One of my earliest trips abroad was to New York City. Unfortunately, any pictures of that journey have been lost a long time ago, so instead here’s a list of things you should do in New York City. Or not do. Whatever, it’s actually more of an excuse for me to write a few anecdotes about my time in the city.
Ask for a Cigarette
I was a pack-a-day smoker when I was in New York City, and I enjoyed a few drinks in the night time. One night I went outside from a bar for a smoke and realised that I was out of cigarettes. I saw someone nearby and I asked if he could give me a cigarette. Only I used British English. And the phrase I used means something completely different in the USA.
He gave me an odd look after I said it. Still, I could almost see the cogs turning in his head. Thankfully he eventually realised I was British, understood what I actually meant, and he handed me one of his “fags”. I lit up and made a mental note to stop using that phrase.
At the time of writing this I have given up on the cancer sticks so I’m unlikely to make this mistake again.
Try the Hottest Buffalo Wings in the City
One thing I discovered a love for in New York was Buffalo wings. I’d eat them most nights, and mention them when people asked me what I’d liked so far about the city. One night I was told where to find the best wings in the city.
I can’t remember where it was, since this was over ten years ago. But it might have been Atomic Wings in Tribeca. Either that, or it doesn’t exist any more. Anyway, I’m not recommending this place specifically, but I am recommending that you should talk to people and find out where to go for them. Or just go to Buffalo and eat them there.
Anyway, I went there and I saw all the different strengths the wings could be. Mild, strong, nuclear, atomic. At the time I had never been to Szechuan province and discovered true spiciness, so I played it safe and ordered medium. Maybe some psychology was at play, but they were the best wings I’d had so far. And I did struggle a little with the spice…
After discovering them in New York, I’ve eaten buffalo wings everywhere. The Philippines has good wings, the Rooster in Shanghai has the best wings in the city. I even had wings in Sligo and they were some of the best I’d ever had. Only thing is, after ten years in China, they don’t seem all that spicy to me anymore. Or maybe those (non) atomic wings really are best I’ve ever had.
Don’t Not Book a Ticket for the Statue of Liberty in Advance
I really wanted to visit the Statue of Liberty while I was in the city. But I didn’t do any research ahead of time. I missed out because you have to book it months in advance. We could have still gone to the base, but I didn’t want to go to the island and not climb the statue. In the end we settled for the Empire State Building instead.
I tend to be a “live in the moment” kind of person. But I’ve learned that it often pays off to have a plan. Nowadays I try to at least have a basic itinerary when I travel, but I still keep things open. You never know what might happen when you just go somewhere on a whim with no real plan in place.
Speak English Everywhere
It turns out that English won’t get you everywhere in New York City. We found it hard to find English speakers on Staten Island, and when we went to Brighton Beach all the signs were in Russian.
New York City is often portrayed as a multicultural city in sitcoms and movies. It turns out that New York City is a even more multicultural than that. You will hear multiple languages, see people watching European sports like
soccerfootball, eat German sausages and Italian pizzas, and start to understand why people often refer to themselves as “Otherculture-American” rather than just “American”.
They say that New York is the “city that never sleeps”. After wandering around the city at 3am I can tell you that is a lie. I lived in its sister city, Shanghai, for nearly 11 years. THAT is a city that never sleeps. Well, as long as there isn’t a 4-day lockdown that actually goes on for months. But that’s another story.
At 2am in Shanghai most bars are still open. In New York most are closed. At 3am in Shanghai you can sit down in a restaurant and eat hotpot. In New York no restaurants are open. At 4am in Shanghai you can dance in any night club and even some bars. In New York you need to know where to go. At 5am in Shanghai you can order malatang to your home. In New York you’ll have to wait a couple hours. At 6am in Shanghai you can be waking up in a night club or bar and start making your way home. In New York you have to find an inn, or rest outside.
So in New York it’s good to sleep at night. But make sure you go back to your hotel first. Unlike bars and clubs in Asia, the Western world tends to be less tolerant of patrons taking a nap in their establishments.
Meet an Irishman
I went to an Irish bar near Times Square that poured some good Guinness. As I was alone, I started talking to the bartender while he wasn’t busy. He spoke with what I thought at the time to be a strong Irish accent. I asked him when he came to America. He told me his family came over in the 1800s.
It was a strange feeling. I’m Irish by descent. I can get an Irish passport. Yet I consider myself an Englishman, and I feel weird whenever anyone says I’m Irish. I jokingly call myself a Plastic Paddy, especially when talking to people from Ireland about my origins. I don’t want to steal their thunder.
Yet in America people who have never been to Ireland will call themselves Irish. They consider Irish to be a culture, rather than a nationality. This can be jarring, especially to anyone from Ireland or the UK. To us, they aren’t Irish because they don’t have Irish citizenship. But to Americans, they are Irish because of their cultural origins.
It’s one of those differences in the way Americans and British use language, one that unfortunately causes some confusion and is often interpreted as offensive by people from Ireland.
New York City image by Pexels. Smoking image by Aamir Mohd Khan. Buffalo wings image by Pizza Man. Statue of Liberty image by Jackie Ramirez. Staten Island Ferry Image by Bruce Emmerling. Fire hydrant image by Malachi Witt. Sleeping image by Terry. Bar image by Christian_Birkholz. All images sourced from Pixabay.