Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don't be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time, except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who've lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is "not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness." We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.
This week's question is from a native New Yorker who just can't stand it when a transplant identifies a subway line by its color.
Help me, also a native New Yorker, settle a bet. My friend has been in NYC for 11 years and yesterday she referred to the 4/5 as the "green line." As in, "let's take the green line." I was seriously taken aback and insisted that that's not how we do it here. I don't know why exactly but I vehemently know I am correct. Help me out & back me up: that's just not how we do it.
Revved up in Rockaway
A native New Yorker responds:
You are, of course, correct. In NYC, we refer to subways by their line numbers or letters, as in "the 4/5/6" or "the A/C" or "the fucking G." Older New Yorkers sometimes still use historical expressions, like "the IRT" (for all the number trains), or "The Lexington Avenue Line" (for the 4/5/6, which runs under Lex for much of its length in Manhattan). Your friend probably comes from D.C., where they use colors to designate their Metro lines.
Jake Dobkin didn't graduate middle school to waste his time talking subway terminology. (Courtesy Private Jake Dobkin Collection)
But I didn't come here today to talk to you about subway terminology. I want to discuss a much more important topic, which is how we natives correct newbies and tourists when they make some faux pas or misstatement that reveals their shameful non-NYC origin. Our tendency is, as you wrote, to get "seriously taken aback and insist" on things "vehemently," and then drown the person in a wave of condescension. But I've come to the conclusion that this is the wrong approach, and is earning us a rep as "assholes." Allow me to explain.
Let's consider this evocative scenario that I once encountered: you're standing on West Broadway and Spring, trying to buy a bottle of water from a hot-dog guy. But he's tied up with something, and while you wait, a tourist approaches and asks, "Excuse me, do you know how to get to Central Park?" Do you say:
A) "Central Park? Are you out of your mind? You're in SoHo, lady—SoHo! The park is like 4 miles from here! You should get in that cab over there and tell him to take you uptown, but it's going be like $40! Come on, you're better off walking over to that park between Chrystie and Forsyth, that's good enough."
B) "Oh, Central Park? Beautiful day for the park. What part are you trying to get to? Near Columbus Circle? That's easy—just jump on the C at Spring two blocks up. You can take it right to 59th, or transfer for the express A train at West 4th if you want to get there a little quicker. Have a great day!"
While you think about it, let's consider the wise words of Marcus Aurelius. He was a Roman advice columnist working in the 2nd century. Addressing this very question, he wrote: "People should not be sharply corrected for bad grammar, provincialisms, or mispronunciation; it is better to suggest the proper expression by tactfully introducing it oneself in, say, one's reply to a question or one's acquiescence in their sentiments, or into a friendly discussion of the topic itself (not of the diction), or by some other suitable form of reminder."
So when your friend says, "Let's take the green line up to 86th and go to the Met", you could, reply, "Great idea! I love museums, and the 4/5/6 goes right there!" Then you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you gently pushed your friend in the right direction, and had the equanimity and self-restraint not to embarrass her or come off like a boor.
So remember: everyone was new here at some point, even if it was at birth, so there's no shame in not knowing everything about the city. At some point, someone taught you what to call the subway lines and where to get a good slice of pizza and how not to get robbed, so think of that before you correct someone, and then pay it forward!
N.B.: Of course, none of the above applies to people who pronounce Houston Street like the Texas city. Correct those rubes like Delbert Grady corrected his family in The Shining.
Ask a Native New Yorker anything by emailing our tips hotline.