Local in a tourist town: a native New Yorker's view


When you visit one of the world's most popular tourist destinations like New York, London or Paris, you often find yourself daydreaming about how magical it would be to live there - to be on the other side of the fence where you're the insider instead of the outsider.

But what is it really like to live in a town that has such a conspicuous tourist population? We asked third-generation New Yorker Ali Lemer what it's like to live an everyday life in what many people think of as a holiday town:

Q: Growing up, were you aware that you were living in a city with such a high tourist population?

A: Oh sure, every New Yorker knows growing up that they live in one of the world's favourite cities.

Q: Do you think native New Yorkers have preconceived ideas about tourists (and vice versa)?

A: I know there's always been a stereotype that New Yorkers are rude and unfriendly to tourists, but most people who travel there find that's really not the case. You can usually ask most anyone on the street for help finding someplace and they'll tell you where to go. (And after that, they'll help you find the place you're looking for. ::drum sting::)

The stereotypes I heard about tourists growing up were basically variations on the old 'country bumpkins visit the city' trope, but of course people come from other cities, too, both American and international, so I don't think New Yorkers really think all tourists are like that.

Q: There was a jokey discussion recently that NYC sidewalks should be divided into ‘tourist’ and ‘locals’ lanes – how do you feel about that?

A: I think New Yorkers would pay as much attention to lane markings on the sidewalks as they do to the ones on the street.

Q: What would you say was the most frustrating thing about living amongst so many tourists? And what would you say was the best thing?

A: The most frustrating thing in general would probably be when there are groups of them taking up the sidewalk or doorways and not really paying attention to the harried people behind them trying to get by. From the city's standpoint, the best thing about tourists is probably how they help the NYC economy (last year they spent about $31 billion, according to www.nycgo.com), but I rather just like the fact that people from all over the world find New York as fascinating as I do. Plus, I really do like giving tourists help with directions. I feel like being a native makes me a sort of ambassador for my hometown.

Q: How do you spot a tourist in New York?

A: Look for people wearing bum bags. Good rule of thumb: if you hear two people arguing over who makes a better bagel, H&H or Ess-a-Bagel, they're definitely not tourists.

Q: What do you think are the pitfalls most tourists fall into in NYC? Do you think they miss the point?

A: People who spend their whole trip walking around Times Square, ice-skating at Rockefeller Center and taking a carriage ride through Central Park are definitely missing the point. Instead, try an Off-Broadway show, find a jazz club or even see an opera at the Met. Hit some of the great farmers markets all around town (my favourite is in Union Square). Walk around Chinatown, Soho, Chelsea or the East Village. Take a visit to the outer boroughs: Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx all have some great sights all reachable for the cost of a subway fare.

If you do want something that's really 'postcard NYC', grab a hot dog or a slice and go for a ride on the Staten Island Ferry – it's the best cheap dinner on the best free boat ride in town.

Q: Where will you never see a tourist?

A: I'd be surprised to see any in a place like Ozone Park. Then again, I've never been to Ozone Park, either.

Q: Be honest: NYC with or without the tourists – which would you prefer?

A: I don't think you could ever have a NYC without the tourists. They're just a part of life there, as natural a phenomenon as the pigeons, the hot dog vendors and the guys who sell watches from briefcases in Midtown.

Further reading: If you're in New York for work, check out our guide to New York for business travellers. If you're in town for fun, we've got 40 free attractions in New York City to add to your itinerary.