Posted by: Esther Bernstein | 18th May, 2017

Your Real New York

One of those quizzes was circulating on Facebook recently, this one about foods in New York. The quiz itself was amusing, a bit of fun. But the comments were more interesting to me. There were some very strong opinions about items in the list.

“I’m a New Yorker born and bred, and I got a low score on this quiz because I’ve never been in the fancy restaurants on this list. That isn’t ‘the real New York.'”

“I’m a New Yorker born and bred and I’ve never eaten from the halal carts. That’s a tourist attraction. That isn’t ‘the real New York.'”

The really interesting part is that anyone thinks there is only one “real New York.” If you spend all your time in one neighborhood, you might think you know what New York is about. But move just five blocks over, and you may have entered a different world.

If I have one piece of advice to someone moving to New York for the first time, it would be this: Explore. Find your spot. Find your “real New York.” And then keep exploring.

I grew up in Brooklyn and went to City College in Harlem. I was in and out of Brooklyn and Manhattan fairly often, and I was sure I knew many parts of New York. I was pretty confident in my subway abilities.

Then I moved to Morningside Heights, and suddenly realized everything I thought I’d known about how Manhattan works was from a visitor’s perspective. I took the local B train from Morningside Heights to the Graduate Center. As I spent some time above ground in the neighborhoods along that route, I began imagining them above me as I traveled each morning and evening. It’s kind of cool, that realization that in a 20-minute train ride, I’ve passed under at least four distinct areas.

When you get to New York, the most important area to get to know might be midtown, around the Graduate Center. But even here, if you ask a GC student about what’s good to eat in this area, the answer you get will vary wildly depending on whether that student tends to go south or north to find food.

Get to know the neighborhood where you’re living too. But don’t forget to venture into other areas. If you’re going to do a weekend brunch, travel a bit and head to a place you’ve never been. If you’re going to study or do some work, find a cafe in another part of New York. Take long walks – especially at the beginning of the year when the weather is still nice – and pay attention to the changing facades as you make your way across town.

Don’t isolate yourself in Bushwick, Astoria, and midtown. Get to know your city, and to appreciate that someone else’s “real New York” will be very different from your own.

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