When You Wake Up In The City That Never Sleeps
One of the brilliant things about our au pair in America programme is the three day orientation all participants get to join in with in New York City! You will arrive on a Monday and have some time to settle in, then three days learning all you need to know about being an au pair in America, so that’s four days to get used to life Stateside before meeting your host family and starting work. It’s a great opportunity to get to know other au pairs (who will have come from all over the world!), meet the staff from InterExchange and of course experience the bright lights of the big city!
While you are there, all your questions about the programme will be answered, even the questions you didn’t think to ask like, what does culture shock really mean? Do I have to pay tax? What do I do in an emergency? How can I get a US driving licence? Why is jam called jelly? What is Thanksgiving all about? Maple syrup on sausages? Who is the Local Coordinator in my area? Other au pairs will want to know all about you too and will have loads of questions about the UK, so be prepared – this is where the cultural exchange starts!
You’ll get time to relax and see the city too, you can go on a bus tour at night and wander around a bit during the day. Your hotel, The New Yorker, is right in the middle of Manhattan so you can easily take a stroll through Times Square if you fancy it – see if you can get yourself on the big screen! This is where New Yorkers come to see in the New Year at least once in their lives, a huge ball drops down at the stroke of midnight and there are fireworks and a lot of merriment and partying in the streets. While you’re on Times Square, pop into the massive Toys R Us – go on, you know you want to. As well as every toy you can imagine, there’s a big wheel in there you can ride! If you have trouble sleeping there are shopping opportunities to be had in Times Square until 2am! Try clothes store Forever 21 for starters… it’s the city that never sleeps and what better thing to do when not sleeping but go shopping!
When I was at the InterExchange 25th anniversary conference in NYC last weekend, I got to take a walking tour of mid town Manhattan with a lady called Joanne, who does the same tour with the au pairs at every orientation. It was a really great way to see this part of the city (even though it was freeeeezing – it was just before the snow dump on upstate NY). She will show you how to navigate the subway and find your way around. The NYC subway is brilliant – if you have ever travelled on the London Underground, you will know how eye-wateringly expensive it can be if you decide to go a long way by tube. In NYC it doesn’t matter how far you go, it will only cost you $1.50 (plus an initial $1 for your travel card). It’s clean and well maintained and the trains are air-conditioned in the summer and toasty in the winter. The subway stations are generally quite old, but this means they look and feel quite stylish with old tiles and clunky metal turnstiles alongside the card swipe system. The staff in the kiosks are notoriously grumpy and only begrudgingly helpful, so if you need their help, stay polite and speak really, really clearly – remember the US and the UK are ‘two nations divided by a common language’. You’re a foreigner in NYC and it can be hard to make yourself understood, especially if you are trying to talk through a window. There’s a very good chance that somebody is going to rudely tell you to speak English at some point. Just relax and enjoy this potentially hilarious aspect of cultural exchange. Welcome to NYC.
Whilst you are on the walking tour, look out for horse-drawn carriages, couples having their wedding photos taken, potato knish and hot dogs being sold on the streets, landmarks you’ve seen in movies and listen out for the answers to these questions:
How many subway stations are there? Which animals cannot be found in Central Park Zoo? Which movies featured the Astoria Hotel, FAO Schwartz (the other famous toy store in NYC) and the ice rink in Central Park? How much water is there in the lake in Central Park? You’re going to have to pay attention as there’s a test at the end. (There isn’t really… or is there? No really there isn’t. Just pay attention anyway, there’s a lot to learn, Joanne’s been doing this tour for years).
Here are a few more things you can do in New York for under a dollar fifty:
Breathe in. NYC has a lovely, evocative smell that changes through the year, at Christmas it’s chestnuts being roasted and the smell of cinnamon floating on the cold, cold air. In the summer the air tastes sweet with ice cream , pretzels, subway fumes and garbage – I know, I know, but trust me, it’s a really nice combination for some reason.
Take a squillion photos – look out for the little details, I always take pictures of graffiti, fire hydrants, people passing by, road signs, whatever’s on my plate for breakfast and stuff like that when I’m travelling. Look up and take pics of the skyscrapers against the blue, blue sky of course, but don’t miss all the little details that make NYC so special.
Buy a pretzel and put mustard on it (might cost you more than $1.50, but not much more).
If you time it right and are going to orientation before Christmas, you’ll get to see the angels and the MASSIVE tree at the Rockefeller Centre (look out for the Lego store nearby with its Lego version of the tree too). You can see people skating and start to feel really Christmassy. Traditionally the tree lights aren’t switched on and Christmas doesn’t officially start until Thanksgiving is over (last Thursday in November), but it seems the stores on 5th Avenue missed the email about that. It was all looking very festive two weeks ago there were even Santa’s ringing bells in the street.
Find the Trump Tower. Donald Trump is the American Sir Alan Sugar, in as much as he starred in the original US version of The Apprentice. Try and catch it on TV – he’s hilarious, or at least his hair is. He also owns a big chunk of Scotland and is trying to buy a big chunk of Ireland – such is his love for golf.
Look in the window of the jewellers Tiffany & Co and the other uber expensive stores on 5th Avenue. Ponder how crazy capitalism, luxury and life are.
Go to the other extreme and mooch about a 24hr general drug store like Walgreens ‘At the corner of Happy and Healthy’ as they say. You will be able to buy pretty much anything you need – water, gum, deodorant etc. Get some Hersheys kisses to share with the other au pairs.
You can go into MOMA (the Museum of Modern Art) for free, but only on a Friday after 4.30pm, so you might have to save that trip until you are back in NYC after your year is up, as you’ll get to meet you family on Friday and head off on the next stage of your adventure. If you are craving a bit of art, wander past the art auction gallery Christie’s which is near the Rockefeller Plaza, and see their window displays. There’s been a huge balloon animal (made of stainless steel) by artist Jeff Koons outside the building for a while, but when I was there it was being wrapped up… if it’s gone, let me know what’s replaced it! One of his Balloon Dogs sold for $58.4 million a little while ago. $58.4 million dollars!! If you don’t have that kind of cash, see what the stalls on the street around Central Park have for sale – they have some cool framed black and white photographs and metal signs of Marvel Superheroes and NYC landmarks – much easier to get into your suitcase than an immense metal balloon anyway.
Whatever you do in NYC, relax and try to enjoy every minute of it – you are going to be jet lagged and waking up at England (Wales or Scotland or Ireland) o’ clock every morning (say 3am ish?) but where better to be an insomniac than in the city that never sleeps!
Talk to me about becoming an au pair abroad: [email protected]