How Midwesterners Can Stand Out And Screw Up In New York City
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How Midwesterners Can Stand Out And Screw Up In New York City

9 survival tips on what not to do in NYC, as told by a midwesterner.

How Midwesterners Can Stand Out And Screw Up In New York City

This summer, like many other Midwestern collegiates, I flew to New York for an internship in the city. Leaving was bittersweet because I am in love with my Michigan hometown, and really everything about the Midwest, but I had been developing big city dreams since middle school, and it was time to live them out. I moved into my little studio double with, as good ole’ Charles would say, great expectations for the months ahead. I was ready for my posh New York City adventure.

I knew coming in that New York City had a whole different culture than the Midwest. It's ingrained in us by pop culture and through our peers. I had watched enough television, read enough books and met enough loud and proud east coasters to get the gist.

When I got here, though, I was surprised to see just how different it really is to live in the Northeast. There were many occasions where my Midwest mentality proved me wrong in the city, and it became clear that if I wanted to continue living here, some adaptation, or at least awareness of my screw-ups, would be necessary. For all other Midwesterners considering the move, here are some personal examples of what not to do in NYC.

Making eye contact on the street.

In Michigan and throughout the Midwest, we tend to look up when we walk and, in the case of meeting eyes with someone passing by, throw up at little close-mouth smile, head nod or small wave. I tried pulling this in New York City and all I got in return were weird looks and confused faces, or in other cases, the people just pretend your little indiscretion never happened. The New York street walker has sunglasses on, headphones in and “don’t think about talking to me” written across their forehead. It seems unfriendly to us Midwesterners raised on courtesy and fed on manners, but I’ve learned that out here avoidance is really a self-defense mechanism. Be too friendly on these streets and you will be haggled for money, asked out on dates by old people, quizzed on your heritage by Bus Tour sales people, or force-hugged by a stranger because your “aura is so green--right on.” (I’m not kidding.) So, now, to avoid future awkward encounters, I follow the cue of New Yorkers and Tyga, turn around and put my shades on.

Confusing uptown and downtown subways

Everywhere I’ve been in America, my Michigan town included, calls the center of town “downtown”. Everywhere except New York City apparently. The Subway system here defines downtown as literally down in the town, like south. Me, not realizing this at all, thought that when traveling from 30th street to Central Park (the center of Manhattan) I should take the downtown subway. But as any East Coast and New York native would know, the park (which starts at 59th street) is uptown from 30th, because here uptown literally means up. I was shocked when the downtown subway took me twenty blocks in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. Oops!

Taking illegal taxis.

Black taxis belong in London, not New York City. No matter how desperate you are for a cab, don’t take a black one. They will charge you $25 to drive four blocks and not even take you to the right end destination. It is as filthy a rip off as the cabs to South Bend airport. And, as I learned from my east coast friend after sharing my black taxi story, they’re illegal! So, in general, steer clear of these guys, no matter how much of a savior they may seem when all the yellow taxis are full, unless the driver is Ranjit.

Showing up to free city-wide entertainment 15 minutes before it starts.

In my town in Michigan, I will roll up to free yoga in the park 10 minutes before it starts to make sure I get a spot where I can see the instructor. I approached free Yoga in Bryant Park with a similar strategy and walked up to 800 people already on their mats ready to go. I just barely squeezed into the back row and had to be extra careful not to kick the girl behind or hit the guy next to me in my half moon pose. I tried the same 10-minutes-early strategy for the New York Philharmonic in the park and wound up so far away from the stage that I could literally not even hear any music. An entire orchestra was playing Tchaikovsky on microphones and I heard no sound. The lesson I learned here is that if you get word of a free event in New York City, so did about 8 million other people. If you want a view at all in this town, plan on getting to your destination several hours in advance.

Wearing inappropriate walking shoes.

The amount of walking done in New York City is unparalleled. As college students, we are not unfamiliar to walking. To the dining hall, to D6 or Bulla lot, or even from Duncan to PE (if you are in one of those unfortunately long distance relationships); we walk. But in the city, especially if your commute is walkable, you are always on your feet to save the time and money that comes with taxis or subways. So, please, save your feet the pain and wear appropriate walking shoes. I thought I was tenured enough in the art of high heel wearing to make the 20 minute walk to work in my 3-inch stilettos. WRONG. When the time came for my walk back home, I was hobbling and limping the streets like someone who barely survived a bombing or an earthquake with their life. It took me twenty minutes to flag a cab outside of my office, and several tourists asked if I was okay or needed help. All I can say is, lesson freaking learned. The scars from my blisters that day will forever remind me to pack a pair of flats in my bag. Those who don't will wind up like this by the early afternoon:

Going out with only $30.

I was very excited to check out the New York City nightlife. I watched a lot of Gossip Girl and Sex and the City before moving to get an idea of what fun, hoppin’ places were awaiting me (because, naturally, those were realistic depictions of what going out in NYC is like). The hype was real and I was ready to PART-AY. What I was not ready for was the bar tab. The price of one cocktail, or at some places even just a beer, in New York City could pay for an all inclusive night at Feve. I’m talking cab both ways, VIP line costs, cover, a whiskey sour, a fireball shot and a slice at Vesuvios. And if you are a guy, the cover at some clubs is almost as much as football season tickets (sorry boys, it sucks and is not very fair, but it is reality out here). In general, I have learned to always ask the price of drinks before ordering at the bar. And the gasp that usually follows that question may make my Midwestern roots stand out, but it also saves me $50 sometimes, so no complaints here. Be cautious, and avoid the ritziest looking clubs.

Talking to strangers in the elevator

This is pretty much the same deal as making eye contact on the street. East coasters just generally avoid any interaction with strangers. And elevator small talk really freaks them out. I struck up conversation with a random guy in the elevator of my building and had two of my east coast friends with me. As soon as he left the elevator, they began hysterically laughing at me. Not because I had said anything weird, but because I said anything at all. Stranger interaction in elevators does not have nearly as bad of a consequence as stranger interaction on the street, though, so do it or don’t with no repercussion. It is just apparently very weird to people out here.

Mistaking someone in your building for the GrubHub delivery guy.

Okay this is not really a Midwestern thing at all. This was just a personal moment of embarrassment that is also very frowned upon on the East Coast, or really anywhere for that matter. Just make sure you know someone is your delivery guy before you reach for their bag of food and try to give them $20.


If you see a pea-sized little black bug in your room at night, do not dismiss it as any ordinary bug that you have likely encountered in the Midwest. Do not flick it off the corner of your book, keep reading and then go to bed. Because on the East Coast and especially in New York City, there are these things called bed bugs. They are not a myth. They are not an urban legend. If you see a bug like this at night in your apartment, what you should do is immediately freak the HELL out, storm out of your room and talk to your super. I, completely unaware of the concept of bed bugs, casually flicked the bug off my book and went to sleep. I then continued to wake up with bites for a week and a half, eventually covered in what I thought were hives as a result of some terrible allergic reaction. After doping on Benadryl with no improvement, I went to the doctor and learned that they were bed bug bites… BED BUGS, I TELL YOU. They’re disgusting and they are real. And if you are not alert, you will have to have your apartment exterminated, move out, and launder everything with fabric that you own, and possibly hundreds of dollars in the process. Save yourself the suffering and get the place checked before you move in, otherwise you will get bed bugs...

... and die.

As you can see, sometimes a Midwesterner’s friendly disposition, small town way of thinking or lack of New York City knowledge and experience can pose problems - really more for ourselves than others. Knowing these little tips and tricks, and any other advice you can get from New Yorkers, you will be well able to move here with hopefully fewer mistakes made than me. And you will have a blast here and make great friends, because guess what:

New Yorkers secretly LOVE all these Midwestern mistakes and niceties. They kind of even love us. We are a breath of fresh air in the New York City smog. We are the people who take flyers on the subway to do a stranger a solid. We are the “good morning” in the elevator. We are the friendly smile right when somebody needs it. As fun as New York is, its non-stop, serious attitude can sometimes use a little lightening up, and that is one way that Midwesterners can totally conquer NYC.

all gifs courtesy of

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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