A Peek Into New York Life: What New Yorkers Are Afraid Of

A lot of people ask me what it’s like to be a New Yorker.  I saw an article recently that talked about what New Yorkers are afraid of, and I thought it could give you peek into New York life.  Though that list was incomplete.  After 13 years here, I figured I could make my own…  🙂



Dog poop on the sidewalk
Rats running towards you on the subway platform
Dying on the BQE or the LIE in a cab, on the way home from JFK
Subway cars with no AC
Smelly people on the subway
Liquids of any kind on the subway…esp. bodily fluids
Apartments with no light
Driving in New Jersey
Fast food chains
Dr. Zizmor
Person falling asleep next to you on the train and nodding their head on your shoulder (eeps)
People carrying big metal boxes on trains
Leaving New York and having to give up good food
Getting towed
The Third Rail
Slime goo on sidewalks
Out of town guests who leave their shoes on and walk very loudly above downstairs neighbors
Canal Street
Times Square
Tourists that “mall walk” slowly, 5 people wide, across an entire sidewalk
Tourists who stop in the middle of the sidewalk
People on the street who ask you where you got your hair done & then try to sell you salon packages
Pigeon poop around The Plaza
Friends of cousins who ask if they can stay with you
Getting your laundry stolen in the laundromat
Scaffolding that is half-way built
Talking to someone on the Subway
Finding parking on a rainy day (or any day)
Forgetting where you parked
Trash days in front of Chinese food restaurants
Landlord raising your rent
“No Standing Zones”
Finding a good hair stylist or a good dentist
Not getting a good bonus (New York is all about the bonus)
Blocking the box
Roaches scurrying on the sidewalks late at night
Trying to understand the signs getting out of JFK (Van Wyck WHAT?)
Salt soaking into your leather shoes after snow storms
Changing from ugly walking shoes to heels just before entering an office building (it feels so unglamorous and silly)
Sweating through your clothes in the summer on the way to work
Seeing your neighbor on the train (sometimes headphones & reading are more appealing at 8 am.)
Getting your bumper destroyed from parking on the street
Getting a ticket for double parking for dry-cleaning, cheesecake at Junior’s, unloading groceries
Sick passengers announced on the train
Your building going condo
Landlord finding out you’re renting out your apt on Craigslist during holidays
Bed bugs
Bed bugs
Bed bugs


Obviously, lots of opportunities here to practice making peace with our fears.  ha!  (Really, it’s all these small things in life that add up and keep us from being happy – they just add stress.  When I figured that out, I made it a habit of mine to pay attention to things that riled me up throughout the day…and to uproot those negative thoughts or fears by pursuing virtues instead.  Sounds lame, I know.  But doing that can literally change your entire life.  PROOF:  It no longer will change my blood pressure to have a slow walker walking in front of me.  And it won’t ruin my day to pick up a friend of a cousin from JFK.  And I even was able to handle quite well 8 mechanic trips due to rats eating up wires in my engine.  I know these are things that only New Yorkers could relate to, but that’s some serious stuff, you guys.  I’m telling you, pursuing positivity works.  🙂  It’s life changing.  If I can do it, you can do it.  I dare you to try it!  (Also see:  The F-Word Made Me Bankrupt.)

OK, New Yorkers, what did I miss?  And, what are people afraid of where you live?  Scorpions? Not enough ski days?  Living too far away from Trader Joe’s?  🙂  I’d love to hear. 

(NYC Subway Maps designed by Massimo Vignelli, 1972)

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  1. Anonymous January 15, 2013 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    Gross water/fluid dripping from A/C's overhead in the summer.
    (Also, it's "peek", not "peak".) 😉

    • mara January 15, 2013 at 4:51 pm - Reply

      YEEES! So true! hahha. (and thanks for the spelling correction…i need an editor around here on some days. 🙂

  2. pneu January 15, 2013 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    I live in Korea right now, and people are afraid of "fan death" — they think leaving a fan on while someone sleeps can be deadly. There's even a Wikipedia entry on it!

    I call it "creeping fan death" because that's even funnier.

    • mara January 15, 2013 at 4:52 pm - Reply

      Oh my goodness…hilarious!

  3. Anonymous January 15, 2013 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Alternate side of the street parking – getting it wrong and/or sleeping late and missing the highly-orchestrated move-move-back routine. Hearing that it's suspended is like getting a snow day!

    • mara January 15, 2013 at 4:54 pm - Reply

      SO TRUE!! 🙂 I have to set alarms on my phone for like every possible scenario. It rings about 8 times a week…just so I'm covered, depending on where I'm parked.

  4. Alyssa January 15, 2013 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    Tourist crowds at the Farmers Markets
    Hitting a horse & buggy with your car
    Stink bugs
    Traffic by the outlets-any time after 10am
    An accident on Route 30, pretty much the only way to get between the two sides of the Susquehanna River (Lancaster and York)
    Fruit flies around your fresh produce
    Driving in the snow/ice/sleet/rain
    The local train station's parking lot
    Driving by the meat factory (ew hot dog smell)

    • mara January 15, 2013 at 4:54 pm - Reply

      This is the cutest list ever. Thanks for a big smile today.

  5. Anonymous January 15, 2013 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    Yes, scorpions!! They give me nightmares frequently.

  6. bari January 15, 2013 at 2:30 pm - Reply

    I grew up here and I have to say you pretty much nailed it! Rats running towards you in the subway is probably my #1 nycentric fear followed closely by driving in NJ. I am still laughing at this list! Forgetting where you parked is bad but last month my husband went on a work trip and I didn't realize that I had no idea where the car was until I needed it and he was in the air. Only in NYC baby.

    • mara January 15, 2013 at 5:00 pm - Reply

      Oh my goodness…that car story! That could happen so easily. One time I went to work in Manhattan and took the car keys (Danny was at home in Brooklyn and needed to move the car). I sent the keys home to him in a car service. haha. Cheaper than a messenger – and a parking ticket.

  7. Sally January 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    Construction on the apartments next to you (going on 4 months here and with a baby)
    Going to a cash only restaurant and not having any
    Wearing the wrong shoes on a day that it is suddenly raining because you didn't look at the weather
    Having your iPhone stolen (sadly happened to me)
    Getting stuck in traffic on the way to the airport
    Having your baby in the subway or in a taxi (luckily didn't happen to me although barely made it to the hospital!)

    • mara January 15, 2013 at 5:01 pm - Reply

      YES YES YES!!! You NAILED these. I knew there were more good ones out there. Every single one of these is so true and making me laugh.

  8. Rose Jorgensen January 15, 2013 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    Love this post, and it's very interesting to know the facts of what people are afraid of in the city! My family and I venture out to New York quite frequently and don't act like a tourist anymore! We've already gone to some of the places that you mentioned to go eat, and shop in Brooklyn! I even mentioned it on my blog!

    I'm originally from Texas, and my husband is from Utah, and we've lived in Jersey now with our four children for five years. I would have to say that by observing (and boy do I observe) people here are afraid of hugging (even at church), people being nice, driving when it barely snows (schools shut down the day before it's even started!), and driving long distances (to them long distance is a 25 minute drive to the only Costco we have in South Jersey! It's hilarious!

    I guess living in four different states in 21 years has made me fearless, and it amazes me how people that have lived in Jersey for over 20 years have never, ever been to New York, D.C. or Philly!

    We try to be fearless in all that we do, see, and live. I've taught my children the same thing. I had a pretty rough childhood growing up, and I know that could be the reason why I'm fearless!

    Thanks for this post! x

    • mara January 15, 2013 at 5:46 pm - Reply

      haha – love this. Especially the part about people living here over 20 years yet have never traveled outside their immediate neighborhood. Same w/ Brooklyn…I know kids that have grown up in BK yet never been to Manhattan.

  9. Lauren January 15, 2013 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    Snakes! I'm from the mountains in VA and grew up in several houses in the woods, so snakes were a part of life. Now, we live in Charlotte, NC and people are terrified of snakes- even non-poisonous ones! My husband and I laugh all the time at the "scary snake stories" that people love to tell. It's like they're shocked they survived to tell the tale 🙂

    • mara January 15, 2013 at 5:47 pm - Reply

      Hilarious!! (Though I'd be the one telling the snake tales, too.)

  10. Heather January 15, 2013 at 4:48 pm - Reply

    Noisy neighbors moving in next door (and backing up the tv to your bedroom wall and/or having a dog)!

    • mara January 15, 2013 at 5:48 pm - Reply

      Is that not the truth? It's a total risk every time a new neighbor moves in …you have no idea what you're going to get…

  11. M H January 15, 2013 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    This list is so brilliantly (and scarily) true! You *totally* nailed it, Mara! I think my one addition is all of the creepy Elmos in Times Square. They might just haunt me til end times!

  12. Utah Girl Am I January 15, 2013 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    I'd say many of these apply here in DC, too! (Except maybe the rats on the metro. 😉 Thankfully, ours is cleaner. Ha ha. But yours IS cheaper, and it runs 24-7, so… trade-offs?) More for DC:

    – "Esca-lefters" (the people — ie: tourists — who don't know to "stand right/walk left" on the metro escalators and make you so laaaaate sometimes!
    – Rats running towards you on the streets of Adams Morgan (so gross!)
    – Missing the last metro of the night!
    – Not having cash for cab fare (most here don't take credit cards!)
    – TOURISTS everywhere in the summer!
    – Getting your hair/makeup to look perfect, only to have both be ruined two seconds after you step into the summer heat/humidity.
    – Driving through Dupont Circle (or anywhere in DC)
    – Driving on the Beltway in rush hour
    – Going anywhere that isn't metro-accessible
    – Parking tickets
    – Getting stuck under someone's armpit during rush hour on the metro (happened to me once…)
    – Not finding a bike (or a place to return yours) on the Capital Bikeshare rack


    • Utah Girl Am I January 15, 2013 at 6:10 pm - Reply

      And that's not even including all our political fears! 😉

    • mara January 15, 2013 at 6:12 pm - Reply

      LOVE THIS! hahaha. I don't know why but I just think these lists are so funny. THANKS for sharing!

  13. Anonymous January 15, 2013 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    Also those guys who stop you in Time Square and ask if you want to see a comedy show. They frighten me.

  14. Liz January 15, 2013 at 6:54 pm - Reply

    the bed bugs bed bugs bed bugs made me laugh. i thought i had bed bugs once and i completely lost my mind at the mere thought. those little critters are terrifying!

  15. Tiffany January 15, 2013 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    I've lived in West Los Angeles for 13 years.
    The majority are traffic or parking related:
    -Having to head east on a weekday any time between 7-10am or 3-8pm (the east side is scared of west side traffic in general)
    -President Obama or the First Lady coming to town.
    -Heading home in the early AM and a portion of the free is shut down. Sitting in traffic at that time of night is the worst.
    -A portion or all of the freeway being shut down for any reason at any time.
    -Parking tickets
    -Street parking that has three or more parking signs and trying to decipher if it is safe to park there or not.
    -Moving your car when you've got a good parking spot.
    -tourists who don't know how to drive in LA
    -Participating in any activity (eating, parking, shopping) that is cash only and you don't have any or enough on you.
    -Orange County
    -Earth quake weather
    -the squirrels at UCLA
    -the thermometer dropping below 60 degrees or going above 90 degrees.

    Man these list could go on and on…

    • mara January 15, 2013 at 7:01 pm - Reply

      LOVED this list!! I'm laughing. For NY, ditto on the Pres. coming to town. And moving your car when you've got a good parking spot. SO true.
      I think this could be a series and could turn into a little booklet…the kind they sell at Urban Outfitters. Mmm…

  16. Linda Löfgren January 15, 2013 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    We have had so much snow in Sweden this winter and what I dont want to happen that buses and trains are delayed because of snow chaos and the roads is not plowed. And SNOWSTORMS! But YEES me and my children love to play in the snow specially whit sled and snowracers. Is very importent to dress warm and well here, tempratur can be -10F 🙂 Sorry for my bad english :S

  17. Anonymous January 15, 2013 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    In the South we fear random visitors (cousins friends of friends of friends) NOT coming in town and staying at out house! We love visitors! 🙂

  18. linsey January 15, 2013 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    Stroller + any subway station with more than 2 flights of stairs. Heart attack.

    • mara January 16, 2013 at 2:36 am - Reply

      I think moms could have a whole separate list equally as long!

  19. Sara January 16, 2013 at 2:09 am - Reply

    From Tampa Bay, FL:
    -air conditioner breaking down any time of year
    -friends who visit and day-trip to Disney (Do we have to go with them?)
    -sand EVERYWHERE after a trip to the beach
    -Palmetto bugs (think huge flying roaches)
    -cars/houses flying confederate flags 🙁
    -news stories involving incredible stupidity or lunacy (why are so many of these people from Florida???)

  20. GR82BAMOM January 16, 2013 at 2:28 am - Reply

    You nailed it, Mara! I laughed at your list and straight through the comments. Did anyone mention smelly subway elevators? When my little guy was a baby, I panicked every time I had to ride in one with the stroller, but it was either that or carry the stroller up and down the subway stairs. I would add to your list noisy neighbors who yell loudly at each other, play their music so loud that everything in your apartment trembles and are way too loud during intimacy. Likewise, neighbors who smoke, cook with curry all the time and refuse the exterminator. Also, that stagnant, murky water just off the curb. Yuck.

  21. Janika January 16, 2013 at 3:08 pm - Reply

    I thought of few we're afraid of in Boston:
    1. A Nor'Easter (crazy winter storm that includes lots of snow, wind, ice, etc.)
    2. A Nor'Easter without any bread, milk and chips in the house–if you're not sure a storm is on the way, just go to the grocery store and observe what is sold out!
    3. Accidentally parking in someone else's "spot" that they dug out after the Nor'Easter and getting a) tires slashed, b) death threat note on your windshield or c) shouted at (including obscenities)
    3. Getting stuck in Red Sox game traffic
    4. Getting stuck in Red Sox game traffic on your way to have a baby at one of the many hospitals near Fenway Park

    • mara January 16, 2013 at 9:16 pm - Reply

      Danny hasn't seen this yet and I can't wait for him to see it (he lived in Boston when we met)…these are all so true and you'll have him laughing, sure. thx so much!

  22. heidelade January 16, 2013 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    DFW area of Texas, though I've only lived here a decade or so and thus am not considered a native. 🙂

    * Swarms of fire ants. In a flood their colonies actually FLOAT. It's the stuff of nightmares.

    * Floods, some are slow and come with warning and others are flash and roar through the cities & towns.

    * Enormous tree roaches that will carry away small children. Okay, so they're only a couple inches long but they seem longer when they manage to get inside your house.

    * Tornadoes, though we live down the street from FEMA headquarters for this region and I want to think they picked a safe spot before building their bunker here.

    * 100 consecutive days of 100+ degree weather and no rain. You can't take the children out or they literally get blistered touching the playground slides. People try to plan pregnancies around NOT being pregnant in the summer here, though I had two babies in August on purpose – I just stayed inside with the AC.

    * AC going out in the summers, defined as April through October.

    * And I laugh at this one, but if we get even the slightest hint of ice or snow the place shuts down and grocery stores are wiped clean. It's kinda funny!

    All that said, I adore this place and don't plan to ever move away.

  23. Anonymous January 16, 2013 at 9:22 pm - Reply

    A New Yorker Wanna be.Lady,
    You call this fear?!
    You're suffering from 1st world problems.

  24. TheSpectrum January 16, 2013 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    Buying too many groceries at the grocery store and not being able to carry them home! (Have since switched to FreshDirect). 🙂

  25. Maz January 17, 2013 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    It's funny having moved from Australia to Japan – I've had so many "spider scares" here, none of which have actually involved spiders. It's just a piece of fluff on the carpet, or my hair touching my arm. It's just a habit to suspect a spider, then react. But in the 8 months I've been here I've probably seen only 5 spiders, most of them outside.

    In Australia, one of our biggest fears is seeing a huntsman (REALLY big spider) crawling across the windscreen while you're driving – and realising it's inside!!! Most people have experienced it at least once! 😉

  26. Shiloh Donkin January 17, 2013 at 7:55 pm - Reply

    Oh Mara, all of this is so true, but for Andy and I, it was bed bugs, bed bugs, bed bugs. I couldn't not get over my fear of them. Luckily, we never encountered them(at least not head on). Moving to Seattle, I was afraid of being too far from a trader joes (hahaha) but we fixed that by moving within 5 minutes of a brand new one. Phew! Now my biggest fear is thinking we need 3000 sq feet to raise our family (so absurd right!!!). Holding out strong in our 950 sq ft apartment, an absolute luxury compared to our Brooklyn gem of an apartment, I miss that place. I would move back just to have Emily as my downstairs neighbor! Missing the South Slope, but enjoying laundry in my apartment:)

  27. Sierra January 22, 2013 at 3:40 am - Reply

    Haha oh my goodness!!! This is hilarious.
    makes me want to move to New York!
    Oh, Just Living the Dream

  28. No chic, Sherlock! January 28, 2013 at 10:51 am - Reply

    Ahaahhahahha, I had fun reading this, great fun and very informative article 🙂 thanks for sharing. And, you have an amazing blog. So many different topics but not scattered over the place. Fashion. Life. Love it 🙂 I am so glad I found you.
    Till next time.
    Ines @ NCS

  29. tracy kaler March 14, 2013 at 5:53 pm - Reply

    I can say that at least half of these are my personal NYC fears!
    Great post.

  30. Anonymous March 24, 2013 at 12:13 am - Reply

    From Tampa:
    Stopped traffic, all day, every day. You could walk faster, if it were safe.
    Heat and humidity, all day, every day
    The car's AC not working during stopped traffic
    Red light cameras
    Trying to remember the rules for parking on this particular street, since they aren't posted anywhere
    General lack of culture or appreciation for it

  31. AJ April 3, 2013 at 10:20 pm - Reply

    Living in NYC

    – Dropping your monthly metro card and not knowing it until the next day when you need it. Or dropping it and having someone behind you pick it up and slyly change it for a daily card when smilingly "giving it back" to you.

    -Trying to cross a street in flats on a day that had begun as light snow in the morning but ended that evening in the dark as mushy water five inches deep. You thought you were stepping on a pile of snow only to realize you are suddenly inches deep in cold water.

    -Overzealous, self ordained preachers starting fights on the trains.

    -Hah hah! Yes, Dr. Zizimor with his rainbow ads on the trains.

    -Broken escalators in subway stations that involve 4-5 flights of escalators when you are in a hurry to get out of the station, or are tired.

    -Trains that run express out of the blue when you got on knowing that it's usual schedule is local. Which means riding extra past your stop, then turning around and taking a local train backwards. On a day you have a pressing appointment.

    -Walking near someone with a large, long package on their shoulder when on a packed sidewalk and they turn around and the package broadsides you at an angle.

    -Getting sick on a train and not being able to get off until the next stop.

    -Being on a train that is stuck in a tunnel, and needing to evacuate.

    -On a rainy windy day, having your umbrella invert inside out and needing to walk sans umbrella.

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