How to survive as a European in NYC — A guide.

by Tobias van Schneider
first appeared
on my private email list.

In 2011, my girlfriend and I moved to New York. Straight from Austria (Graz) without knowing what to expect. It was not only my first time in New York or the US, but the first time I ever crossed an ocean.

Since then I fell in love with the city. But I noticed a lot of small little things that are very different compared to Austria or Germany where I grew up.

Here is what I learned:

1. Walk Faster!

To survice on the side walk and not bump into other people follow these simple rules:

a. Walk two times faster than you would normally do. Pretend you are overly confident and imagine you are going somewhere. You’re not just walking, you are marching towards a goal, you’re on a mission!

b. Hold a “Latte to go” in your left hand, and your iPhone in your right. You can pretend to be on a call or just check your Tweets. You don’t need to look at the street in front of you, just keep your tempo and crowd will take care of you. It’s like magic. The moment you look out for other people or turn around, you will bump into someone.

c. Never stop walking, ever. It’s like a high way. If you just want to stand around doing nothing go to Times Square.

2. Don’t smile at people, unless…

Don’t smile at people on the street. Unless you are interested in “BUY GOLD CHEAP NOW!!!!” or people trying to change your religion. Avoid eye contact at all times. In the streets, and especially on the subway. While I New Yorkers are generally very social and approachable, there seems to be a different set of rules on the train. Eye contact in a bar is totally fine, but on the train please mind your own business.

3. All doors broken?

Doors open the opposite way than in Germany/Austria which takes some time to get used to. Same goes for locking and unlocking your apartment door. In Austria you usually turn your key away from the direction of the lock to unlock a door. In NYC it’s exactly the other way around.

4. The train fight

While people in NYC are very polite and helpful, way more than in Austria. But when it comes to getting on the train from Brooklyn to Manhattan they know no mercy. And no, not even the lady in her 80’s will make a difference.

Being polite and letting other people on the train means missing 5 trains and never getting anywhere. So when it comes to catching a train, throw away your European manners because all that counts are YOU being on the train.

5. Magnolia Bakery?

The hyped Magnolia Bakery is expensive and not even good. But who said it is? And no, I never watched Sex and the City. 😁

6. How to tip

How complicated can it be? In Austria, tipping is voluntary and you usually only do it if your experience was amazeballs. And even then, you just round up a few cents. In New York you should always tip at least 15–20% (for food or riding a taxi). (essentially, service people in NYC rely on the 20% because the service fee is not included in their salary, like it is in Austria)

You would also assume that dinning as a party would mean you get separate checks. But no, that would be too easy. Have fun going out with a group of seven friends for dinner.

PS: Dining with 6+ friends means tipping is included on the final check. I know, it’s weird. That just means you don’t have to tip, otherwise you will tip 40%. Happened to me a lot.

PPS: A little trick I do is: On the check, they usually show the taxes below the final amount which is always 10%. Just take that amount, double it, and you know how much you need to tip.

7. McDonalds

I went to McDonalds maybe two times since I am in New York and got sick every time I went there. McDonalds in Austria is pretty good and it’s not even close to what it is here in New York. I had one of my first dates with my girlfriend in McDonalds in Austria, and I did not considered that a bad date.

8. Heating madness

The heating system in most apartments is madness. Unless you are rich, or lucky to get an apartment in a new building your heating essentially works completely random and out of your control. That means, waking up at 3am in the middle of the night sweating (even though it’s winter) and just leaving the windows open because there is no way to turn off the heating.

9. Hey, How are you?

Hi how are you? Instead of just “Hi” or “Hello” like we say in Austria or Germany, here in New York people say “Hi, how are you?”. That might be confusing at first, but you get used it to.

The trick is, that you simply reply with “I’m fine thanks, how are you?” Then the other person will say exactly the same and now you can FINALLY start your conversation, for example ordering that latte to go.

The important thing to know is that no one really wants to know how you are. Saying “How are you” is just a saying, so you better not answer with how much of a shitty day you had, because thats awkward.

10. Paying with checks?

You pay with checks (cheques). For example your rent. Yes, checks. That old paper thingy we got rid of in Austria ages ago. But for some reason, signing a check each month and ripping it out of my check book makes me feel like a grown up from the 60’s. So cool!

11. They measure stuff in feet & toes.

Don’t even get me started on Fahrenheit, Feet, Toes and whatever measurements there are, I don’t even know. I have yet to get used to it.

12. Health is a luxury.

When you go to the doctor in NYC, even though you have health insurance you need to sign a paper that says “Whatever you diagnose me with, I might have to pay myself anyway because my insurance might not cover it but no one knows that just yet”. In Austria it would just say: You’re covered. PS: Health Insurance in NYC means everything except mouth and eyes, because thats apparently not part of your body. (dental & vision plans are different from health care). I think we might be spoiled in Austria.

13. Getting stronger

You’re sick a lot in the first year? That’s normal, your body is just adjusting to all the germs and dirt. At least that’s what my doctor told me.

14. I’m on drugs

Drugs are awesome. While in Austria you can’t get anything without getting a prescription, in NYC you can buy pretty strong pain killers etc. right off the shelf. And with that I mean 200 tablets family packs for less than $10. Oh the possibilities!

15. Cockroaches

Before moving to NYC, I did not know that cockroaches can grow to that size, nor did I know that they are almost indestructible. I lost many good heavy books to killing cockroaches in our apartment last summer.

16. Bed bugs

I also did not know what bed bugs are, nor that they can shut down entire neighborhoods within hours. I don’t think we even have them in Austria.

17. How to yellow cab

If you want to get a classy yellow cab from Manhattan to Brooklyn, first stop the cab, enter it, and THEN tell the driver where you want to go. If you just open the door and say “I’d like to go to Brooklyn” chances are high that the cab driver will suddenly act like an alien that doesn’t understand english. If you are already in the car, they have to get you to your destination, by law. Most of them are just lazy.

18. Cash only!

Some very well established restaurants are “cash only” but have their own ATM inside the restaurant. YES! LOGIC!

19. Find a laundry place

Up until I moved to NYC I didn’t know that having a washer and dryer, or even dishwasher is a luxury. Taking your clothes to the laundry service in your neighborhood is pretty normal. Most apartments either don’t have the space for a washer, or they don’t have the pipes to support them. Our bathroom certainly does not have either one of them, you can barely fit two people into it.

20. The best pancakes!

I never expected that I would wait 3 hours to get pancakes for my Sunday brunch. But then again, what pancakes wouldn’t be amazing after a 3 hour wait?

21. Food poisoning

I learned that when you go to restaurants, there is a piece of paper on the outside that has a letter on it stating it’s health rating. A is the best rating, B you might consider going there, C I have yet to see.

Going into a restaurant without a rating or “Rating Pending” means doing so at your own risk. I learned this the hard way with my first bad food poisoning in my first year. But then again, my stomach wasn’t for NYC I guess. In Austria there might be bad places, but you would be able to tell right away from the outside, no rating needed.


When it snows, they call it BLIZZARD here in NYC. And when it’s windy it’s called a HURRICANE and it always has a cute name, such asJonas, Tiffany or Pancake storm. In Austria, we just say “it’s snowing”.

Now you might ask me, but Tobias, most of the things you mentioned above seem to be negative, why do you live in New York?

Because it’s my new home. It’s the best city I ever lived in. New York is amazing. The people are driven, friendly, passionate and diverse. There is this feeling of energy on the street I haven’t found in any other city yet.

It’s a magical city.

Have a fantastic Wednesday,

PS: I usually send out these articles via my personal email list right here. You can sign up anytime, I won’t spam, promise.

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Tobias is a Designer & Maker + Co-Founder of
Semplice, a new portfolio platform for designers. Also host of the show NTMY — Previously Art Director & Design Lead at Spotify & Board of Directors AIGA New York.