Real New Yorkers Share What Surprised Them Most About Moving to the City

published Mar 27, 2017
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(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

If you’ve never lived in—or even been to—New York City before, you probably have a lot of misconceptions about what it’s really like, and the truth is, it’s often not the way it’s portrayed in movies. Living here comes with a lot of important lessons, so we asked real New York residents what surprised them the most about moving to the Big Apple. If you do live in New York, you’ll probably find all of these incredibly relatable—as a New York City transplant myself, I can personally confirm all of these. Especially the part about shoes (and for the record, there aren’t enough bodega cats in my neighborhood, either).

This truth about the moving process:

“I found that finding a spot to park your moving truck/van in front of your apartment was rare if not impossible, and that it could make or break moving day.” – Molly, Brooklyn

How it’s both cleaner than you expect…

“I was surprised at how seriously they take keeping things clean here, despite ‘dirty city’ cliches. My whole building was fined $200 when I messed up the recycling.” – Lauren, Brooklyn

…And yet, somehow also not so much:

“The trash on the streets all the time! Not only on garbage day. I don’t remember this from growing up.” – Sara, Brooklyn

“The scent of garbage, which changes and fluctuates with each season.” – Rae, Brooklyn

That it is possible to live here affordably:

“I was surprised to find out you can live here cheaply, surprisingly. Meals, entertainment, etc.—though I don’t want to set up false hopes about NYC being a bargain city. I was also surprised that people are happy to help you if you ask for it, but they’ll never offer it.” – Matt, Brooklyn

And the people are better than you think…

“The first month I was in New York, I traveled all the way to Elizabeth, New Jersey, to IKEA to buy the cheapest mattress I could buy because I was so broke. It was a very tightly rolled full size mattress, and I carried that thing all the way to Washington Heights on 173 and Broadway. I’m 5’1″ and that mattress was so heavy. I can’t tell you how many New Yorkers swiped me through the turnstiles and when I got to my building? Another New Yorker carried it for me to my apartment on the fifth floor of a walkup.” – Laura, Manhattan

“As someone living in Harlem and working in the south Bronx—it’s not as dangerous as some say. And locals are friendlier than you’d think!” – Brynna, Manhattan

“The relative lack of catcalling compared to D.C. It was almost daily there. Here, it’s been only once in 6 months!” – Mackenzie, Brooklyn

…Even if they’re too busy to show it:

“No one ever says ‘hello’ back to me. And everyone is so busy. In the Midwest the things I do in a day would normally be spread out over a week.” – Bridget, Brooklyn

(Image credit: Melanie Rieders)

The city is bigger than you realize:

“I was shocked by how big the city really is. Try going from Bay Ridge into Williamsburg on a Saturday night.” – Alyse, Brooklyn

But its size is also deceiving:

“I see and talk to my neighbors in my building waaaaaayyyy more than I ever did in Chicago or Seattle—granted a lot of that is due to the couple that has a smoking station in the hallway, but still. Also the amount I run into people I know.” – Nora, Brooklyn

“That even though New York is so big, it feels very small. You will definitely run into your ex on the G train.” – Erika, Brooklyn

And the rooms really are that small:

“They’re not kidding when they say apartments are small. I went from having a whole apartment to myself to a 7′ by 9′ bedroom. I thought I got rid of a lot in the move, but when all the boxes got to NYC, that little bedroom was covered floor-to-ceiling. You will not want free stuff as much as you used to—no space for it.” – Anne, Hoboken, NJ (formerly Manhattan)

But there are more parks than you realize:

“I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of public green space.” – Henry, Manhattan

The complexities of ordering food:

“You can order anything you want, basically any time of day or night.” – Jennifer, Manhattan

“It’s so much harder to find good pho than it was in Houston! Also I hate with my life that fountain drinks are nowhere and I have to pay $4 every time i want a refill of Coke.” – Emily, Brooklyn

“The lack of good tortillas or tamales.” – Alex, Brooklyn

“Waiters here never ask if you’re going to be on separate checks. This seems like a dumb small thing, but this is a thing everywhere else.” – Biz, Brooklyn

That slow-walkers exist here too…

“People walk so slowly! I moved back after school in Baltimore, and figured my days of slow-walkers were over. Nope. Sometimes it’s just as bad.” – Marshall, Queens

(Image credit: Sascha Reinking)

How quickly you assimilate:

“It shocked me how quickly I went from being the annoying tourist walking slowly to getting way too angry at the annoying tourists walking slowly.” – Kevin, Brooklyn

And how you need quality shoes either way:

“How quickly the city destroys your shoes! Growing up in Memphis, a pair of flats could last me years. In NYC, between the filthy streets and the amount of walking I do, I’m lucky if one pair can last 4 months!” – Candace, Manhattan

That alcohol is more accessible here:

“Happy hours are actually a thing, and you can order alcohol before noon. In Boston this was not the case… ever.” – Louisa, Brooklyn

“No one asks for your ID when you order a drink, minus clubs on weekends. That was the first weird thing I noticed. I used to take out my ID from habit. I’m originally from Maine and they card everyone even if you’re well in your 30s.” – Katie, Brooklyn

How the subway is both better and worse than you think:

“The NYC subway is both the best and worst part of your day. I frequently find myself having genuinely wonderful, random interactions with strangers, from the dude who watched me play a race car game on my iPad and cheered me on, to the frustrated commuter who ranted with me about the C train stopping a few yards shy of our stop. And then on some days I want nothing more than to yell at the dance troupe performing on my L train when I already have a headache. As someone who grew up in the suburbs, public transport was a real surprise.” – Ella, Brooklyn

This relatable debate about bodega cats:

“There are not nearly as many bodega cats as promised.” – Erin, Brooklyn

“There are too many bodega cats in my neighborhood if you ask me” – Eric, Brooklyn

This solid life advice:

“First—never ever get into an empty subway car. And second, making friends in New York is really hard, and being in a relationship when you move here is usually detrimental to that.” – Sam, Brooklyn

And this perfect summary:

“Everything is cash only, public crying happens all the time, and it’s totally normal to find a new apartment or room days before you’re supposed to move out of your old one.” – Meagan, Chicago, IL (formerly Brooklyn)