude, and will not speed up the journey any faster. Remember: taxis are everywhere in New York, and there is bound to be one just around the corner. That said, be cautious. Never accept a ride from an unregistered car
. Manhattan taxis (medallion cabs) will be in their world-famous yellow hue, and any cabs in the outer boroughs – and north of East 96th Street and West 110th Street in the central borough – will be in a lime green tint (boro taxis). Legitimate services will have livery or taxi-limousine plates with an identification number on the roof of the car. When you are trying to flag down a car and are scanning the road for possible vehicles, know that lit number signs on top of the cab means it’s vacant and available; lights turned off signify it is occupied. Also look to see if the off-duty lettering on the sign is lit – if so, search elsewhere.
9. Vacation rental etiquette.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth repeating: be respectful of residents in your vacation rental building. Although you might only be staying for a few weeks, it is their full-time home. Treat them as if they were your permanent neighbors. Give the courtesy you’d expect if visitors temporarily resided in your long-term apartment. Refrain from playing loud music or making too much noise at odd hours of the day, clean up after yourself if you use communal facilities (such as a laundry room), don’t slam your door upon exiting or entering, and be friendly to your neighbors while respecting their personal space. Basic manners apply. If you want to make this experience a reality, check out our directories for long-term furnished apartments and vacation rental apartments in New York City!
10. And last but not least: explore.
Don’t be afraid to wander around any streets or areas that strike your fancy. Venture out into the outer boroughs – there’s much more New York than Manhattan. Ask locals — perhaps your apartment neighbors – about their favorite restaurants, shops, and attractions and you may just uncover an under-the-radar gem. By allowing yourself to stray off the path of routine, you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself in all New York has to offer – and fall in love with the city that never sleeps. (Just don’t forget to bring a map!)
What are your best etiquette tips, readers?