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12 Questions You Need to Stop Asking New Yorkers

Actual questions I’ve been asked from out-of-towners and why they produce the inevitable eye roll.

Whenever I travel outside the city or someone comes to visit, I’m confronted with the same series of questions about what living in New York is like. The typical “Is it safe?” or “Do you ride the subway?” kind of questions. Over the years, they’ve become so commonplace that it’s almost comical—as if we’re forced to accurately describe this cultural epicenter in a soundbite or defend our choice of living here. It’s an impossible task, and far greater minds have tried to capture the spirit of New York in literature, film, and art, but clearly, many folks still want to know a few things. They say to write what you know, and while I’m no spokesperson, here’s what you should probably know–and stop asking, please–about living in New York City.

1. How Much Is Your Rent?

New York is expensive, but you know that already. Rent is a substantial chunk of change due every single month with no reprieve. The financial hits just keep on coming, so, respectfully, please mind your business. Instead of asking how much we pay in rent, simply nod your head in knowing sympathy for all the lost dollars we’ve given up to landlords and offer to buy our next drink.

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Also, why this question all the time? Is it to make us regret our decisions and question our soul path? Or to intentionally throw us into existential dread over whether or not it’s “worth it”? Chances are, our rent is probably more than your mortgage. Yes, I know you “own” your place in the suburbs or wherever, but this is so much better because it’s New York (or at least that’s what we tell ourselves).

Sure, there are ongoing issues with our radiators, a vague fear of asbestos, lopsided flooring, outdated moldings, and limited closet space, but it’s home. Plus, we have a super to fix stuff, a nearby bodega for a midnight snack, and walkable access to some of the best restaurants and museums in the world. You just can’t get that in Teetertown, USA.

But someone really should do something about these rent prices. Speaking of which, whatever happened to “The Rent is Too Damn High” guy who ran for mayor years ago? We should bring him back on the scene.

2. Is New York City Safe?

Well, it’s 2023 in the US of A, so please tell me where you think is safe. Last I heard, alligators in Florida, atmospheric rivers are emerging in California, and almost anyone can openly carry a gun on their hip in Texas. That doesn’t sound too safe to me, so perhaps we should redefine what is considered “safe”?

A city is a city. Be prepared for the unusual and unexpected. Stay alert, ask for help if needed, and walk like you know where you’re going, and you’ll be fine. If someone is bothering you on the subway, for instance, change cars. This city is about movement, change, and spontaneity, so learn to roll with it. But help others, too, if they need it. New York is much kinder than you may think.


3. Do You Travel on the Subway?

Of course, I take the subway. It’s a practical necessity, and on the rare occasion it arrives on time, it’s quicker than a cab. The subway system is an integral part of New York; the veins and arteries keep this urban collective flowing, without which I’m not sure how we’d fare. But speaking of fare, by the time you read this article, MTA prices may have increased yet again, so you’ve been warned.

4. What’s It Like Riding the Subway?

Ah, the gentle sway of the train, rocking us into submission in between the sudden jolts, twists, and deafening screeches of the track, like a man-made cocoon shielding us from the harsh underground elements, swiftly snaking through the trails of infinite possibility. It’s heartwarming, charming, and transcendent. Oh, you were serious with this question?

The subway is not an idyllic place. It’s not luxury transport, and there are problems (yes, of course), but my pockets can’t take cabbing it everywhere. Unless you’re like a TikTok influencer or the son of a celebrity, you’re taking the subway.

It’s not where I want to be during rush hour or a Friday night leaving the East Village, but with the right headphones and a good mentality, you’ll get where you need to go without a problem. It’s reliable when it’s reliable, and for the other 98% of the time, you just wing it. The good news is you’re taught two important life lessons when riding the subway: resilience and patience.

Imagine testing the limits of your mental and physical fortitude daily. During winter, you gotta pry off coat layers one-by-one so you don’t pass out in this underground furnace with the heat blasting. In the summer, there’s always one car without AC and it’s like walking into a humid brick wall at the gates of purgatory. When it’s crowded, it’s a Jenga game with actual human bodies (not fun), and without warning, the train can switch from local to express or turn into an entirely different train just…because. It’s a Tuesday, and you thought the R was going local? Think again, baby.

But there’s a beauty in seeing all kinds of people together in one place–every ethnicity, age group, and demographic (beyond the 1%)–trying to get somewhere (both literally and metaphorically). The subway is a microcosm of New York. If you stay alert and look up from your phone every now and then, you’ll glimpse some beautiful moments: a young man giving up his seat for an elderly person, impossibly cool new fashion, a guitar player belting out an old Spanish love song, relieved workers finally going home after a long day, mothers reading books to their babies, friends sharing headphones and bobbing their heads in unison, funny overheard conversations, lovers nestled together after a night at the opera.

On those rare moments of calm and quiet, and with the right pre-downloads on Spotify, the subway can seem like something straight out of the movies: cinematic, surreal, and profoundly strange. But that’s why you come here right?

INSIDER TIPIf you see a train car with no one inside, go to the next one. There’s a reason it’s empty and you probably don’t want to find out.

5. Do You Have a Dishwasher?

No, many of us living in pre-war buildings must hand wash every mug, wine glass, plate, and bowl. This also means we do not like unexpected guests (in case the sink happens to be full), and etiquette dictates that if you come over to eat, wash your own plate.

6. Do You Have In-Unit Laundry?

I personally do not (see dishwasher question above). I schlep my 20+ pound laundry bag down the block to the nearest laundromat and pay $1 per pound to have it washed. Now sure, I can swap my dollar bills for coins and spend two hours doing it myself, but the laundromat workers are amazing; they’re experts at folding and matching up those socks, so the splurge is worth it (plus I may or may not have forgotten how to fold a fitted sheet properly). I also consider myself *blessed* to forgo the embarrassment of folding my pajamas and underwear in public.

But if there’s a surplus of New Yorkers out there with an in-house washer and dryer unit, let me know. I’d normally assume they’re either 1) super-rich 2) a nepo baby 3) subletting their friend of a friend’s aunties’ cousin’s condo. Or maybe I should just get a better apartment.

7. But Why Do You Live There?

Because New York City is my home. For some, like me, it’s a love-hate relationship (read: sometimes toxic and sometimes achingly passionate), so questioning why we willingly stay here is a frequent experience. New York sometimes tricks you into believing this is the only place in the world to be, but where else is there to go? The whole world, you may say? Sure, but what better city is there in the world than New York? As the clichéd saying goes: “A bad day in New York is still better than a good day anywhere else.”

8. Do You Have Central AC?

No, I have a ratty window unit that won’t cool down anything past the living room, but it beats nothing. Also, central AC in the home is not really “a thing” in many parts of the world, so I’m fine. [Insert that meme of the dog surrounded by flames].


9. What’s a Bodega?

A bodega is our living room and our neighborhood meeting spot. It’s where you go for coffee or a midnight snack, where the workers know you by name and have your deli order memorized. It’s where you catch up with neighbors, ask how their families are doing, and complain about the weather before running to catch the train. There’s normally a bodega cat, too. Essentially, it’s a small grocery store.

10. Do You See Celebrities on the Street All the Time?

Sometimes, sure. But mostly I spend a lot of time looking down so I don’t step in dog poo or trip on the sidewalk. On the occasion that I do stare someone in the face to the point of recognition, then yes. We tend to leave celebrities alone since they work hard too and just want to get wherever they’re going. And if you see them sitting next to you at dinner, don’t be that person and interrupt their meal. Remember the cardinal rule: mind your business.

11. Are There a Lot of Rats?

The rat problem is so bad I can’t even answer this question without shuddering. Yes, I’m looking at you Mayor Adams and the new Rat Czar. Please do something! Those new “smart” compost bins don’t quite work if people leave their food waste right on top, it just becomes a quick feast for the rats. Ugh, let’s not talk about this anymore.

12. Is Living in New York That Bad?

No, it’s not that bad. New York City is a cultural beacon and one of the most diverse places in the world. It’s a city that is brimming with potential and creative energy. There are problems just like any city, but to those who call it home, there really is no place on earth quite like it.

No more questions, please.