My name is Beth, and I’m a Brit who has been living in New York City for almost four years now. During that time, I’ve attended law school here, I’ve moved between four different apartments here (okay, one was in New Jersey, that doesn’t count) and I’ve searched and found a job here. With all of these New York-centric experiences in my back pocket, I’ve learned a lot about the people the places, the pros and the cons, the “dos” and the “don’ts,” and more broadly, the overall culture of this huge, bustling, crazy city. Despite the massive learning curve, I’ve faced while settling in, I’ve reached a point at which I comfortably, happily, and regularly refer to New York City as my home. I’d like to share some top tips for other Brits who are embarking on a similar journey:
- You are basically Australian now – OWN it. Okay, this one is not New York-specific, but it’s too true to leave out! We’ve all heard that Americans sometimes confuse the British accent with the Australian accent (apparently, they sound very similar?!), but when I moved to the U.S., I hadn’t realized quite how applicable this would be to my everyday life. A few times a week, at a minimum, a stranger will overhear me ordering coffee or lunch and will chime in, “ooh, are you Australian?” Now, initially, being a proud Brit, I was pretty quick to correct them. But, then I realized…who am I kidding? In Britain, we LOVE the Australian accent. In fact, at university, I remember going on nights out and faking an Australian accent the entire night with a group of friends, just for fun. So then I thought, I’m actually okay with this…sometimes I’m British, sometimes I’m Australian, and either is fine with me. Don’t get me wrong; I still correct people when they ask, but, a confession: I do sometimes wear an “Australia” t-shirt that my sister brought back from traveling, just to throw the Americans off!
- When in Times Square – try to hide your accent. Related to tip number 1, whether you’re British, Australian, or have some other exciting accent, you might want to keep quiet in the super touristy areas, aka Times Square. This obviously isn’t applicable to those of you who are just taking a brief trip to New York – those areas were built for you, they’re your playground, be loud and be merry! But, for those of us Brits who have moved to New York on a more permanent basis, those areas can be a trap to avoid. The bright lights and busy streets sure are exciting, but as soon as people hear your accent, it’s good bye personal space and hello salesmen for bike-rides, bus-rides, taxi-rides, and unwanted photographs with people dressed as giant M&Ms. If that’s your preferred scene on a daily basis, by all means, go for it! But, if you’re trying to get to school or work in a hurry, I would recommend avoiding that midtown area as much as you can or silently pushing your way through the crowds.
- Forget the Subway map – memorize the lines near you, or drive! Okay, the New York Subway operates 24 hours, so they’ve got one-up on the London Underground there. But, be warned that the subway can be very confusing for a newcomer. If you plan to use the Subway, here are a few key things to be aware of: (1) not all platforms have wall maps, so if you’re going to use a map, either take a paper version with you or remember to read the wall map before you walk downstairs to the trains; (2) not all trains show what stops they are making once you’re on board, so be sure to go against all British norms and ask a friendly stranger whether you’re getting on the right train; (3) trains in New York run either express or local, so do not (and believe me, I have made this mistake many times) get on to the express train when you needed the local – it will fly past the stop you want and you’ll end up having to take a million trains to get back where you need to be! Bonus travel tip: invest in a car! Though it can be tricky at first to figure out parking in the city, having a car in the U.S., in general, is a great way to go – quicker, easier, and probably more cost efficient depending on what kind of Metro Card you compare it with. And after all, in a country so big, why wouldn’t you want to bag a road-trip opportunity whenever you can!?
- Bring British chocolate and tea – but don’t forget to try the great American snacks! Americans are convinced that the British have “bad food” and I’m putting that down to the fact that they’ve never had real British food. So, you should bring our best with you – Cadbury’s chocolate and some Twining’s or PG Tips (don’t forget to declare your food if needed – let’s not forget to abide by the law!). You could also get some loving family member or friend to send you a British “care package” every so often. But, don’t forget about the great American “candy” –Twinkies are the classic, but here are some more to try: so many variations of Skittles, so many variations of M&Ms, Life Savers, Froot Loops and Lucky Charms (these are cereals, but they are amazing), Hershey’s Cookies and Crème, and the American version of a Milky Way (it’s basically a Mars Bar, which I find fun). There are plenty more on my list, but I will let you discover them for yourselves. Happy snacking!
- You can use the fact you are British to accomplish almost anything in New York. This is honestly the tip you should carry with you and remember. It’s so true. As a Brit, if you say a word slightly incorrectly, you can get away with saying “that’s just how we say it back home,” even if that’s totally untrue – no one will know. If you do something awkward and feel weird about it, you can just shrug it off as “well, we British are just a little awkward like that.” If you want to throw a party, you can throw a “British-themed” party just because you’re British with no real relevant occasion (I have done this).
All in all, there is nothing you cannot accomplish with your British (slash Australian) accent in New York. I hope you come to love this country, and particularly this amazing and absurd city, as much as I have. I hope, one day, you too will call it your home!