Forkgate And Other New York-isms

Subway_EntranceRecently our new Mayor, Bill De Blasio committed “Forkgate“— eating his pizza slice with a knife and fork, leading the NY Daily News to exclaim, “The mayor of New York City eats his pizza like a tourist!”* And for a moment, I felt his pain. Forkgate took me back to my first year in the city, landing here after voluntarily expatriating myself from my country for a decade or so.

When I finally exhausted my wanderlust and hung up my hiking boots, I landed in New York only to experience some of the most profound culture shock of my travels. The pace, the volume, the intensity, density, naked ambition, direct expression was at odds with my upbringing just up the road in New England. But, it was this frank honest advice (mostly unsolicited) in pre-internet sketchy Dinkins New York that helped keep me and other neophytes safe from harm and Forkgate. Back then, not wanting to be marked as a tourist had more to do with safety than with social faux pas.

While cracking the job and apartment hunt gives you a foothold in the city, it’s mastering the cultural nuances that give you a sense of belonging. My favorite New Yorkisms passed on to me by my local senseis weren’t how to find a great deal on an apartment (That. Will. Never. Happen) or how to get a cab in rush hour in the rain (ditto never happening), but the little things, the things that keep you from committing Forkgate.

So while I will always wait IN line, never ON line (unless of course there is an actual line on which I am meant to stand)—meaning that I may never consider myself a New Yorker—these are my favorite 10 New Yorkisms. Not Googled, but passed on to me by friends and strangers in the parks, on the subway and yes, while grabbing a slice:

1. How to read the subway station globes
The big globe lamps at the top of subway entrance stairs were originally for illumination. In the early 1980s, to try to prevent muggings, transit officials started a color-code system to warn riders away from entrances that were closed at night. Entrances with open Metrocard machines or booths have lamps with green on the top half. Red topped lamps mean no entrance—a full body turnstile permits exit only.

2. Safety first!
Walk with a purpose; keep your bag strapped across your chest; turn your rings and jewelery in so the stones don’t show; a block away from home, pull out your keys and stick them between your fingers (presto- a sort of knuckleduster); and lastly: stand away from the subway platform edge. Not just a safety slogan. Brought home to me after a woman was pushed in front of an oncoming train at my stop.


3. Navigate Central Park by lamp-post
Certainly not a safety tip, just quirky trivia. All lamp-posts have a four digit code unique to each lamp. The first two digits are the cross street that the post is closest to, the second two represent how many posts the lamp is away from 5th Ave…I think. That part has been partially wiped from my hard drive.

4. Location, location, location (Manhattan)
Before Google maps and smart phones, how to ascertain an address’ location involved some insane math that I never memorized (take an address, cancel the last figure, divide by 2, add or subtract a certain number depending on the avenue, eye of newt and voila you get the nearest cross street). What I did retain (and most important especially when running late for a meeting): It takes one minute to walk a block going north/south, three or four minutes to walk a block heading east/west

5. Ride in the front of the first subway car and watch the tracks unfold before you
Do take the A train—it’s like a $2.50 roller coaster ride. And, you can reverse the journey, at no extra cost.


6. No one cares what you wear
No matter how much care you take, or how much you spend, there will always be 4 million more beautiful people. On the upside no matter how bad a day you’re having there will always 4 million crazier people.

7. Don’t gawk at celebrities
Not unique to New York by any means, but because I know you won’t tell anyone, I confess that I once backtracked  half a mile in Central Park so I could walk (indifferently of course) past Liam Neeson a second time…

8. Looking for a New York apartment? (All boroughs)
When spending three quarters of your monthly paycheck on housing, you’ll have to choose light, space, OR location, never all three. To this one I might also add “layout” as I looked at too many apartments with no 90 degree corners, bedrooms accessed through other bedrooms and the old favorite, the bathroom in the kitchen.

9. An empty subway car means trouble
Waiting in rush hour in 100 degree heat/0 degree cold and the subway pulls up with an empty car? At best a bad smell/broken AC, at worst a bad person.

10. Don’t look at oncoming drivers or pedestrians in the eye—it means you have to give way to them
I would add that this applies when you’re in the zone of the daily commute or in a rush to get somewhere, not heading to your local bodega for coffee and a bagel (and the Sunday New York Times Crossword)

Now for the other side of the coin, please visit a New Yorker wrestling with her expat life abroad. We know you’ll enjoy Dina’s inimitable style and wit. Her reverse relationship to New York (leaving the city for her adopted home in Copenhagen) is here:

*How to eat a pizza slice—New York style: folded lengthwise and preferably while walking.