I was born on the Upper West Side, at a time in New York when things were still crummy, but just starting to turn around. Even since moving to Long Island, the city is very much a part of who I am, and its culture vibrates through me as I trundle into Midtown Manhattan on the LIRR.
New Yorkers are stereotyped as over-aggressive, passive-aggressive, and everywhere in between — probably because of the linguistic diversity many cultures bring with them when they move here. While these aren’t representative of every citizen within New York City’s 8.3 million, for those that have lived here long enough, we can all interpret the layers hidden beneath the surface of what is actually said.
What they say: Should we cab it?
What they mean: I’m way to drunk/lazy to deal with the subway right now.
What they say: The G is the worst.
What they mean: The G is my personal nightmare. Of all the MTA hells in the world, I had to live off the G train.
What they say: Take the 1 local train downtown to 42nd Street, then take the shuttle across town to Grand Central Station, then take the 6 train uptown to 96th Street…
What they mean: WHY ARE THERE NO SUBWAY LINES THAT RUN EAST TO WEST ABOVE 42ND STREET, DAMMIT?!
What they say: Hey do you have a car?
What they mean: I’m changing apartments and I don’t want to hire a moving company.
I want to go to IKEA.
IKEA is in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and is 23 minutes’ walking-distance from the nearest subway station.
What they say: What are you having for lunch?
What they mean: I’m in the mood for Chipotle / Pret-A-Manger / Blossom Du Jour and yes, I’m spending an extra $2 to get guacamole / Pure coconut water / gluten-free bread.
Nothing says New York like a $12 lunch.
What they say: Want to grab some drinks?
What they mean: Let’s find the bar with the cheapest Happy Hour and be blackout drunk by 7pm.
What they say: Let’s get brunch!
What they mean: Let’s find the restaurant that serves the cheapest bottomless brunch and get blackout drunk by 2pm.
My pick: Epstein’s.
What they say: Yeah, I met such-and-such celebrity one time…
What they mean: I saw such-and-such celebrity on the subway one time, but they got off at the next stop before I got the chance to covertly Instagram them.
I stood outside the stage door at a Broadway show and waited for them to autograph my playbill.
What they say: I don’t do Manhattan.
What they mean: I’m too poor to hang out in Manhattan.
And you probably live in Brooklyn.
What they say: I don’t do Brooklyn.
What they mean: If I see another fucking hipster, I’m going to shove their pork pie hat down their throat.
And you probably live in Manhattan.
What they say: I don’t do Queens.
What they mean: I have no idea how to get to Queens, or what there is to do there.
You most likely live in Brooklyn, and don’t realize that Queens is right above you.
What they say: You live on Long Island? That’s so far…
What they mean: I know nothing about the geography of Long Island, except that really rich people have houses in the Hamptons.
Just for reference, there is a stretch of land between the end of Queens and where the Hamptons begin.
What they say: I’m an actor/actress.
What they mean: I’m a waiter/waitress.
Career waiters make far too much money to bother with acting.
What they say: I’m in finance.
What they mean: I slave away 65 hours a week at a hedge fund, but I’m rich as helllll because of it.
What they say: I’m a fashion designer.
What they mean: I work at Forever 21.
What they say: I’m a blogger / DJ / artist.
What they mean: I’m unemployed.
Not to say that bloggers / DJs / artists don’t make any money, but competition in NYC is so fierce, the cash is probably not very steady.
What they say: I’m a bike messenger.
What they mean: I sell drugs.
What they say: I share an apartment / have a roommate.
What they mean: I pay over $1,000 to live in a 5×7 room, and there are always dirty dishes in the sink.
This is how most New Yorkers start out.
What they say: I live in a studio.
What they mean: I have my own place, but it’s super small, and I pay over $2,000 for it.
Picture the living room of your house. Now picture the living room with a bed, kitchen, and an IKEA coffee table in it. Yeah, that small.
What they say: I live in a junior one bedroom.
What they mean: I live in a studio with French doors, or some kind of accordion room divider, that makes it feel like it’s a one bedroom. You shouldn’t crash at my place, though, because you’ll definitely hear me having sex.
What they say: I live in Manhattan.
What they mean: My apartment is a shoebox, but I earn enough money to pay my rent, and still feed and clothe myself.
Congratulations, you’re living the dream!
What they say: I live on the Upper East Side (said with confidence).
What they mean: My family is riiiiiiccccchhh.
Maybe you went to prep school. Or maybe you are some distant relative of the Astors. Or maybe you are a trust fund baby.
What they say: I live on the Upper East Side… (said with a slight rising intonation).
What they mean: I live on First Avenue, and it takes me ten blocks to get to the nearest subway station.
What they say: I live in the East Village / Lower East Side.
What they mean: I go to NYU and share an apartment with five other people, and I’m only allowed to cook vegan food in their kitchen.
The East Village and Alphabet City used to be complete shitholes in the ’90s, but gentrification cleared that right up!
What they say: Slight laughter
What they mean: I’ve lived here my whole life, probably somewhere super posh like Park Avenue, Tribeca, or the West Village, but I don’t want to make you feel bad.
What they say: I live in East Williamsburg.
What they mean: I live in Bushwick.
“East Williamsburg” is a term real estate brokers use to swindle you into living in an apartment next to a crack den, but within close proximity to actual Williamsburg.
What they say: I live off of the L.
What they mean: I live so far into Bushwick I’m embarrassed to tell you what subway station I get off at.
It’s likely past Myrtle/Wyckoff, or actually somewhere on the J/M line.
What they say: I live in the Bronx.
What they mean: Don’t fuck with me.
What they say: I live in Queens.
What they mean: My apartment is in someone else’s house. Like, a legit house. With a backyard and everything. But I’m not allowed to use it.
What they say: I live in Staten Island.
What they mean: You will never see me in any other borough, unless I’m there for work, or someone’s bachelor party.
What they say: You’ve probably never heard about this place. / No one knows about this place.
What they mean: I read about this place in Time Out New York, and thought it’d be cool to see it for myself.
There is nothing truly “undiscovered” in New York — trust me.
What they say: I hate tourists.
What they mean: Times Square was definitely my favorite place in NYC before I moved here.
What they say: A slight grunt after bumping into you
What they mean: I’m sorry for bumping into you! I’m just really in a rush.
What they say: Complete silence after bumping into you
What they mean: I’m not sorry for bumping into you at all.
What they say: I’m from New York City.
What they mean: I moved here X amount of years ago, and think it’s cooler to say I’m from New York than where I’m actually from.
What they say: New York City isn’t what it used to be.
What they mean: I haven’t actually lived here long enough to make that assessment, but the place that only sells tiramisu just shut down, and now I’m bummed.
What they say: I need to get out of the city.
What they mean: I’ve reached my breaking point, but let’s be real here — I’m not going anywhere.
What they say: Only in New York.
What they mean: Watching a homeless man pee in the corner of a subway car makes me feel really uncomfortable, but I can’t let on about it because then I won’t seem like a “true” New Yorker.
What they say: I hate New York!
What they mean: I really do love New York, but I’m so jaded / stone-hearted that sometimes my feelings are all sorts of cray.
What they say: I love New York!
What they mean: I really do love it here, but it hasn’t been easy. But I also know, I’m super lucky.