The New York commandments

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  • NYC Commandment 2C: Consider as urban yoga the pretzel-like positions you assume in order to fit onto busy trains. Photo: Susan Sermoneta, via flickr

lex and the city


One might say that every city has its own collective personality, made unique by the shared attributes of its population or the geographical highlights or, I don’t know, its most tasty street food or mass-produced export.

That being said, what makes up New York City’s personality? Or, alternatively, what makes you a real New Yorker? People say that the New York lifestyle, the constant energy that fuels the city that never sleeps, is unparalleled. They say that moving here will change you - that you adapt to survive.

Swept into the push and pull of a culture driven by constant stimulation, bustling streets and unceasingly busy schedules, things begin to alter. You realize that, upon finally finding a moment of peace and quiet, you feel oddly uncomfortable. You find it difficult to have a “lazy night in” when you’re surrounded by so much opportunity — restaurant openings and concerts and book signings and random Italian street festivals.

You develop a more adventurous palate – it begins when your friends invite you out for some authentic Japanese street food, and you soon find yourself encouraging others to try frog and duck liver croquettes and something described as “fried dough balls filled with minced octopus.”

You begin seeing a therapist — not for anything severe, but to vent about the constant barrage of stimuli that is New York living, in addition to your feelings about nasty coworkers and the plot twists on the television show you “hate” but refuse to stop watching.

Upon coming in contact with some odd scenario, you are quick to say (in the most passé and unaffected way possible) that nothing surprises you anymore. Alternatively, you are often very surprised, as New York is just chock-full of surprises.

All things considered, being a New Yorker is a full-time job. Below is a list of commandments by which we live. If you’re new to this town – hello! Fear not, you will be this crazy soon enough, but it’s a painless process and you’ll barely feel it. If you’re already a New Yorker through and through, if you’ve earned your stripes and your hands are figuratively callused by years of battling subway doors and awful relationships and occasional food-poisoning from 3 a.m. takeout orders – hello! You’ll relate to this list fairly easily, I’m sure.

1. Thou shalt not ask for directions.

I have lived here for the majority of my life, and, despite this, I often have no clue where the heck I’m meant to be going. Google Map it, or you might as well wear a fanny pack and an I <3 NY T-shirt.

2. Thou shall always allow people off the train before getting on yourself.

This is just one of many rules of train etiquette — an entire guidebook could be written for appropriate train behavior. Other important rules include A) You may scoff when someone holds the train door, but you may also do this yourself. B) No food shall be eaten on the train, aside from an occasional, not-too-crunchy granola bar. C) You will be forced to assume elaborate, human-pretzel like positions in order to fit onto busy trains – we all do it, just consider it urban yoga.

3. Thou may be overzealous in your change of dress and the slightest sign of a new season.

You will be judged. Shake it off. This is New York – you could go to the grocery store in a cat costume, and people would assume you’ve got a very good reason for it.

4. Thou shall not scream upon seeing a rat.

At some point, many (but not all) New Yorkers become unfazed to rats scurrying in their periphery. They’re pretty gross, but they’re not coming near you, and their certainly not disappearing. Please do not scream, or shriek, or jump in the way of those who are walking unnecessarily fast to their next destination.

5. Thou shall be, like, totally besties with your neighborhood bodega guy.

Every real New Yorker hits up their local bodega on a regular basis. It’s a part of the routine – you go for the over-the-counter banter just as much as you go for eggs, milk, cigarettes or condoms. Your bodega guy will be nice to you when you’re in a rush or having an off day or hungover and nearly incoherent. Be nice to him. Crack a joke. Pet his cat.

6. Thou shall always carry some cash.

Always have at least ten dollars in your wallet. In case emergency, of course, but also because hipster dive bars often don’t accept credit cards, and happy hour is important.

7. Thou shall never “upstream” others when hailing a cab

We are a tough and scrappy people, but we are not uncivilized. If someone else gets a cab before you, accept defeat.

8. Thou must keep the noise in your apartment to a minimum on weekdays.

Ethically, this is the mark of a person who is both considerate and courteous. Logistically, this is a strategic move to avoid retaliation in the form of loud Wednesday night parties across the hall and passive aggressive notes taped to your door.

9. Thou shall spend too much on food.

Sure, you may be a great cook. You may be a five-star chef. But so is David Chang, and Daniel Boulud, and the fella in the kitchen at your local midnight dumpling spot. Eat out often. Ignore your crying wallet.

10. It’s OK to be overwhelmed.

You probably have a lot of feelings. Being a New Yorker can be hectic, but you learn to live for the buzz of a crazy day and the reward of getting through it. You’ll welcome the bumps and the hiccups just as much as those rare days when everything goes your way. Sure, you may be caffeine-addicted, sleep-deprived and constantly in motion, but the tradeoff is that you’re almost never bored.

I don’t know about you, but I’d take that tradeoff any day.

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