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9 Californian Habits I Lost When I Moved to New York

California New York City Student Work
by Courtney Zell Mar 16, 2015

1. Living in flip flops

When I moved to New York from Southern California, nothing deterred me from spending summers gradually wearing the flimsy soles of my favorite flip flops down to the width of a Metrocard — not even ending each day by scrubbing the blackened soles of my feet in my Brooklyn bathtub. Then, on a humid Chinatown morning, I abruptly realized just how close my naked feet were to the trash-strewn New York City sidewalks. When that hit me, flip flops were reserved only for visits back to the beach.

2. Being picky about Mexican food

On the way to becoming a New Yorker, I lost some of my extreme pickiness about whether Mexican food outside of the west coast can be “good.” I found that I was so homesick for the comfort of familiar Californian tastes that anything from the Times Square Chevy’s to the bizarre Mexican food / Chinese food hybrid storefronts in the Bronx satisfied that craving. And once I discovered the various Mexican-American enclaves throughout the city, any remaining snobbishness toward east coast Mexican food melted away.

3. Being unwilling to speak up

When I arrived in NYC, I lacked the assertiveness that helps many New Yorkers navigate their days through such a hectic city. It took a lot of practice to be able to make myself heard in a crowd. The breakthrough for me came when I found myself yelling over the heads of dozens of bus passengers to ask the driver to release the doors. More so than learning to maneuver through service changes on the subways or the grid of city streets with aplomb, speaking up marked my coming of age as a New Yorker.

4. Fearing parallel parking

Despite being expert motorists, many Californians are not confident parallel parkers.

In New York City, I took a job carting my fellow undergrads from the Bronx to Manhattan in a purple fifteen passenger van. Though parallel parking in midtown was daunting, I gradually learned not only to ease the hefty van into the smallest of spots, but I became an unabashed double parker as well.

5. Buying food in bulk

Finally situated in my very own New York City apartment, my fantasies of self sufficiency centered largely around grocery shopping. I day-dreamed of the bounty in my grocery cart, overflowing with my favorite treats. But in these suburban-sized dreams, you can drive your bounty home. Reality hit on the six block walk home as the heavy bag handles chaffed and my biceps screamed. Without a car, I adjusted my habits to buy just what I could carry. I no longer got a workout worthy of a bodybuilder, but this broken habit was both economically and environmentally beneficial.

6. Taking space for granted

The west is expansive: plenty of room and a mindset to match. The view from the plane shows my hometown sprawling like a spilled beverage forming an ever-expanding puddle — much like my bedroom, where as long as there was visible floor, my belongings consumed more and more real estate. However, in New York, wiggle room is at a premium and apartments require a creative use of space. New Yorkers are adept at making tiny spaces liveable. Clutter is chaos and the whole ecosystem of the home falls apart if you don’t put everything in its proper place.

7. Having a thin skin

I arrived from California with very thin skin, but survival in New York requires a newbie to toughen up. A lot of people reside in NYC and sometimes it seems like everyone in the city is simultaneously having a bad day. If you are not keeping pace, you get called out for it. I still get a twinge when I receive an eyeroll or someone shoves past me, but life sweeps by quickly in New York and there is no time to dwell on hurt feelings.

8. Being oblivious to the weather

For most of the year, a Southern Californian rarely needs to plan around the mild weather. In NYC there are weather events with loony names: snorricanes, snowpocalypses, and superstorms. Whether it’s too hot or too cold, people are talking about it, and new arrivals have to pick up the art of weather small talk. You must be able to complain about the forecast — the over-the-top media hype, the transportation problems, the onslaught of snow — but you must be careful to temper those complaints, as there is always someone ready to point out their more miserable commute.

9. Making too much eye contact

Whether they truly are absorbed in their phones or aware of every movement around them, New Yorkers have a remarkable ability to shut out the commotion and retreat into their own worlds, especially on a crowded train. In fact, the more awkward the situation — from subway toenail clippers to people flinging spaghetti at each other — the less a seasoned New Yorker will notice. After moving from California, I gradually relinquished the habit of making eye contact and smiling at strangers, and adopted the kind of practiced NYC obliviousness that actually puts people at ease in close quarters.

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