10 Things New Yorkers Can Learn From Londoners

The card was publicly launched on June 30 2003, transforming the way travellers paid to get around the capital. Around 60 million cards have been issued since then and more than 85% of all rail and bus travel in London is paid for using an Oyster card. (Dominic Lipinski/Press Association via AP Images)

Around 60 million cards have been issued since the Oyster card was publicly launched in 2003. (Dominic Lipinski/Press Association via AP Images)

The Big Apple and its residents get a lot of stuff right. But that’s not to say they can’t learn a few thing things from those fog-drenched, bowler hat wearing folk in that other great global city.

Let pregnant people sit down

Subway users in NYC like children more than their London Underground counterparts. But they resolutely shun pregnant women. You could be lugging around a bump the size of Texas and your co-passengers, rather than catch your eye and kindly offer you a seat, will suddenly become extremely focused on their iPad or belt buckle. Londoners, meanwhile, fight to give up their seat to any woman with a belly they suspect might contain a fetus.

Make museums free
Museum and gallery enthusiasts in New York need to throw serious money at their hobby. Most big-name establishments charge entrance fees upwards of $20 – and this usually doesn’t include access to special exhibits.  In London, you needn’t part with a penny to explore the city’s major museums.

Less ridiculous IDing laws
You could turn up to an NYC bar with white hair, liver spots and smelling faintly of wee, and you’d still get asked to prove you’re over 21. Bouncers are much more easy going in the British capital, and rarely ask to see your ID if you look older than 25.

Taxi drivers who know the city and drive non-lethally
Yes, you’ll pay through the nose—and every other orifice—for even a short ride in a black cab. But you will get taken to you desired destination, fast. New York’s yellow cab drivers speed and swerve like lunatics, often with no particular route in mind. That’s why New Yorkers in taxis feel the need to bark directions.

More outdoor cats
New York felines live in their owners’ apartments.  It’s a miserable situation – both for the cats and the relocated Londoners used to seeing city tabbies, tortoise shells and tubby gingers frolicking contentedly in the great urban outdoors. We’re just baffled as to why anyone would confine a feral animal (at least one that isn’t ill or extremely old) to a poky flat. If you don’t have kitty-friendly access to the street or a garden, here’s an idea: maybe don’t get a cat.

Better flea markets
New York has a booming second-hand and vintage scene. The shops, reasonably priced compared to London’s rip-off selection, sell everything from Bakelite telephones to flapper dresses. But flea markets here are a different story. Bedazzled hipsters and enamored tourists roam these trash-filled emporiums fighting over who gets to pay $40 for a broken crate or $10 for a rusty key. London has better markets and, more importantly for bargain-seekers, massive weekly car boot sales, which still yield actual bargains despite the hipsters moving in.

Affordable theater
The cheapest available ticket for a Broadway show will set you back roughly the same as a mid-range Ikea sofa. Seeing a production on the West End costs around half that, even for the good seats, which means less well off Londoners aren’t excluded.

Stand on the right, walk on the left
New Yorkers still haven’t yet figured out how to use an escalator correctly. Many treat the moving stairs in stations and department stores like a ride. The step they happened to mount is their personal territory until they’ve finished their turn, so they sprawl and refuse to move should someone want to get by. This is insanely frustrating for any “walkers” who just want to get off the escalator and on with their day. Londoners, meanwhile, have a system: stand on the right; walk on the left, allowing those who do not wish to linger an exit. Anyone seen not following these rules will be summarily tutted at.

Oyster cards
These plastic replacements to the traditional paper travel card have seen their share of controversy. But now Londoners quite like their Oysters. You can top ‘em up online and they’re easily replaced if they get lost or stolen. New York’s subway still uses flimsy travel cards, which you have to swipe at a particular speed and with just the right amount of heft to make them work. And try getting a season ticket replaced if you break or lose it. It’s an agonizing process that involves sending off actual paper letters. Metrocards do, however, make great toothpicks.

Drive better
Londoners are basically good drivers. Most realize theirs isn’t the only vehicle on the road and they rarely use their horns. New Yorkers are the exact opposite. You’d be forgiven for thinking these people learned to drive in dodgems under machine gun fire. They’re habitually furious, honking like geese in heat, and they rarely stop for pedestrians.

Have you already learned something new from Londoners?

Join @MindtheGap_BBCA and guest co-host @BBC_Travel Wednesday, January 29 at 2 pm ET on Twitter for a #MindTheChat on London vs. NY (and LA). Which city is the greatest? Tweet your thoughts using hashtag #MindTheChat for a chance to win a full season download Neil Gaiman’s TV miniseries Neverwhere on iTunes. Follow @MindtheGap_BBCA on Twitter.

See More:
10 American Smells Brits Will Learn to Love
8 All-American Pastimes Brits Could Learn to Love
What the U.S. Can Learn From British-Style Parenting 

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.

See more posts by Ruth Margolis
  • rallybug

    London could learn from Hong Kong’s Octopus card, too – it isn’t just for the MTR, buses & trams. You can swipe your Octopus card to buy a drink or a magazine in a 7-11, pay for your parking spot, vending machines, lots of things.

    • Gtown

      Hmmm. It’s reassuring to know someone can go on a quick spending spree if you happen to lose that card. No PIN required. Albeit only the amount you’ve put onto the card but what good is that if you keep having to ‘top it up’?Besides that the more sophisticated criminal may be able to infiltrate your source of funding and bank account details via the data wielding Chip embedded into every card…

  • Eamonn

    NYCs museums are nearly all free. They just don’t tell the tourists that. If you look closely it’s not an entrance free it’s a “recommended donation”. Give more or less depending on your wallet and how much you like the place.

    • Jwb52z

      I thought museums in the US were always charged for visiting because the government doesn’t fund them in the US like they are funded in Europe or the UK.

      • dw

        The second part of your statement may be true, but museums in the US have other sources of funding than the government. For example, the wonderful Getty Center in LA is completely free — its funding comes (mainly) from its namesake billionaire philanthropist.

  • catmom3

    I do not let my cats outdoors because I don’t want them in fights with other cats or dogs, tortured by evil people who think it “fun” to harm or kill cats (in my city, a cat was recently set on fire; fortunately it wsa rescued and adopted), run over, lost, or stolen. My cats are not feral. Feral cats are not accustomed to contact with people and are typically too fearful and wild to be handled. Cities are not the place for cats to roam outdoors.

    • expatmum

      This is definitely a cultural difference. You probably wouldn’t see pets wondering round densely populated parts of London with no back gardens, but if there’s a green space, we let the cats out. A large percentage of them make it home in one piece on a daily basis. I think if you told a Brit s/he could never let the cat outside, they wouldn’t have a cat. Or they’d put it on a leash.

      • Jo

        Many US municipalities have ordinances against letting pet cats run loose and the fines can be rather hefty if caught. It is no more cruel to have an indoor pet cat than it is to have an indoor pet bird. Do the British open their birdcages each morning and let the birds fly free as well? If the UK had the weather extremes the US does fewer folks might let their cats wander outside all day. Furthermore, to suggest that one should not own a cat at all if it has no access to the outside is ludicrous.

        • expatmum

          Ludicrous? You’re absolutely right, and that it not what I said. “I think if you told a Brit s/he could never let the cat outside, they wouldn’t have a cat” isn’t a should or shouldn’t issue nor was it delivered as such. As I said in my first sentence, it’s a cultural difference which I was merely pointing out. Not being a cat person, I have no opinions on cats whatsoever.

        • dw

          Personally, I think that keeping a bird in a cage is pretty darn cruel. Comparable perhaps with keeping a cat in a box.

        • Gtown

          The statement about Opening the birdcages is ridiculous, unless you own a pigeon. And stating uk does not have weather extremes is laughable, type in floods and have a butchers (look). Luckily most us Brits equip the outdoor cats with life jackets and homing beacons as a preliminary measure

      • Gtown

        That’s incorrect there are many cats in densely populated areas of London without gardens who let their cats wander. I am a Brit and have 2 indoor cats. The reason they’re indoor cats is because I live on a blind bend which people drive like they’re on A class drugs around. They’re perfectly happy, if not I wouldn’t do it. No leashes either. Try not to generalize Brits as a whole as there are many in and outdoor cats, and different opinions on all matters, just like in the usa.

        • expatmum

          This whole blog is about cultural characteristics and traits, which actually do exist and are generalizations. That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions but it would be impossible to interview and report back on every citizen on every issue. Pointing out exceptions, as you have, adds to the discussion – there’s no “right” or “wrong” when comparing the general to the specific.
          BTW, the leash comment was tongue in cheek.

          • Gtown

            The entire blog is about generalizations by people from individual points of view, it does not represent a true representation of actual life in the real world. No one needs to interview every single citizen to realize that some people own indoors cats nor would you need to. Whilst bold candid statements are frequent you must realize such flippant generalizations will stand to be corrected. Additionally I know several citizens who keep felines indoors and i do not consider it to be unique let alone a exception. Pets at home store sell ‘indoor cat’ food, which indicates a larger proportion of indoor vs outdoor than you might think.

    • dw

      If they have access to a defined area that they can call their own, such as a garden or yard, many cats will be happier to be able to go outside. At least, that’s my experience. I mean — how would you feel if you were forced to spend your entire life indoors?

      • Jwb52z

        I guess it’s different for an animal, but personally, I hate being outside with all the dirt and bugs and possible bad weather.

        • dw

          But I presume you are glad that you at least have the ability to go outside when you want or need to.

          • Jwb52z

            In my specific case I don’t, but that’s not bad when I don’t like to anyway.

    • TMarius

      In the country, however – at least in America… We have dangerous wildlife roaming at night; usually coyotes in the Southwest.

      I have had a cat get torn open by a coyote (she lived, miraculously, with the help of a 24 vet hospital), and had another one just disappear – likely due to the same problem.

      If you have a hunting permit here, and have the permission of the owner of the property, you are permitted by Texas law to kill an unlimited number of coyotes in either day or night shooting conditions. That’s how bad our problem with those things are here.

      Same goes for boars around here, but those are more associated with attacking dogs and humans rather than cats.

  • Irené Colthurst

    So, at least two of these traits may simply be found in NYC. But trust me, Washingtonians also “have a system” of escalator use, stand on the right, walk on the left, and they stick to it well. DC’s locals also make very good use of their SmarTrip plastic, online-and-station-kiosk-reloadable paper ticket replacements.

    Then there is the Smithsonian system of free museums…

    Seriously, NYC is not the be-all and end-all of U.S. cities.

    • dw

      “NYC is not the be-all and end-all of U.S. cities.”

      To be fair, I don’t think Ruth was claiming that it is.

    • Nelson

      “NYC is not the be-all and end-all of U.S. cities.”

      This being America, you are fully entitled to your incorrect opinion.

    • dm10003

      DC = National Museums of which NYC has a couple and London being the capital has its system. NYC is not a Federal or central museum system.

  • dw

    The cats thing is probably just apartments vs. houses. When we lived in an apartment, our cats were too scared to go outside (because they could smell the scent of all the other cats in the neighbourhood). Now we have our own house, they happily go outside and roam in the yard.

  • abernaki

    Sadly there are A-holes everywhere and those that would let pregnant woman have a seat, but have the mentality that someone else will do it.

    Some museums are free some are not. Depends on how and how well they are funded.

    Sadly, people lose jobs and get arrested if they don’t follow the ID laws. Wish the culture would lighten up a bit on this.

    There are less people driving in London. Partially to mentality, and tolls. More cars, slower the ride, more anger. Can if be fixed? possibly with money and lots of time.

    Better an indoor cat than to euthanize a cat.

    Affordable theater – figure out a was to subsidize it or make it less popular else it is not going to happen..

    Stand on the right, walk on the left. Good idea some places use it. Just need time and lots of signs.

    Oyster cards = awesome.

    Yes, lots of bad drivers, but more drivers = more bad drivers.

  • Nelson

    So, you want cats getting run over?

  • ProudYankee

    I have to ask, because I’ve never been pregnant: Is it harder for a pregnant woman to stand than anyone else? If so, is it just because of the extra weight, or is there some other aspect?

    Also, please keep in mind that not every woman with a large stomach is pregnant, which may be more likely in America than Britain–I don’t know. Do you ever fear offending larger women or making them uncomfortable by singling them out?

    I’m just wondering too if it might be a cultural issue of some societies seeing pregnant women as more “delicate,” like in the old days when they were told not to exercise and to stay in bed all the time. Could it also be another “Americans tending to have a more self-reliant mentality” type thing? I don’t know; I’m just wondering. I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking someone else’s seat unless I really, really needed it.

    I have nothing against chivalry, by the way. I like it. But in the past chivalry has often walked hand in hand with sexism. As long as that’s not a factor–cool.

    If the extra weight IS the only issue, should everyone be offering their seats to all larger people, not just pregnant ones?

    Maybe I’ll understand this more if I get pregnant, but as someone who’s had health issues no one can see, I would caution people not to assume that just because someone looks fit and able on the outside doesn’t mean they don’t need that seat as much as someone whose handicaps are visible.

    • Mels

      I think your point about not assuming that someone who looks fit is healthy is a great one–there are many unseen injuries and suffering. But people can’t spot those–they can tell (most of the time) when someone is pregnant. And I don’t think that people on the subway don’t offer their seats because they view pregnant women as strong, self-reliant beacons of modern womanhood. I think it’s because a lot of people are, unfortunately, jerks. Granted, they’re jerks who’ve probably had a long day at work and are exhausted and don’t want to give up their seats and stand for five stops. But, I think it’s also about judging the situation. Even if I’m tired, if I see a pregnant women who looks like she’s struggling, or in discomfort, or looking for a seat, I suck it up and try to be a nice person. (Admittedly, I’m not always successful–sometimes I’m just a tired jerk.)

      The reality is that unlike many overweight people, pregnant women generally gain between 20-35 pounds in quite a quick stretch, forcing their bodies to deal with increased stress without a lot of time for adjustment. And you must remember, this isn’t 35 pounds of fat–it’s a baby, which moves, and kicks, and shoves its limbs into your vital organs and muscles. Women who are pregnant also suffer from varying degrees of fatigue, nausea (not just “morning” sickness), light-headedness, and other unpleasant side effects. They can also have blood pressure issues, heart palpitations, nerve pain related to slipped disks, gestational diabetes, and a whole range of other problems. They’re not just fat, they’re *growing a human being* and that takes a lot of damn energy.

      • ProudYankee

        Thanks for explaining the issues about pregnancy. It gives me a better idea of the situation.

        Personally, though, unless I were feeling faint or something at the time, even if pregnant I would feel guilty about taking a seat from a tired person who got to the seat before me. I guess I wouldn’t assume that my need to sit was greater than theirs.

        Also, as someone who used to have a flat stomach who now has large stomach due to a medical condition and is self-conscious about it, I would prefer not to have it called out by a stranger on a train. Offering a seat is a very nice sentiment; but I still think people should be cautious how they approach it and not make assumptions.

  • Erik

    Talk to any vet – indoor cats live longer and are healthier than outdoor cats.

    • dw

      People who spend there entire lives without going out of the front door would probably have a longer life expectancy and less chance of catching diseases. But would they be happier?

  • IndoorCatsAlltheWay!

    Two very good reasons to keep cats indoors:
    1. Indoor kitties live longer, healthier lives.
    2. Indoor kitties don’t kill birds, many of which are native and possibly sensitive or endangered.
    It’s not all about what the cats want, it’s what’s best for them and the environment.

  • dm10003

    The next step after Metrocards may very well be an Oyster-style as recent news stories have hinted. And as has been noted below Hong Kong (and Tokyo) let you use it outside the transit system.

    NYC is not a Federal or central museum system.

    I’ve lived in NYC 35 years and the stand on the right system has really caught on since the 90s, it’s very common now. But to blame New Yorkers when you might be talking about tourists means this whole article is built on suspect evidence.

    Cab drivers have changed styles since our famously colorful Jewish cabbies retired and many more international cabbies drive more aggressively.

  • dm10003

    Oh, do an article on why London is so expensive and that you come here to buy stuff. XD

  • Mandy

    On behalf of the several million Americans who have lived most of our lives in hick towns and quaint hamlets dotting the vast expanse between New York and LA, let me be the first to apologize for any inconvenience caused by our not realizing that there is a ‘system’ to riding an escalator. I honestly don’t think I’ve done so more than a dozen times in my 42 years, and that includes three trips abroad. To me, an escalator has always been as much a novelty as anything I was traveling to see, and I thought the whole point of riding one was to avoid having to climb stairs. Of course, now that it has been pointed out, the system makes perfect sense to me. I also realize that anyone who encounters such conveniences on a regular basis would not be as charmed by them as I, so in the future, I will try to be courteous and remember to stand on the right so that the more cosmopolitan people around me can walk on the left.

    As for cats being inside or out, I have all three. The one who has been a house cat since kittenhood is the healthiest of the three – healthy weight, seldom ill, never injured, never had a flea or tick or worms that I could see. He has toys all over the house and likes to sit in the windowsill and watch the birds, but has no interest in going outside to chase them. I have held the door open for him and called to him, and he stands there staring at me as if I have lost my mind.

    As soon as the weather gets nice, the one who came to me during an ice storm as a half-grown stray twelve years ago and moved inside frequently likes to bolt out the door like it’s a jailbreak only to stop ten feet away and eat grass. If you have half an hour to wait, she’ll eventually wander another 50 feet or so, but there is nothing of the wild adventurer about her. She came to me full of worms and has a wonky toenail from a fungal infection that took literally years to clear up, has to be treated for fleas regularly, has the occasional tick, and occasionally gets very ill and stops eating at which point I take her to the vet, am told she has a viral or bacterial infection, and have to isolate, medicate, and force-feed her until she is better. She never developed the tiny incisors that are supposed to come in between her canines, and has had to have all but one of the teeth she did have pulled due to decay. The one that she has left sometimes catches her upper lip and makes it curl like Elvis’s. To be fair, I think some of her issues might be genetic, but the ticks and fleas, and probably the upset tummies have a lot to do with being outside, and no, we don’t use chemical on our lawn, so just eating the grass isn’t making her sick.

    My third cat is going to be four or five. I can only guess that he was about a year old when he showed up in my garden, starving, crawling with ticks and fleas, and bloated with worms. He’s much healthier now that he’s well-fed and had his shots, but he’s been in two fights that he lost, both times coming home with painful abscesses in his bum that required surgery to drain and clean them out. He’s also had a couple of the throw-up-and-quit-eating bugs, gets worms two or three times a year, and has to be treated for fleas and ticks every summer. I also know he plays in the street because it’s tar-and-chip and I have found the goop in his paws. If it were up to me, he’d have become a house cat, too, but it’s not my house and the other two were permitted inside only because I’d already had them with me for years when I moved here.

    Indoor cats are definitely healthier (and therefore less costly to keep) and probably live longer lives.

    Letting pregnant people sit down made me chuckle. A friend of mine was teaching first grade, wearing a dress with a fairly unflattering, baggy cut, and had one of her six-year-old students ask if she was having a baby. When she told the girl no and asked why she thought that, the answer was, “Because my mommy’s having a baby and she has a dress just like yours to hide her big belly!”