6 myths about living in New York

Is it all sipping Cosmos, eating cupcakes & running around in stilettos in the city that never sleeps?
City of Dreams. Big Apple. Concrete Jungle. The home of skyscrapers, yellow taxis and pizza slices. Credit to the silver screen for making me fall in love with this city before I'd even touched down on the tarmac at JFK. I grew up on an appetite of Friends and Sex and the City, dreaming of visiting New York and after my first bite of the Big Apple aged 18 thanks to my Fairy Godmother, I fell in love with the idea of living there too. Aged 28, that dream came true and I packed my husband, Manolos and rose-tinted spectacles to set-up our life in New York. A year to the day since I returned to London, I can still say it's one of the most magical cities in the world but the reality of living there is quite different to the HBO version. I'm here to dispel the myths and misconceptions of living in New York City. 

“So maybe it won’t look like you thought it would in high school, but it’s important to remember that love is possible. Anything is possible. This is New York.” - Carrie Bradshaw

1. You Speak The Same Language
It turns out Americans and Brits really don't speak the same language! Seriously. 

If, like me, you thought the main difference between American English and British English was a bunch of 's's and 'z's, I'm here to tell you that spellcheck won't help you navigate this cultural shift! I realised the seriousness of the issue when my new American boss began a glossary of my "Britishisms". Turns out, I'm more colloquial than I thought and became acutely aware of the bizarre habits I had picked up. For someone who doesn't even watch University Challenge, my saying 'starter for ten' confused the hell out of my Vice President! Turns out I couldn't turn over a new leaf either and my punishment was recording the New York office's voicemail message for being the "most British".

"That's another reason I love New York. Just like that, it can go from bad to cute." - Carrie Bradshaw

2. You can write a weekly column & afford to live in a New York apartment!

 "I've spent $40,000 on shoes and I have no place to live? I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes!" - Carrie Bradshaw

The entire island of Manhattan is, by London standards, like renting in Mayfair. And it's either that or hop across the river to Queens or New Jersey where you can pay the bargain, pinch-free, on-par-with-Islington prices! Unlike Carrie, I didn't have a bathroom with two doors or a walk-in wardrobe or even two dimes to rub together after I'd paid my rent every month! Yep, it's eye-wateringly expensive and 'rent-controlled apartments' are just like the Mary Jane shoes, an urban myth!  

While the cost of moving anywhere is high, New York has the same effect on prices as the word 'wedding': everyone just adds on a couple of zeroes! I bet you didn't know that literally everything stocked on the shelves in Manhattan has an 'Island Tax' added to the price tag which is effectively the cost of getting the produce over the bridge and onto the island!

"When I first moved to New York and I was totally broke, sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I felt it fed me more." - Carrie Bradshaw

The biggest shock is the cost of everyday life and the fact that after six months, I was having dreams of walking into Tesco or Superdrug and almost trolley-dashing at the (by comparison) low pricesWhere is a dollar store when you need one? We swapped Sainsburys for Whole Foods because the only affordable food store in the whole of Manhattan, Trader Joes, only has three stores in the entire island and the savings would have been gobbled up by the taxi fare home (please don't suggest the subway home, you know they pack things in paper bags, right?). Plus, the queue for the checkout literally begins at the entrance and the best tactic is to shop from the queue as it weaves up and down every aisle! Certainly makes me appreciate Ocado, Hello Fresh and being closer to European-sourced food now! 

[Side note: I'm now Hello Fresh's biggest advocate and you can get £20 off your first box with code ROSEANDRY]

3. The City Never Sleeps
Well that's a lie. I can't tell you how many times I had been disappointed by the pizza shop closing at 10pm. What is this?! I lived down by the Financial District so the weekends were pretty quiet around there and the shops certainly didn't operate on a 24/7 policy. I know many other districts did though. Along with the thousands of bars and restaurants that are open 'til all hours, the average New York dinnertime was around 10pm and you could easily catch a movie at gone midnight. 

4. I'm staying in tonight to 'do laundry'
Carrie Bradshaw did more airing of dirty laundry in her column that actual laundry but many American films and sitcoms are guilty of glamorising this mundane chore. The reality is most apartments in New York aren't fitted with washers and dryers (aka. washing machines and tumble dryers to us Brits) so be prepared to either lose an entire evening (don't dare attempt this on a Sunday) riding the elevator to get your whites glistening or swap the "I'm washing my hair" excuse with the very real "I have to do laundry". Living on the 23rd floor and having to hoik your bags of dirty washing down 22 floors to use coin-operated washing machines feels (a) way behind the times and (b) completely unromantic compared to the John Hartnett version.

5. Bright Lights, Big City. 
Or not as the case may be. Unless you're in Times Square...in which case, prepare to be dazzled and watch out for retina damage. Though generally it's cooler to eye-roll at Times Square, avoid it like the plague and pity any visitor who suggest going there (then you're almost a bonafide New Yorker!). But the real point here is the bizarre observation that ceiling lights in New York apartments are few and far between (like chip & pin card machines or ATMs that don't charge you for withdrawals). Or was this just my apartment?? You can completely forget lighting in your bedroom, too! How weird, right? Having sold my last two bedside lamps three weeks before leaving the city, I was plunged into darkness from 6pm onwards every evening. Apparently the reason for this is to keep costs down for developers... if only the same could be said for the electric bill when you have lamps in every corner.

6. You'll holiday in the Hamptons. 
"One of the best things about living in a city like New York is leaving it. My friend, Patience and her husband invited me out to the Hamptons for the weekend. Patience and Peter were the perfect married couple. They were fun, smart, and they looked like they fell out of J. Crew catalog. If their house wasn't right on the beach, I would've hated them." - Carrie Bradshaw

The Americans may only get 10 days holiday a year (and they don't even take all of those!) but you are sure guaranteed a trip to the Hamptons. New York has a great summertime rule of closing the offices early on a Friday - aka. Summer Fridays - and the weekend away culture is a big thing. Prepare to network to find out who you know in your social circle with keys to a house in the Hamptons. The truth is, I didn't venture far enough afield to experience the Hamptons first-hand. I had a mixed bag of opinions from colleagues at to whether it was worth it; my conclusion is you need a 10-bedroom mansion on the beach to experience anything quite like the movies portray! So for now, the bubble hasn't burst on this New York dream of mine!

"After all, seasons change, so do cities. People come into your life and people go. But it's comforting to know that the ones you love are always in your heart, and if you're very lucky, a plane ride away." - Carrie Bradshaw


The Truth About Laughter Yoga

When your mother tells you she’s becoming a Laughter Yoga Leader, that in itself may conjure a laugh. Or a raised eyebrow. Or a furrowed brow of confusion. What is a Laughter Leader?! It turns out, there’s a whole community that is turning to laughter to improve wellbeing, combat stress and get those endorphins flowing. I didn’t know until I was stood in my first ever laughter yoga class on a Saturday morning, that the brain can’t detect the difference between a “real” laugh and “fake” one. If I’m being honest, I have required fake laughing before now and recalled how incredibly exhausting I found it - perhaps this Laughter Yoga was going to feel more like a workout that I thought! Not surprising for an introvert that the notion of standing in a room full of strangers and being asked to do a series of exercises (most of which require eye contact and bellowing laughs) was my idea of hell. However, I’m all for trying things once...and I told myself, even if I didn't find the experience funny, the anecdotes would no doubt be worth the £10 to attend (cheapest ‘Yoga’ session in London I might add!)

Before I get into the detail, I'm aware there's a little myth-busting required so you all understand what exactly Laughter Yoga is... 

The first misconception about laughter yoga is you’re required to own exercise gear. Wrong. You can turn up in whatever you feel comfortable to move in, but you certainly don’t have to don Sweaty Betty’s latest collection to fit in here. This is a judgement free zone.

The second misconception is you’ll be going red-faced in downward dog with, God forbid, your arse is in air and asked to laugh. That’s enough to make my very clenched little bottom run in the opposite direction. But nope, it’s not yoga in the traditional sun-salutation sense, it’s yogic breathing that features here: in through the nose, belly expands, out through the mouth (with a ha ha haaaaaa on the outward breath).
The 90 minute session is comprised of 60 minutes of laughter exercises and 30 minutes of mindfulness and meditation. The warm-up starts with an exercise sharing names and getting familiar with making ha-ha and hee-hee sounds. Okay, easing me in gently. Then comes the science, which is pretty impressive:

FACT NO.1. Did you know between childhood and adulthood we “learn” to stop laughing. As children we don't have the filter to think about laughing, we just do it when something humours us! But something about growing up causes us adults to become more reserved, filter ourselves and, sadly, laugh less. Nothing funny about that. 

FACT NO.2. The brain cannot decipher the difference between real and fake laughter. Hence why you all need to hang out at your local Laughter Yoga session regularly to get your fix of giggles. It's so dull to say but day-to-day life, especially in a high intensity or isolated job, can mean laughs are not a-plenty. Time to meet like-minded people, have a laugh and feel great!

FACT NO.3. At any time, laughter can help release a D.O.S.E of these 'happy hormones' - Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphin - which is basically kryptonite to those stress hormones. 

Then it comes to granting permission. You are asked to give yourself permission to laugh. Ah, right, there are my inhibitions being confronted. Yes I’m feeling awkward about the whole thing. Yes I’m slightly dreading it. But there we all are being asked to be equal and find the benefits of laughter together, without judgement. I would hazard a guess that everyone is feeling the same trepidation if they’re a first timer but you have to be in it to win it, I guess. In fact, as the session unfolds, you can feel the reservations melting away from all those around you get more used to the scenario before them and the laughter rises in volume.

A few examples of the exercises you’ll do are analogies for the trials and tribulations of modern life and so, incredibly easy to relate. All those thoughts from the working week whizzing around your head? Floss them away. All that worry and stress that’s in your pockets, empty them out. That never-ending to-do list burdening your shoulders, throw it away. The metaphors combined with breathing and laughter, giggling and chuckling has an addictive and enlightening effect. It also teaches us a much more significant lesson and that’s to use laughter therapeutically to keep balance in our life; next time you get stuck in a traffic jam, laugh at it to diffuse that adrenaline and nasty hormones flooding your body with stress. There’s a saying I often use when in a stressful work environment - If I don’t laugh I’ll cry - and it’s that, but done consciously. With Brexit upon us, there’s never been more need for us stiff upper lipped Brits to crack a smile, laugh at the political ridiculousness we’re in! Ho hoo ha ha haa!

The third misconception is people are laughing at you. Not true. There are times that hearing other people’s laughter helped me create more of my own, and sometimes the over-exuberant Laughter Leader cracked a joke but there’s certainly no laughter at someone else’s expense. I often did think throughout the session that if my husband could see me now, he certainly would be laughing AT me, but even I found vividly imagining that to my benefit when we were asked to free-laugh FOR FIVE MINUTES!!

Believe it or not, sixty minutes of laughter does feel like you’ve had a workout. Your core has been active, you’ve been moving/miming/walking around so by the time you get to lie down and meditate, I was basically asleep. The lasting feeling was certainly happy one. We were asked to share a word for how we were feeling at the end of the session: relaxed, energised (and relieved) were among them. The effects for some were so profound they felt compelled to share their delight at how they now felt; admitting their nerves at the beginning but that the laughter yoga served as a perfect antidote to bigger issues they were dealing with, such as depression and anxiety in their everyday life. When the results are that strong after one session, why aren't all of London doing this?? 

Valerie Letley - Laughter Leader & Life Coach - is celebrating International Women's Day with a session in East Sussex. Contact Valerie to find out more information about upcoming Laughter Yoga events.

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