10 truths I wish I’d known before I moved to New York

Words by Corey Vlahos

Illustration by Twylamae

New York, New York.

It was 5:45am on the MTA – the New York subway. I was making my daily commute to work, guzzling down my iced coffee when a homeless man lying across from me pulled down the front of his pants and began to piss everywhere. Suffice to say, his aim wasn’t the best and it went all over my shoes. This is just one of the many wonderful experiences New York has offered me so far. And between you and me, I’ve loved every minute of it.

And now thanks to visas like the J-1 and the E-3, more Australians are crossing the Pacific Ocean to work in the land of the free. Before I made the move I’d visited twice – making the 18-hour journey to scope out the vibe, work opportunities, and visit all the Gossip Girl landmarks. But nothing could have prepared me for these 10 truths.

1. The subway is a temperamental creature

New York is known for many wonderful things – like its bagels for example. Its transportation system, however, is not one of them. The subway carriages are cramped, manspreading is a widespread occurrence and passengers like to groom themselves during their morning commute. Don’t let this deter your Sex and the City fantasies though. If you ever find yourself sitting next to a passenger who is clipping their toenails, I suggest narrowing your eyes in disgust and filming it for you Instagram Story. The doors will eventually open, you will exit, and all will be well again.

2. State and Federal taxes will probably induce a heart attack… or at least mild anxiety

Working in New York is the most incredible and nerve-wracking experience you may ever endure. So here’s the 411 before you receive your first payslip: Taxes and the cost of living in New York are so high that my grandfather’s blood pressure in comparison looks normal – and he has severe diabetes.  If you’re being taxed for Social Security and Medicare, speak to payroll ASAP – you’re not eligible for those benefits and trust me, every penny counts.

3. Health care is very much a business

When it was time to pick up refills of my medication, I made an appointment at the local Urgent Medical Center – the American equivalent of seeing your local GP. Before spending my grocery money, I tried to seek advice from the apathetic receptionist, to make sure I was going to receive the correct treatment. After rolling her eyes, she informed me that,”healthcare is very much a business.” Touché. Nevertheless, she’s right. if you have a medical condition and haven’t landed a job with health insurance, I suggest keeping at least $150 in your account at all times (that’s how much you are looking at forking out per doctor’s appointment if you are uninsured). And if you suffer from a pre-existing medical condition that requires you taking medication, bring as much with you as possible.

4. Hand sanitiser will be your number one companion

Let’s be real. New York is filthy. The subway seats could be covered in human faeces, the streets are full of garbage and everything you touch could infect you with the Zika virus. So, wash your mitts, sanitise them regularly and carry face wipes to keep the grime at bay. With no health insurance, can you really afford to get sick?

5. Everyone is late, not rude

Myths suggest that the people of New York are rude, arrogant and cold-hearted (I believe this rumour to have started in California). Well. Wrong. The aforementioned kind of people exist everywhere in the world and on the whole, I’ve found locals to be the most wonderful, kind-hearted and helpful people you may ever meet. However, if you have a question, ask it quickly and be straightforward. No one has time to waste.

5. Be wary of applying for jobs on Indeed and Craigslist

I’m not saying this happened to me, but, let’s say, *someone* I know had his identity stolen, his bank accounts frozen and then closed, and is now banned from said bank. Why you ask? He applied for a personal assistant job that turned out to be a money laundering scam based in Florida. So, if the job seems too good to be true, then it probably is. My advice? Use Glassdoor to read company reviews, request LinkedIn profiles and avoid door-to-door ‘marketing’ jobs.

7. Don’t sit on an empty subway carriage

If Law and Order has taught me anything, it would be never to sit on an empty subway carriage. It’s empty for good reason. It’s probably covered in pee or has a weird smell or probably has an intoxicated person aggressively asking you for 50 cents to buy a beer. BEWARE.

8. Embrace multiple bags

Long commutes to and from work may make it hard to get home in time to change for the gym or get ready for drinks with friends. You’ll start carrying everything with you. Change of clothes, toothbrush, face cleansing wipes – the list could go on forever. So, invest in a sturdy backpack or a few stylish tote bags and prepare for everything.

9. You will move at least twice within six months

In the beginning, you will find the perfect uptown apartment but realise the supermarket is 20 minutes away or the walls are too thin and your roommate is a crazy musical theatre major who sings show tunes at 6am. My advice: Calculate the distance between supermarkets, pharmacies and laundromats before moving. And always request potential roommates’ social media pages. 

10. It’s pronounced house-ton, not Houston

This may seem trivial, but for the purpose of blending in and receiving correct directions, learn this quickly.

I have lived in New York for six – wonderfully tough – months and learned the true meaning of the words ‘resilience’ and ‘ambition’. This city will swallow you in one gulp, spit you back out, and you will happily put yourself back on the menu. I still don’t have close friends, and that’s alright. Because I, and 8.55 million others, have New York and it will always have our backs.

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