Idiosyncrasies of Urban Life: Things to Know for Life in NYC/Brooklyn

Just arrived in the wild and wonderful world of NYC? Read on for must-know tips and life hacks from your new neighbors. And even if you're a seasoned New Yorker, you might just learn something new!

Spoiler alert: Our top tip is to join Park Slope Parents if you're a parent in Brooklyn! Since 2002, PSP's powerful, passionate, and caring community of 7,000+ member families has shared advice online and IRL on everything from child care to health care, summer camps to haircutters, and coping with teething, terrible twos, and the tween/teen years. Head HERE to meet your new community!

Want more? Download the full Park Slope Guide to the Neighborhood, including neighborhood resources, local "bucket list" activities, and more, HERE!




  • Get the New York Subway MTA Map app.
  • Know about Red vs. Green Subway Stations (green balls outside a subway station means it’s open 24 hours!)
  • Be aware of the difference between an express and local train (Google Maps will tell you that the local is just as fast as the express, but don’t believe it!)
  • If a subway car is empty during rush hour, it usually means something is up (a mess, a stink, a fight, etc.).
  • After a while, you’ll start being able to understand the subway announcements.
  • Look before you open the cab door!




Alt Side Parking Reminders

  • Don’t double park unless there is room for people to go around you. Some people will forget to move, and parking opposite them will make for a very tight squeeze.
  • Be sure to pull in as tight as you can, and make sure there's enough clearance for emergency vehicles and larger service vehicles to get through.
  • If you can, pull in your rearview mirrors.
  • Leave a note with your cell number on your dashboard so you can be reached if you are blocking someone who wishes to get out.
  • Advise your guests, workers, etc. about alternate side and the need to move their vehicles.
  • Different streets have different parking cultures. On some streets everyone sits in their car, while on other streets they move back to the “safe” side very early, so getting a spot is more difficult.
  • Double parking during alternate side is technically not legal. If you double park next to a car that doesn't get to move, you are illegally double parked and can get a ticket.

Learn more on the NYC DoT website, and check out PSP’s article on the do’s and don’ts of double parking!


In the Home

  • Broker fees for renting an apartment are expensive—sometimes up to 15% of the yearly rent (I was flabbergasted)!
  • When buying an apartment, an accepted offer doesn't mean as much as a signed contract.
  • A duplex is a unit that has two floors, rather than a building that has two units.
  • Use gel bait rather than spray for getting rid of cockroaches. (Wish I never had to learn that one...)
  • Mice can fit into the tiniest holes, but steel wool and spray foam work wonders to patch them up.


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  • You have to apply to both middle school and high school rather than just going to your zoned school.
  • Don’t get emotionally invested in winning any lotteries: affordable housing, school, or otherwise.



  • New Yorkers are not rude. Efficient, yes; short, yes. But actually some of the most helpful people I know.
  •  People here stand "on line" instead of "in line." Go figure.



  • You can get fresh basil pretty much 24 hours a day.
  • Bagels are better here than anywhere else (it’s the water).
  • Join the Co-op. Get on a waiting list for your preferred shift. It, like the DMV, is Kafkaesque.
  • Always carry a snack when you commute around the city...either you'll need it when the subway is delayed or you'll see someone in need.
  • Never order Dominos, McDonalds, KFC, etc. There is amazing food all around you! This is NYC!


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Businesses & Services

  • The city is still full of tailor shops, shoe repair shops, places that will take in your laundry to wash, and other old-line personal services businesses that disappeared long ago in less dense parts of the country. Take advantage of them!
  • When in doubt whether you should offer a service person a tip, yes, you should.


Navigating the City - Tips from PSP Members

  • Stay out of the middle of the sidewalk if you stop. Move to the side of a building.
  • The Staten Island Ferry is a great and cheap way to see the Statue of Liberty.
  • You’ll burn calories walking.
  • Beware the broken glass scam: Someone bumps into you on the street and drops something, blames you, then tries to guilt you into paying for it. 
  • An odd building number means it’s on the north side of the street; even = south.
    • It's NOW and SEE:
    • North - odd - West
    • South - even - East
    • With a few exceptions.
  • In the city, 5th Avenue divides East and West. Be aware of how that impacts building numbering.
  • Often it is faster to get somewhere by walking or taking the subway, especially in Midtown during rush hour.
  • Make sure you have a great “carry all” or work bag that you love and will take with you everyday. Have an extra one or two empty canvas bags folded up in the bottom for whenever the need strikes. This will help you avoid disposable bags when grocery shopping, and it will come in handy if you’re picking up that perfect item from someone’s stoop.
  • In Manhattan, those weird tall striped pylons in the street with steam coming out are venting excess steam from the antique steam heating system that runs under much of the island. Don't worry, they rarely explode! (Of course I moved to Manhattan a month before a steam pipe exploded two blocks away from me and killed two people, but the infrastructure was in worse shape 30 years ago. And I started noticing steaming pylons again this winter.)
  • One thing that's kind of hard to convey is that "the city" is relative. While the outer boroughs are part of the actual city, you can say you're "going into the city" to refer to Manhattan. Yet, if you're outside the five boroughs, you can say you're "going into the city" to mean you're going into one of the boroughs. But I'm not sure if SI ever counts as "going into the city."
  • I always look up this Business Insider article when I want to help a newbie understand NYC. The gifs are funny, true, and helpful!
  • Go to Green-Wood Cemetery. It’s one of the most beautiful outdoor sculpture gardens in the city. It is NOT your typical cemetery, has beautiful views of the city, and was the site of the Battle of Brooklyn.
  • Keep an eye out for the Wedding Watchers at Grand Army Plaza!
  • Sit on the left side of the Q train facing Manhattan to see the awesome hidden subway art just after the DeKalb station.