Three years ago, I uprooted my life in Atlanta and moved to New York City; it was by far one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life. Since high school, a big dream of mine was to live in a large, energetic city with diverse food, people and opportunities. NYC fit the bill perfectly and throughout my college career and mid-20s, I developed a deep determination (and obsession) to settle there. Below are my cliff notes for NYC living as compared to life in Atlanta.
ATL: People tend to beat around the bush about how they feel. You'll almost never receive the truth because they either avoid the situation or sugarcoat the hell out of it. If a person doesn't like you, they'll be super nice and friendly to your face but talk a ton of shit behind your back. If there's an issue of any kind, people address it politely and quietly—or don't address it at all.
NYC: The honesty I've encountered here is brutal but refreshing. If a person doesn’t like you, they’ll either tell you or their actions will make it painfully obvious—there are no mixed signals. If there's an issue of any kind, people are extremely outspoken and will make sure everyone around them knows exactly how they feel about it. Even though New Yorkers are overtly candid, they are some of the kindest and most genuine people I've ever come across.
ATL: When people say 'thank you,' 'you’re welcome' and 'excuse me,' they actually mean it. And, if someone bumps into you, they sincerely apologize. A good friend of mine—born and raised New Yorker—came to Atlanta with me for the first time. A lady accidentally ran into her and apologized not once, but 3 times. My friend was so shocked by the sincerity she didn't know how to react. #kindnessoverload
NYC: People will say 'excuse me' but they'll say it in a snarky, self-entitled way like, 'Excuse me.' If you receive an apology from someone, they're either a tourist or hell just froze over. 'Thank you' and 'you're welcome' are kinda like Big Foot—very few experience it and most don't believe it exists.
ATL: Groceries are cheap. Rent is affordable. Washers and dryers are usually included in rental units and most importantly: central air. God bless central air. If you're apartment hunting, just walk into a complex, ask to see an agent and you're set. You can live comfortably on 50k per year—hell, you can even live comfortably on 35k depending on where you live. You'll also never have to worry about a price gauge on your favorite cereal.
NYC: Speaking of, there have been multiple occasions where I had to pay $8 for a box of cereal. $8! It wasn't even fancy cereal either. Apartment hunting is like a blood sport; the competition is ruthless. If you find something you like, you better put down a deposit immediately and have all your paperwork printed out or it'll be snatched up by someone else. Paying a broker's fee is common and amounts to 1 month's rent or—if they really want to rip you off—15% of the annual rent. Additionally, they require 1st month's rent, 1 month security and, in some cases, even last month's rent. Central air is not standard and neither are washers and dryers, dishwashers and elevators. My first apartment was a 4th floor walk-up, no dishwasher, no laundry and I could touch both walls of my bedroom when I stretched out my arms. I paid $1,500 for that place.
ATL: It’s not uncommon for strangers to smile and say ‘hello.' I was driving in a random neighborhood with the same friend (from New York) when a man standing on his front lawn smiled and waved to us. ‘Do you know that guy?’ I said nope. ‘Why is he waving to us?’ I told her that’s what people do around here. She couldn't believe it.
NYC: If you really want to creep someone out, smile and wave to them; they'll think you're a complete lunatic. If you try to talk to anyone, they'll assume you're either mentally ill or have an ulterior motive. On the off-chance you do make contact, it might go something like the this: My fiancee and I were walking to the train station. A man with 3 full bags of recyclables came up to us and said: 'Good morning, do you have any change to spare? Please? Anything at all would be so helpful.' We said: 'Sorry, we don't have anything.' Without missing a beat, he said: 'Go fuck yourselves!'
ATL: Although Atlanta is considered diverse within the context of the South, it's still far from being culturally rich. The city may have pockets of diverse crowds, but they are segregated and spread out into different areas. In terms of embracing and discovering cultures outside of the city's societal norms, they have a long way to go. This is the place to be if the majority of what you want is fried food and sweet tea that'll blow your mind, but don't expect to find an authentic Scandinavian tea house.
NYC: If one wants exposure to a vast spectrum of cultures, just walk down an avenue in the city and you’ll encounter multiple languages and countless faces of various ethnicities, races and gender presentations. Nobody cares what you look like, who you love, what you do, what you wear or what your cultural background is. You are free to wear a fuzzy alligator suit while waiting in line for your Ramen burger, but don't expect anyone to be impressed.
ATL: Atlanta is one of the more progressive cities in the South, however, it's extremely conservative compared to NYC. Despite the handful of highly intelligent people who live in the city, GA is still one of the lower ranked states in education. A huge shortcoming of this city is that numerous people lack knowledge about other cultures and resist exploring areas outside of their comfort zone.
NYC: I’ve seriously never come across so many Ivy League graduates before in my life. It makes an average person feel like they stumbled into a fancy cocktail dinner and wasn’t informed of the dress code. Everywhere you go you're exposed to highly educated, driven, well-rounded, and progressive individuals. Most are also well-travelled and possess impressive knowledge concerning cultures outside of their own.
ATL: The streets in midtown and downtown Atlanta are clean enough for you to fry an egg, eat it and not contract any diseases. Even MARTA is immaculate compared to NYC subways. The air is pretty clean—with the exception of pollen season—and if you tripped and fell, you wouldn't contemplate getting a Tetanus shot.
NYC: The sidewalks are so deeply caked in dirt that pressure washing doesn't even make a dent. Subway stations haven’t been renovated since the Year 1 and it’s not uncommon to be overtaken with the stench of fermented urine as you pass a pile of human shit on the stairs. Unless you plan to wear a hazmat suit, it's best to avoid sitting on the sidewalks—or on any pavement for that matter.
ATL: Atlantans are super polite, patient and helpful. If someone is in distress, you can guarantee people will go out of their way to help that person. If you need directions, they’ll not only give you thorough directions, but also a smile, hug and maybe even a flower. If you're in line and can't decide what you want to order, you're not in danger of getting your teeth slapped out.
NYC: Most New Yorkers are rudely impatient and inconsiderate. I’ve been shoved, yelled at and cursed out for not moving fast enough. Don’t know how to swipe your Metro card correctly? Move out of the way. Want to take a picture? Move out of the way. Have to tie your shoe? Move out of the way. Need to puke? Get the fuck out of the way! Nobody cares if you just pissed yourself, vomited in the storm drain or are half dead on the corner. Once I saw a man with his head shoved in-between the wall and a garbage can—I was about 90% sure he may have been dead—and people walked by without bothering to look down.
ATL: I remember the first time Baton Bob hit the streets with his fabulous wedding gown and baton twirling; everyone was shocked and looked at him like he was subhuman. He's still around but sadly, he's ridiculed more than praised for his eccentricity. I have a few interesting stories about Five Points and MARTA mishaps but nothing too over-the-top. Although, there was one time the SWAT team raided a friend's next door neighbor's home during my visit and we all thought we were going to die.
NYC: Nothing fazes these people. Nothing. They’ve seen it all: naked people walking the streets, people snorting cocaine on the sidewalk, crazy people hitting random subway riders, a person with paper towels stuffed inside a rotting cavity in their leg (yes, I've actually seen this), people urinating or defecating on the subway platforms, countless variations of couples, hairstyles, outfits, I mean you name it and chances are people have seen it. I've been humped on the subway, assaulted by a blind man, a naked law student tried to break into my fiancee's apartment while I was over one night—I can't make this stuff up.
ATL: Cars are your livelihood, even if you live inside the perimeter. MARTA is mediocre at best because it's rarely used and people living outside the perimeter have no desire to expand it. Due to the lack of public transportation, Atlanta wins the award for the worst traffic ever. On one of my visits back home with my fiancee, we decided to stop by Ikea. I completely forgot it was 4:30pm on a Friday, so a 15-minute ride turned into an hour and 30 minutes. We could've had a 5-course dinner, taken a nap and still had time to spare. I did, however, take for granted how having a car makes shopping a breeze. As long as there was enough room to carry what I wanted, I'd be able to fill it to capacity without the worry of herniating a disc while hauling it home.
NYC: You can take the train anywhere: to the beach, outside the city, into the suburbs, or to another state. It’s incredible. NYC public transportation is great, until it’s not. During rush hour, people are crammed in like sardines and you’re often stuck smelling some random dude’s armpits or unintentionally spooning a grandma. Shopping becomes a huge burden when you're carless. I never understood why most people have things delivered until my friend and I had to carry a ninety pound air conditioner up four flights of stairs in the sweltering heat. Another unexpected effort is visiting friends. If you live in Manhattan and your friend lives in Brooklyn, you’ll rarely see each other because going to another borough is like traveling to a different state. If you happen to live in New Jersey or on Staten Island, well, then I’m really sorry because you won’t be seeing much of anybody.
Even with all the crazy shenanigans one has to deal with living in this city, NYC has never felt more like home to me. Someone once said residing here is like being in an abusive relationship: the city treats you like shit but you just keep coming back for more. I've found this to be quite accurate: rent is way too high, most people are a-holes, work/life balance is a mess and if a zombie apocalypse broke out, we'd all be screwed. However, nothing compares to the convenience, diversity, opportunities and experiences this city has to offer. There are times I question my choice to live here when I have to pay $7 for two Hot Pockets, but then, I'll have experiences like eating hors d'oeuvres at a cat fashion show, getting cookies delivered to my door at 3am or taking a selfie with Edie Windsor at a random event, and that's when I think: why wouldn't I want to live here?