WRITTEN BY KIM BROUGHTON
The Book: Only in New York, How I took Manhattan (with the Kids)
The Author: Caroline Overington
Living in New York, we are often surrounded by film crews shooting footage, meeting writers, actors and artists so I’m often curious how life translates to other mediums. When this book popped up on my Facebook feed, I immediately ordered it online. After all, who doesn’t love a good book recommendation, and it felt comforting that someone wrote about an experience that parallels my present life.
“Only in New York” is a warm and very honest view of the expatriate experience – Caroline Overington shows us her personal journey in this city – one that rings true and is similar to many others. I thought I would share a few observations and learnings from this book that may interest some AWNY members – or those considering a move to New York.
When I arrived in New York – I relished my UWS surrounds. I watched all the movies where the UWS streets were the background to classic moments and then went exploring on foot. This book is set in my neighbourhood – so it’s delightful to read about Barnes and Noble on Broadway, Zabars, recognizable landmarks and quirky little stores that are still around.
Living on One Salary
Many expats move to New York for around 2-3 years, transferring with their husband’s jobs. So it’s refreshing to read that Caroline and her family transferred for her job as a foreign correspondent and they lived on her salary. Her husband left his full-time job in Sydney however was neither eligible for a green card or a working visa and became the primary carer for their twins. This proved to be an adjustment that he grew to love in short time and I appreciated reading and understanding more about the male perspective of this experience. Additionally the economics of living on one salary in an expensive city is an important consideration that is soundly acknowledged.
What I learned: The AWNY subgroup Australian Mums and Dads is a terrific resource for expatriate parents.
The Perfect Apartment is like Santa Claus
I loved the chapter on apartment hunting because it was so true and so close to my own experience on the UWS. During 2001, Caroline found a 3Bed/2Bath basement apartment on W83rd/WEA for under $4,500 with a basement room that flooded from damp, was 2 feet away from smelly garbage that attracted a parade of rats and was swathed in perpetual darkness. Needless to say, she loved her apartment!
In a previous life in my Australian bubble, I wanted to believe that in 2013 we wouldn’t have to pay $6,000 per month for a 3Bed/2Bath perfectly ordinary apartment on the UWS. Because that’s just ‘cray’…right?
No, I was wrong. In 2013 I was shocked to pay through the nose for an even smaller apartment where I’m sure there are rats tip-toeing around – but in 2016 that’s life.
What I learned: It’s New York – so what are you going do?
How to Make Friends
The initial idea may seem a little silly…. typically you just go and strike up a conversation with someone. However Caroline discovers that in New York you need to make an effort to make friends, as many women are either working or networking elsewhere. She tried meeting other parents in the playground, which is usually the first port of call. However she advertised for friends (which most of us do).
What I learned: Seeking out expatriates through the AWNY network works a treat
School = $$$$$
Q & A time: Do you have a small child/ren?
No: I live in Bushwick and have a life – thank you
Yes: Be prepared to spend your life savings to send them to pre-school
Just kidding, the wee darlings can always stay at home.
The author’s chapter on child-care “The $15,000 Kindergarten Experience” is a must-read. If you are moving to New York with a preschooler, read this now! There are many child-care options available within New York and a great forum for this the AWNY Mums and Dads FB page.
We should be honest; it is difficult and competitive to find availability in a public preschool, kindergarten or school. If you are lucky enough to be offered space in a good public school – count your blessings. Private part-time preschool starts from around USD$15,000 and ranges from USD $20,000 up to USD $40,000 per year once they start kindergarten at a private school.
This is just one reason why there is real concern around schools, districts and zone residence.
What I learned: That drinking, therapy and sleeping pills are popular in New York for a reason!
My Worst Fear
Those subway doors close awfully fast, and I harbour a fear of being separated from my daughter and leaving her unattended on either the subway car or the platform – what would you do? There was an anecdote in the book of this very fear, a mother and child are separated when the crowd rush into the train and the doors close. As if this trauma wasn’t bad enough, what happens next is worse…the commuters turn on the Mother and accuse her of poor judgment – not looking after her daughter. It’s quite atypical of the unsolicited commentary that parents tolerate from strangers, and fortunately the story ends with the mother and daughter reuniting easily after 5 minutes. Nevertheless Caroline observations around behavior and these everyday situations touch all the right nerves.
What I learned: Map out an emergency plan should we ever be caught in that situation
Caroline dedicates a chapter to events of 9/11 as she reported on the aftermath for Australian newspapers. As a mother of twins, she sensitively empathizes with the widows who navigate a different life after the loss. The book described the experience of one woman, how she learned of the horror, how her day unfolded, and eventually broke the news to her children. The straightforward storytelling was affecting and even though we have moved on, it serves to remind that this event continues to affect the residents of New York.
Sex and the City
This HBO series is the stuff of New York legend. During weekly SATC screening parties, she learns about the real side of New York dating, as her new friend’s share their own experiences.
As an Australian woman moving to New York – there is curiosity if SATC was fact or fiction?
- High Heels….no one walks around in stilettos – try boots, rain-boots, or Toms
- You cannot find a rent-controlled apartment for love nor money (But if you have one, can you adopt me?)
- Drinking cocktails all night long doesn’t make you sexy and interesting, it just gets you incredibly drunk and sloppy inside 90 minutes (because of the free-pour)
- Just happening upon an interesting and good-looking stranger who is really into you is unlikely. Except if you meet on Tinder … where you hang out to watch “Netflix and Chill”
SATC Reality – this what really happens
- Ordering in food every night is real because ‘kitchen’s are more like ‘kitchenette’s
- Yes – the city is extraordinary, beautiful and amazing. Its buzzes and hums…and smells a bit like dog pee and weed
- The city is full of men … all looking for the next best thing
- There are plenty of weird and wonderful people to date
- Yes, the fashion is exceptional. Except on the UWS where Tina Fey still reckons we are just butt-ugly*
- The relationship with your television-recording device is real.
What I learned: If you don’t have Netflix, you might as well close your Tinder account.
Rats like Eating…and Rutting
This I did not know. I thought that I was well informed about the fearless rat of Manhattan but the endless cycle of feeding and fooling around is news to me. The author lived in a basement apartment that flooded frequently, was visited nightly by randy rats and ‘watered’ by local drunks. Sounds just like my old university days in Toowoomba actually.
The Bottom Line
I loved this book. It captures the real New York – a city that houses strange characters, a city of extremes and idiosyncrasies peculiar only to the Big Apple.
If you are an Australian parent living in New York – you’ll enjoy how Caroline tackles and embraces New York – taking it at face value and with a sense of humour. The book has a warm and conversational tone, so it feels like a having a coffee with a close friend – where you get all the inside jokes.
I wish I had read this book before moving to New York – but I probably would have side-lined it as one person’s experience. To be fair, it is a very honest account of life in Manhattan; the money, the apartments, the sex, the schools and those naughty little rats.
*I have a long-standing feud with my ‘BFF’ Tina Fey
More Words of Wisdom from this book:
- Did you know that you can pay someone to stand in a queue for you at the DMV?
- Rats can get into apartments swimming up through toilets – this thought is starting to keep me awake at night!
- You can be fined if you go surfing off-season at the local beaches
- Learn how to holiday in the Hamptons
Check out Caroline’s book on Amazon here.
If you are interested in other Australian expatriate authors living in New York, keep an eye on our AWNY Facebook page for book-readings and other interesting events.