3 Years in New York: Living Through 1096 Days

Me exactly three years ago at Central Park (they still have those horses)
Me exactly three years ago by Central Park (they still have those horses)

Today is the day I like to think of as my second birthday. It certainly has turned into it when I look at the celebrations going on in the past two years. My o my, I surprise myself sometimes by actually expecting something from others on this very special date. Be it a text message or a Facebook wall post or just a small reminder.

Today is the day I came to New York three years ago.

Some people don’t know when they entered this city. Some don’t feel it’s worth celebrating or making a big fuss out of. I, however, have always made a point in commemorating the experience. Perhaps because I felt it was only a temporary experience, me being here. Or that my time in the Big Apple should always be appreciated as something so special, that it can be over in an instant. Yes, even after 3 years life does not feel as stable as it would in other cities or other countries. It somehow still seems like I am at the very beginning of it all.

So what exactly does it feel like to be in New York for 3 years?

Simply put, it’s become your life.

One day you wake up and it feels like home. You are not bothered by the screeching sirens outside your door and wonder how you once thought this street was busy. You take a walk in the park and have gotten used to it being the only piece of nature you deem gold-worthy in this entire city. Everything that is outside of your home feels new but also frightening at times. You stay away from the bad parts of town because you just cannot deal with the social gap in this city anymore. Adventure trades itself with comfort. And being proud of knowing places that are good.

You come back from a vacation and the city is no unknown ghost to you anymore. It is more of a good friend who greets you and picks you up in a yellow cab to take you home where you can sleep off the jet-lag. People on the subway seem mildly distracting to you but then you get used to everything all over again. “What was the sense of leaving?” you wonder. “Nothing feels like it has changed!”

But it feels exciting, exhilarating, heartbreaking and monotonous
– all at the same time. Just walking down 34th Street to work. The glamor people associate with this city… You cannot find it in the stinking streets of Chinatown. Or the piping lanes of Greenwich Village. You also cannot connect to all of those fake Hamptons people who swarm into this city on the weekends and take over home-made item sales in a church. Glamor is found in the simple things. Or when seeing an exotic dressed gay guy strutting down the streets of Chelsea.

You try out new things on a different level. Food has suddenly become appealing. While three years ago you were fine with home-made pasta and meager veggies, you now want to explore the finest gourmet spots in this town. At this point, you are able to afford them, too. And while two years back you were annoyed with not being able to show your visitors some good food spots, now you would have more than one chance to. Except for the fact that no one wants to visit you anymore. Or only rarely. Their lives have changed from yours so much that you cannot comprehend how your friendships developed before your new life.

You try to think how it was 3 years ago and you simply cannot imagine. The only people making you appreciate this city are the visiting friends (which rarely happens). And that woman at Duane Reade who is nice all of a sudden and lets you use her membership card to get a dollar off when you order those outrageously expensive chips you never cared for in the first place. This has never happened, not one year back, not even two. You think: This only happens when you are here for three years.

But then New York also becomes different. Tiring, challenging, exhausting. It never quite loses its intensity. You want to make new friends but friends have always been hard to make in a city like this. Until one day you see the skyline again. Like a veil that lifts itself from your eyes, you can comprehend true beauty by just staring at these buildings from a distance. And all of a sudden it makes sense again. The struggle, the fury, the anger, the frustration, the tears.


This is what it feels like to be in New York for three years. You have to earn it.

10 Things You’d Wish You’d Known Before Coming to New York (Part II)

(continued from Part I)

6) It’s easy to meet people

One thing I always tell newcomers: Go out by yourself! Experience the nightlife, the shows, the concerts – and if you don’t have anyone to join you, then just go alone. It is not like in other cities, where no one will ever talk to you and eye you as a weirdo or outcast. Here, it is easy start a conversation with people, even when you are just nipping on a beer at the bar by yourself. I am not talking about sleazy pick-up lines from desperate men. I am talking about having intellectual talks with either gender. In the beginning, if my friend or roommates did not want to join in to the fun, I found myself torn. Torn between either missing out on the entire fun by staying home and not doing much or mustering all my courage to go out by myself and have the best evening in history. Luckily for me, 99 percent of the times I chose to experience things alone. And ended up meeting new people in a zing. Sometimes I still have to convince myself that going to the museum alone is not the worst case scenario. It’s easy to forget the courage from the past. But the fun experiences have been engraved in my memories and I am happy I can pass this little wisdom on.

7)But it’s hard to find true friends

While meeting new people is no hard feat, it is difficult to stay in touch with these people and form long-lasting relationships. Yeah, you go out a couple of times, put some more experiences on your friendship resume, but in the end it is about the quality time spent with soul mates and so-called friends that make out for a great stay abroad. Unfortunately, New York is known for being a tough town when it comes to relationships and friendships. I so far can count all of the true friends I have ever possessed in this city on one hand. That’s about five, just so you know. And two thirds of these people are not even in the City anymore. The Big Apple can be lonely at times. It can tear you apart from what you thought was so important because it offers constant entertainment. Finding friends that want to and will stay in your life – it’s hard!

8) Possibilities only limited by yourself

There are so many different paths offered, so many different careers to pursue, and so many exotic things to experience. It might become overwhelming and challenging to pick what exactly to opt for at the moment. As mentioned in Point 5, flexibility is easy to live out in NYC. And what is even better: The possibilities that exist are truly only limited to yourself and what you are willing to make out of them. But, since Point 2 and 3 also exist, your mind can sometimes play some vicious tricks on you when it comes to making the right more justifiable decision. I truly believe that this is the city where class and cultural issues are of no prevalence and where you can work yourself from washing dishes to being a millionaire. But of course you will have to work hard towards this goal. And part of this is overcoming your inhibitions and stop worrying about the potential outcomes too much. Sometimes just accepting the current moment is all it takes.

9) You have to get away once in a while

This city is exhausting, overwhelming, loud, crowded, polluted, mean … All reasons to not stay here eternally. But even after 2 and a half years, I have come to find that a little trip elsewhere mostly does big wonders. Just a hop over to Boston or DC on a weekend. Or up to Canada and down to Florida. Maybe even across the state lines to the West Coast. Either way, leaving, if only for a day or two, will set your mind straight and make you breathe more freely. Because breathing sometimes becomes very hard in New York. When everything is not going as planned, it’s best to simply escape for a little bit. “New York is only as good as you can afford to leave” is a valuable saying. Even though you mustn’t be a super-rich prick who drives out to his summer residence in the Hamptons all summer long.

10) You need experience for everything

A portfolio for being a showroom model? References for volunteer work? A resume for waitressing? Yup, the truth! Ridiculous, but the truth. And once again, this leads back to the high competition and art of bullshitting this city so readily offers. I walked into my first bars in the beginning and was already slowed down because I was missing a piece of paper that was utterly useless to the businesses in this city. Experiences all over Germany but no American contact number? What good is it for newcomers to even write it up? Well, they want to know you did something here, and the more experience you can show, the better. This is why it’ s important to keep in touch with every (work-related) contact you ever had, in case they happen to back you up for a specific job. It appears that experience gets your foot in the door, but of course you have to endure several training days and other ordeals until you finally have what you wanted. So even though you might have a fancy resume, you still always have to prove your money’s worth in the end.

Yet, there are numerous other daily hassles I could point out. Don’t ride the subway if a guy across from you is repeatedly rubbing his crotch. Don’t’ get in fights with teenagers that outnumber you and are willing to follow you home. Don’t assume picking your nose in public is acceptable! Ever!

But I will leave it to this Top Ten for now and am expecting you to add more points in your comments starting now…

10 Things You’d Wish You’d Known Before Coming to New York (Part I)

New York – the never-ending mystery. Dreamland to some, playland to others, tough reality to yet the rest. Certain topics are avoided and just never touched upon when outside of the Big Apple. They are called the things you’d wish someone had told you about to prepare you when arriving in this city.
Evidently, no one ever mentioned these to me, so I had to come around and painfully discover them myself. Some of these are fun but others can become annoying at times.

1) You will be broke!

And you might even stay broke for a while. The thing with New York is it’s expensive. Of course everyone knows that certain cities are on average cheaper while others are pricier. But New York allows you an unlimited time of fun – at a high cost. To keep up with this, you will have to spend money. After a few restaurant visits, a few bars, a few clothes, and a few other must-haves, you find yourself having spent 100 percent more than you had in your wallet. My savings had been exhausted only 4 weeks after I came here. Paying first and last month rent for the apartment being one of the most harmless expenses. All of a sudden I had to keep up with everything going on around me. While my former roommate had warned me to take it easy on splurging spending, of course I couldn’t listen in the beginning. So six weeks later I found myself waiting tables and working the bars to get some of the money back. Ouch! But beware, this also applies to tourists. I had friends from Germany who had to fly back earlier than expected because all of their savings were spent within a week or so. Even more Ouch! And what really sucks is that you have to find a way to pace yourself soon, otherwise you won’t make it around to the monthly paycheck.

2) Competition is everywhere!

We have over 8 million people in this city. Obviously, everyone has to make a living. And as many jobs there might be, the quota is limited. Thus, you will compete for everything and everyone. Be it pre-qualifications, languages you speak, people you know – you will have to stand out for some reason or another to not sink into the faceless crowd of losers. It can be tough. At times I had three different interviews on one day for jobs I would have never accepted otherwise. Luckily, I was never offered the positions I felt uneasy about. I also tried myself at modeling once and was face to face with a transvestite looking man girl individual who caught the attention with her flamboyant appearance. At times I am so exhausted of competing, I am voluntarily succumbing myself to the faceless crowd just to get some peace of mind.

3) Everyone is bullshitting!

Consequently, since everyone is competing against everyone, you have to possess the art of bullshitting. Think about a few reasons why your education, your home, your face, your nose, your voice, your who-cares-what is a thousand times better than that of others, and you are on your best way in deceiving yourself. Hopefully also deceiving others. I once read a freshly pressed on Everyone is faking it. The author had it to the point what is so prevalent in this city: No one knows what the heck they are really talking about but everyone knows how to sell themselves successfully. After taking the wrong directions from a 6-year-old who had confidently described me the way, I had enough of this nonsense. Sometimes I just long back to the times and cultures where honesty is valued and where admitting one’s wrong-doing is defined as strength rather than a weakness. Where you aren’t humiliated when you don’t know a certain thing but where people readily explain to you what exactly you have to do next.

4) Everyone is jealous!

After competing and bullshitting so hard, you think you’ve won the battle? Wrong! You will have to deal with everyone being jealous about everything you do, have, know, and possess. It starts with girls eyeing you on the train to the point where you angrily glance over and they smile because they have achieved what they want. Or the friends others want to grab away from you because they think they are much cooler than you. Not to mention the salary you make in comparison to your coworker. It doesn’t matter that they agreed to these terms in the beginning, now that they’ve worked there for ten days surely they must be entitled to the same. Jealousy is an underlying current in this city and it is not so evident when you are only here for a few weeks. But after the initial honey moon period you start noticing some really evil looks you get if you are dressed up but no reaction at all when you are dressed down.

5) You can be flexible!

Finally a positive aspect! New York has offered me one of those rare moments I’ve seldom had anywhere else: I can be what I want and no one will give a darn! It doesn’t matter if I decide to go underground for a bit, because I know that in a few weeks or months from now I can be the shining star on the horizon again. In Germany, things are more rigid. Your life path is seems to be set in stone; you are more urged to choose a career suddenly, whether you like it or not. While experimentation is accepted it is not necessarily embraced by everyone. Here, on the contrary, the more you’ve done the better. The more flexible you are in your schedules, the more you are viewed as a great match. The more interesting hobbies and passions you have, the more likely it is to be regarded as a hot shot. Of course it always depends in which business you are getting yourself into. I just feel that here I can truly experiment with many careers, try out new and exciting things, and still be regarded as a serious match when it comes to job hunting. But beware: While flexibility can certainly equal freedom, at the same time it can also create burn-out and pressure.

Published Interview on InterNations!

Liz from Belovelive happened to be featured in an interview conducted by InterNations just a few weeks back. And last week Monday it was my turn. I received a comment from Simona from the aforementioned organization telling me how she would like to recommend my Web site as a Top New York Expat Blog. What great news!

I submitted my interview to her on late Friday evening and, after a fast-turn-around, this Monday morning it was already published on their homepage!

So far this has been my second writing featured on an expat blog (see a copy of my first one here). My interest in these organizations has increased over the past few months and I am happy to be a part of their featured articles every once-so-often.

InterNations makes the appearance of being a serious go-to-site for expatriates as they are represented in 300 different cities world-wide. To sign up for them you first have to be approved by their staff, in the form of a personal invitation by one of them. For me, the wait has only been one business day and I am sure someone is checking every application thoroughly before given an approval.

The online expatriate community presents guides for different forums and areas, such as living and working abroad, intercultural communication and culture shock. These are all topics I personally find entertaining and also very helpful. I am sure I won’t be the only one weeding through these write-ups in the following days, as many fellow expats will surely be able appreciate the one or other piece of advice featured in these articles.

Check out my interview on the InterNations homepage to see some tips and tricks on life in New York. Find my favorite blog posts and some anecdotes on my German friend and on daily life in general.
To look into more recommended reads on the Big Apple, click here for 2 very different and also very insightful blogs.

I hope you enjoy this little excursion into expat life (something we can hopefully all call ourselves at some point in life)! I wish InterNations much success in building up an even greater readership and in gaining more interesting writers for their articles yet to be published!