The Pressures of Playing Tour Guide in New York

By Amalia Ridwan

 

My boyfriend and I have hosted about 20 groups of visitors from Australia since we moved to New York two years ago. That is no exaggeration. They have ranged from close friends and family who stay with us, friends we just show around, to people we haven’t spoken to for many years but have seen on Facebook that we live in the city and would like to ‘catch up’ over dinner. And then there’s my boyfriend’s dad’s ex-work colleague’s 20-year-old son who we’ve never heard of but we’re obliged to go for a drink with, despite not being of the legal drinking age.

No matter who it is, there’s always pressure to perform. There are certain expectations to be met when you’re ‘the local’. There is added pressure when you’re ‘the local’ in New York. New York, New York. The concrete jungle where dreams are made of.

You are supposed to have inside knowledge on all the best places to eat and visit beyond all the tourist traps. You are supposed to be able to know your way around and navigate the subway like a pro. You are supposed to be able to emerge from that subway and have an inner compass that immediately knows which way is uptown and downtown, east and west. You are supposed to know where the closest ‘cool’ spot is for a drink from any random street in Manhattan. You are supposed to have room for visitors to stay. You are supposed to live like you’re one of the girls in Sex and the City.

Apart from the Carrie Bradshaw lifestyle and having room in my studio apartment for guests to stay (hah! I wish I had room for a couch), I’m mostly all over these things. I have a long list of incredible places to visit and dine, I have a kick-ass Brooklyn tour that our friends say is the (unexpected) best part of their trip. I can usually get my bearings in Manhattan from spotting the Empire State building and I can tell you every damn stop on the 4/5 from Bowling Green to 125 St. But I cannot handle the pressure of game day. When I’m playing tour guide, I’m suddenly incapable of getting out at the right subway station and I’ve been known to walk for blocks in the wrong direction and have to hold out my phone and let Google Maps navigate. Sometimes, the pressure to perform is so strong that I completely fall flat on my face.

Amalia taking her brother Adam on a tour of Brooklyn.

Amalia taking her brother Adam on a tour of Brooklyn.

Recently, a friend told her friend, Rachael, who was visiting New York with her sister for the weekend to get in touch with me. ‘Amalia will be able to take you somewhere cool for dinner,’ she promised. So when it came to arranging a place, Rachael said, ‘you pick!’, as they always do. The brief she gave me was ‘cheap and cheerful’ and ‘we really like dumplings’. I could have taken them to somewhere tried and tested. I could have taken them to Mission Chinese, I could have taken them to Mimi Cheng’s or any Asian restaurant in the East Village. But, I didn’t want to go somewhere I’d already been, plus I wanted to find them a gem off the beaten track that wouldn’t be expensive, that would be authentically New York, and would be delicious. So, I settled on a place in Chinatown, where I assumed would have the best dumplings in New York. The restaurant’s website and reviews seemed to vouch for it having a good vibe, nice décor and a decent menu. Turned out, they just had a decent marketing person.

By the time I entered the horribly brightly lit restaurant with tacky chrome chandeliers, odd furnishings, plastic tablecloths, no music and zero atmosphere, our guests were already seated with drinks – there was no changing restaurants. The chicken skewers were raw and the dumplings were cold and mediocre. This was the only night the girls were in New York and I bet their expectations were through the roof, and I took them to the worst restaurant I’ve ever been to. Fail.

It was such a massive fail that it became very funny. Another positive was that it only cost $20 each for dinner and drinks, and they played late 90’s Mariah Carey in the bathroom. The next day, I convinced Rachael, and her sister Sophia, to let me make up for it with a Brooklyn tour which consisted of walking across the Brooklyn Bridge to DUMBO, a stop for yummy cookies, my favorite bookshop, Powerhouse Arena, the Brooklyn Artists & Fleas, and lunch at a hipster restaurant in Williamsburg. I think I redeemed myself, and thanks to New York for putting on the sunniest day of winter.

Having so many visitors, especially in close succession (they always come in waves), can be pretty exhausting, not to mention expensive. People on holiday always have money to burn and expect to put on a few extra kilograms from constant eating and drinking. Despite all this, having visitors from home and being able to show them our new home is the best.

It gives us the opportunity to explore places we’ve never been and helps us see the city again with fresh eyes. The buzz from first-time visitors who I take down Wall Street, where I used to work and now feel nothing for, takes me back to the first time I walked there and I looked up at the big, old buildings as a light magical snow fall dusted my hair. My visitor’s excitement always rubs off on me and I’m reminded how great the city is and how lucky I am to live here. They get excited that I saw Clare Danes at the Whitney, that Girls is often filmed a few blocks from my house and that The Met exists. They point out little things like the fire escapes and fire hydrants we always see on television at home and the rats in the subway. They make me eat a New York slice and ramen burgers. They also teach me things, like where Dan from Gossip Girl lives or less trivial history and tidbits about the city that I can pass on to my next tourist.

When friends and family visit, they remind me what I’m missing out on from home. But they also remind me why I’m here, to appreciate New York City and why it’s so important to take the time to stop and count the subway rats.

 

Do you feel any pressure when you play tour guide in New York?

Share your experiences in the comments below, and if you are looking for a tried and tested 3-day itinerary, we got you with this one.

 

About The Author

Two years ago, Canberran Amalia Ridwan suddenly grew sick of roundabouts and packed her bags to find a city with none. Now she’s in the big apple, enjoying the city that is as straight-talking as its streets. Amalia lives in Brooklyn and has a business supporting growing companies and creative entrepreneurs with marketing and event solutions. Her current labor of love is Web of Women which she encourages you to check out, and is happy for you to email her at amalia@resourcefull.co or stalk her photos on Instagram @amaliaradwan