Back in May, I went off to New York to do a business course at Columbia University and also report for Verdict from across the pond.
Aside from gaining a better understanding of financial markets and balance sheets, I’d like to reflect on my time in the big city.
Timeline for almond milk
- September 12, 2017
1. Brexit is not on the news agenda
I can’t go a day without seeing a Brexit-related headline plastered on the front page of every major UK newspaper.
In New York, it was hard to find any articles on the UK’s imminent departure from the European Union (EU).
Mainstream US media coverage seems to be dominated by president Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, the complex internal dynamics of his administration and what could replace Obamacare.
All the big TV channels from Fox News to CNN dedicate hours and hours of airtime to whether or not Russia had a role to play in the outcome of the US election.
2. Brooklyn is cool
Hipsters hang out in Brooklyn, one of New York’s five boroughs, “and all the guys have beards,” my observant friend pointed out.
I did speak to some people who complained that the area had “lost its character”– particularly in the last few years, when it became almost impossible to ignore the impact of gentrification.
“It’s so yuppie. It’s basically full of middle-class white people,” one former Brooklyn resident told me and she’s not wrong.
Healthy cafes offering avocado toast and acai bowls have replaced once popular independent restaurants serving traditional Afro-Caribbean food.
WholeFoods opened last July in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighbourhood, also home to Starbucks, Urban Outfitters and an Apple store.
The millennial dream.
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3. The trains are air-conditioned
In the UK capital, there are signs on the underground telling commuters to carry a bottle of water at all times.
The helpful advice from Transport for London (TfL) is doled out to guard against people passing out from the sweltering heat.
Temperatures on the central line reportedly exceeded 42.3 degrees celsius in June.
On the other side of the Atlantic though, there’s no need to sweat. Literally.
Across the entire New York subway network, every train is air-conditioned even though there are more than double as many lines as there are in London.
Needless to say, the daily commute was much more bearable than it was back home.
4. There’s too much choice
I realise that it’s probably a bizarre criticism to make, but I often felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of options to choose from — not just in the supermarkets, but even when trying to make a simple social arrangement.
I’m going to focus on coffee and salad to illustrate how many more decisions I had to make on a daily basis.
In London, most cafes offer dairy-free alternatives like soya milk and although less common, almond milk.
Consumers can add flavoured syrups to their lattes or opt for one of many different tea infusions.
My morning commute always involves a caffeine break, but jet-lagged and bleary-eyed, as I was about to order my first soya cappuccino in New York, I was confronted by so many new choices.
What is a draft latte? What is hemp milk? I’ve heard of cold-pressed juice, but what on earth is cold-pressed coffee?
It turns out there are five different types of draft latte, each costing $12 (£9.25).
Perplexed, I asked what a draft latte actually is at the La Colombe coffee shop in Noho, lower Manhattan.
“It’s a cold latte, complete with a frothy layer of silky foam” — and it costs more than twice as much as what I buy in London.
It also turns out that hemp milk — made from hemp seeds that are soaked and ground in water — is pretty grim.
Columbia Business School is located on 116th Street in the Morningside Heights neighbourhood near Harlem.
Most days after my classes ended, I waited about 20 minutes to get a take-away salad for lunch (yes — you queue for everything and anything in New York).
Sweetgreen, “a destination for simple, seasonal, healthy food,” boasts 70 locations across the US, 17 of which are in Manhattan.
Of course, salad bars are nothing new, we have the likes of Chop’d and Tossed all over London, but when I was asked to choose between 16 different dressings, I was stumped.
The whole process was intense.
First, the “base” — I had to decide whether I wanted arugula, baby spinach, shredded kale, chopped romaine, quinoa or wild rice.
Then, there were a staggering 40 different toppings to choose from, including hot chickpeas and citrus shrimp. Help!
5. Rent is very, very high
New York was crowned the second most expensive city in the world when it comes to renting a property, according to research published by Nested in February.
You’d expect that high prices mean reliable landlords, but it seems that the two do not go hand-in-hand.
A close friend moved into her new apartment in upper Manhattan with her boyfriend only to find that there were some unwelcome guests already living there.
She sent me this text:
There’s possum in my new apartment. I’m legit going to kill someone.
Embarrassingly, I had no idea what possum was, so I looked it up on Google and they look like oversized rats.
My friend and her boyfriend were forced to move out immediately, but the landlord refused to give them their money back, or their deposit.
I wish that this was an isolated case, but it isn’t. I heard multiple stories about landlords who were negligent.
Another friend’s bell remains broken in her apartment building, sometimes ringing unexpectedly in the middle of the night.
Nothing has been done about it for over a year, despite regular complaints.
6. The out-of-towner giveaway
And one final, unrelated thing. There is a major road in downtown Manhattan called East Houston Street.
If you want to be considered a true New Yorker, don’t fall into the trap of pronouncing Houston like the US state.
Say “HOW-stun” Street not “HUE-stun.”
I’m telling you from experience.