Written by James de Villiers
This past December, I spent two weeks working at the Insider Inc. headquarters in New York City. Visiting the city has been a lifelong dream. As a journalist for Business Insider South Africa in Johannesburg, I’ve always imagined what it would be like to work in the Big Apple.
I imagined commuting on the subway to work, grabbing my morning Starbucks, and running in Central Park. I dreamed about being a part of the rush in the city that never sleeps. However, after two weeks in New York City, I started noticing weird plants on sidewalks and strange behaviors of the city’s inhabitants.
Here are the 10 things I found strange about working and living in New York City.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived in New York was the massive food portions.
One pizza slice was the size of half an entire pizza pie in South Africa. From oversized chips portions with burgers to the suffocating pizza slices and ginormous Frappuccinos, everything was huge.
People wash their dishes by keeping the tap running. This makes no sense.
In South Africa, where large parts of the country are facing droughts, we plug the sinks and fill it with water to wash dishes. Like a reasonable person would.
On the subway, you’re considered a human danger if you dare talk to someone.
It is not strange to strike up a conversation with fellow passengers on public transport in South Africa. So it was quite a shock when the first woman I greeted on the subway on the way from JFK Airport abruptly stood up and walked to the other side of the carriage.
Everyone wears black.
It was surprising how, in a city with a reputation as a fashion capital, black is the most creative thing New Yorkers ever wear in the winter. The yellow jacket I bought in a department store in Cape Town, South Africa, was often the brightest thing in the room.
There are choking signs everywhere.
The first time I spotted the choking sign in a Chick-fil-A, I thought it was a joke. But then I found versions of the same sign in every single takeaway restaurant, warning everyone of impending doom. It turns out New York City laws require all restaurants to have these signs, something I haven’t encountered in South Africa.
And for some ridiculous reason, taxes are never included in the item listed price.
The listed prices are misleading! In the two weeks I spent in New York, I was never able to work out the sorcery behind how the city adds tax on products and therefore never really knew how much I would be spending. Why not just advertise products with the tax included?
At restaurants, you always write in the 20% tip at the end of your meal.
It’s way too complicated. In addition to expecting and telling customers to pay a 20% tip (and not 10%, as in South Africa), restaurants also ask customers to write in the tip amount on the receipt after they’ve already paid. It can add some unnecessary uncertainty to the situation: How will I be sure the server didn’t write in whatever amount they want after I’ve left? Why do I have to do extra math to figure out the total amount?
People drink iced coffee while it is snowing.
It’s too cold for this. Yeesh. On my first day in the city, I laughed at the barista when he asked me if I wanted an iced Americano while it was snowing outside. Only when I was exiting did I see the string of hipsters leaving the warmth of the store, armed with their iced coffees while the crisp snow fell on their balding foreheads.
New Yorkers think cabbage plants are appropriate decorations.
They’re one of the few plants that can thrive in New York City winters. Every single sidewalk or piece of open land was, for some reason, covered in cabbage plants. They were just everywhere. Purple ones, even. Everywhere! Is it for relish?
And finally, the sun sets at 4 p.m.
I visited New York in December. If the iced coffees in the ice-cold temperatures weren’t enough to make me miss sunny Cape Town, leaving the office in what felt like midnight convinced me that I am lucky to be South African.
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