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A Suburbanite’s Guide to Manhattan

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Early last month, I moved from my neighborhood in New Jersey to the heart of New York City, and while my town wasn’t that small – with a population of twenty-five thousand residents as of 2019 – suddenly finding myself living shoulder-to-shoulder with over eight million people was certainly a culture shock. Don’t get me wrong, though, this isn’t an expert’s guide to the Big Apple (as I said, I’ve only been here for two months) but rather a suburbanite’s first impressions, and ones you might find useful if you’re going to be coming from a suburbs.

Everyone’s In A Rush

There’s a reason why it’s called the “city that never sleeps”, and I suppose we all know this in some way, but seeing just how busy it really is is a whole different animal entirely. I quickly discovered that nobody is willing to let you inconvenience them for a single second. I can’t tell you how many times I bumped into somebody, or had to quickly side-step off the sidewalk and onto an apartment stoop to let a herd of giggling girls or busy businessmen pass. The only times I’ve seen people stop moving is when they’re waiting for the light, and even then most Manhattan residents disregard the light entirely and continue hurrying along, a reality of city life that honestly flabbergasted me. Oh, and don’t expect bikes to wait for you, either; they’ll risk weaving their way through a maze of bodies to get where they’re going – narrowly crushing your toes.

You Might Be Alone

This may seem unlikely in a city where you can have a million people between you and your neighbor, but as Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby said, “I like parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties, there isn’t any privacy.” One of the reasons New York City appealed to me was because you can hide in plain sight. Fly under the radar and go virtually unnoticed amongst the crowd. Now, just because you’re alone, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be lonely. If you’re a social butterfly, it’ll probably be easy for you to break through Manhattan’s cold abrasiveness and collect a good number of friends.

It’s A People Watcher’s Paradise

I saw a 75-year-old gypsy wearing an eyepatch, a bandana, and a white beard that’ll give Santa Claus an inferiority complex, a skinny kid wearing a t-shirt of Deadpool riding a unicorn and wheeling around a speaker suitcase, and a man with a thick African accent preaching on the street corner about Jesus Christ was coming back any day now – and this was all in the same week! Every day you’ll see somebody interesting, and will be able to be provided a glimpse into their stories, whether it be comedic, tragic, or anything in between. From a doo-wop group singing on the subway to a tuba player blowing his horn down the streets of Greenwich Village to an aspiring artist bare-chested and painted all in white with a replica of the Washington Square Arch atop his head dramatically reading from the Bill of Rights (all things I’ve seen, by the way), you’ll never have a day go by where you don’t see a fascinating individual.

It’s Also Unsafe

Of course, we all know this, but if you’re from a suburban neighborhood, you probably naturally trust those around you, until they give you a reason not to. Here, it’s the opposite, and unfortunately for good reason. You don’t greet people on the subway nor give them a friendly wave on the street; unless you already know them, you pretend everyone else you see outside is invisible. Oftentimes people who make the fatal mistake of saying something to a stranger on the street result in them getting attacked, and so I was told very early on to keep my head down. Again, we all probably knew this from TV, but living amongst it is a whole different feeling.

Get The Apps!

As a millennial, I have no idea how people were able to live in this city prior to the invention of the smartphone. A virtually absent sense of direction combined with a brain far more interested in its own thoughts than paying attention to where it’s going has resulted in me having to download several apps: Citibike, Transit, NY Waterway, NJ Transit, and Apple Maps. New York may be a grid, but I’ll be damned if I can find my way without these apps being a necessity, and don’t expect to be able to take a half a second delay in the train, or else you’ll risk either getting trampled by a wave of people behind you or having the doors close and get taken a mile further down the island than you needed to.

But these are just my experiences. Born and raised in a suburban neighborhood has left me quite insular to life in the big city – or really anywhere besides the five square miles of my village. After only two months here I think some parts of me have changed, and hopefully, they will for you, too.

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Craig Klein

New School '23

Aspiring author from suburbia who recently moved into the big city, hoping to make it big and already realizing he grossly underestimated Frankie's line "If you could make it there, you'll make it anywhere."
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