A few weeks ago, I shared what I loved most about spending a few weeks living in New York City. While I admitted that 7 weeks in Chelsea does not make me an expert on the topic of living in NYC, the experience of renting an apartment, grocery shopping, entertaining the baby and doing the bi-weekly laundry certainly gave me a good insight into what life in New York might look like if we relocated here.
So, for anyone thinking the Big Apple might be a place they’d like to live I thought I would honestly share some of the things I struggled with.
Here are the worst things about living in New York City from my biased British perspective :p
The worst things about living in New York City
Who knew that New York in the summer smells like the backstreets of Bangkok? Not me! I remember stepping outside on the first super humid day in June and assuming it must be garbage day, except there was no garbage on the streets, just the stink from where it had been previously.
We were staying in an apartment block with a doorman and I discovered its part of his job to collect litter and spray the sidewalks with a powerful hose every morning for us privileged snobs within. You can’t hide the decaying smell of the drains though.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record because I’ve moaned all over Instagram about how much I dislike the subway but I can honestly tell you it’s given me a greater appreciation for London Underground, which is like a high-tech transit system from the future compared to NYC’s subway.
The major issue is how inaccessible large swathes of the subway are. (This video by Sarah Funk shows just how hard it is for people with mobility issues to get around the city.) Speaking from the perspective of a parent pushing a stroller, it drove me mad walking many blocks out of my way to get to a station with an elevator only to find it out of service or filled with piss. I often had to rely on the kindness of strangers to get Miles and I up and down the multiple steps and then there was the awkwardness of the turnstiles to deal with. Taking a taxi means I was lumbered with the car seat for the day and I never could work out the bus so often I just carried Miles in the buggy up and down the steps and my back paid for it later. Physically, I could only manage to take the subway every other day but luckily I had nowhere in particular I needed to be. I’ve no idea how New York parents do it every day.
It turns out its fairly difficult to find an apartment in Manhattan with a washing machine and believe me I tried. Our block’s laundry room was well-maintained and never too busy but my goodness what a faff it is having to leave your apartment with a baby just to do the washing.
I lost whole days to the charade of feeding, washing and dressing the baby, strapping him on me/in the buggy, going down to load the machine and then repeating that routine 3 times until we were finished. On days he was still napping upstairs when I was due to move the wet washing to the dryer I might come down and find it in a damp heap in the corner if someone else needed the machine after me. I also picked up a few bonus things in our loads, like lost socks and sexy G-strings that definitely don’t belong to me!
You know what’s nice about coming home to suburbia? Not having to queue up and down the aisles of Trader Joes just to pick up a pint of milk. In a big city like New York of course you can expect long queues but when they are a part of everything you do – from getting diapers* at the pharmacy to grabbing something for dinner, it does start to get tedious. (Oh, and don’t be that rookie who stands around looking confused when servers shout ‘following’ at you. You haven’t just picked up a new Insta fan but are actually being beckoned to the till. Turns out they don’t shout ‘next’ like you see in the movies.)
*And, yes I did ask 3 members of staff for nappies before twigging they are diapers here.
The Cost Of Living
Speaking of dinner, my goodness, groceries are expensive in NYC. I don’t know where Manhattanites get their groceries on a regular basis because none of the usual superstores have stores or offer delivery in the city and shopping at Wholefoods, Trader Joes and the local bodegas gets very expensive quickly. I resorted to ordering items in bulk from Amazon Fresh, but when you’re paying for delivery plus tip it doesn’t work out much cheaper. Don’t get me started on the cost of Pret either – it works out double the UK price for a ham and cheese sandwich – and my regular cup of Joe Coffee (see below) set me back $5 (that’s £4 or $7.40 AUD!).
Call me a coffee snob (living in Oz will do that for you) but I can’t stand the filter coffee that’s so ubiquitous in American eateries. I’d never order a coffee with my food in New York but would seek out places I knew I could get a good brew afterwards instead. We were very lucky to have a Joe Coffee Company opposite our apartment that did excellent espresso and thanks to all the Aussie expats in NYC it turns out you’re never far from a decent Flat White in Manhattan either.
Read all about my favourite Aussie cafes and coffee shops in NYC here.
Service, Tax and Tips
Even after 7 weeks of living with the US way of pricing things I still forgot that the figure you see on the menu/price tag is not the price you end up paying. This will never stop annoying me.
The Road Traffic
Of course you expect traffic in a city like NYC but what I hadn’t anticipated is the hours it would take us to get out of the city when heading to places like The Hamptons or JFK. Almost every car journey we took out of Manhattan involved hours of sitting stationary, watching the estimated journey time creep up rather than down. I’m not sure there is ever an ‘off-peak’ time for car journeys in New York but maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough!
The Foot Traffic
It’s not just the roads that get super congested in New York but at certain times of day you can hardly move on the sidewalks either, particularly if you’re trying to push a buggy. I tried to stay off the streets during commuting hours because it would get really difficult for me to push the stroller on the sidewalk and, if I’m honest, people got super huffy with me for being in their way. (And I’m a fast walker from years of living in London!)
By and large, I was blown away by how sweet people were to the baby in New York – stopping us for a chat in supermarkets and waving to him as we passed on the street – unless they were behind us on a busy sidewalk or trying to come up or down the subway stairs while I was struggling to carry him. In these cases, New Yorkers hated me!
And finally, one of the most bittersweet things about living in NYC is the feeling that you are always missing out on something. Having a duvet day, tackling laundry or basically doing anything that keeps you within your 4 walls at home feels like sacrilege in a city like New York, which always has something happening.
Even after 7 weeks of slowing exploring different neighbourhoods, I have barely touched the sides of what this place has to offer. My list of things I wanted to do in New York still has more things left on it than ticked off it – how crazy is that.
Guess we’ll just have to go back, and at least this time I’ll know all about how to handle the subway and find decent coffee.