‘Ask A Native New Yorker’ is actually a nifty manual for everyone living in New York City

Since 2013, Jake Dobkin, the co-founder of Gothamist with Jen Chung, has written an advice column for the site called Ask A Native New Yorker, offering insight into the labyrinthine encounters of everyday life in New York City.

Ask A Native New Yorker
Hard-Earned Advice on Surviving and Thriving in the Big City

by Jake Dobkin
Abrams Books

For seasoned New Yorkers who may-or-may-not be ‘native’, this advice, now collected in a new book Ask A Native New Yorker, might seem geared towards tourists or newly arrived residents. In truth, even lifelong New Yorkers may have difficulty understanding the particular eccentricities of this city, and Dobkin’s straightforward take on urban life’s most basic challenges easily works as a reassuring and helpful manual.

Sometimes it can be good to feel seen. For instance, I know I should ride a bicycle more but am a notorious klutz and cannot imagine myself maneuvering bike lines on New York’s busy streets. There’s a column for that.

“We have great bike lanes on Eighth Avenue, Sixth Avenue and on Broadway that are protected from traffic by concrete dividers …. See if you can chart out a path that sticks to the bike lanes and consider, until your confidence grows, walking your bike on the sidewalk during the parts of the trip that feel to dicey.”

Taken 1894-1901 [NYPL]

I suspect that even the most hardened, set-in-their-ways New Yorkers have moral or ethical dilemmas that even their comfort level in the city hasn’t alleviated. Should I give money to my local homeless guy? Is it ever acceptable to pee outside? Do I have to tip delivery guys in cash? There are columns for all these questions in the book.

Like an actual New Yorker, Ask a Native New Yorker is confidently opinionated. “[D]uring the week, I find myself a little lonely. I go to the gym, make dinner, and then usually watch TV until bed. I’m not sure whether to get a cat or a dog,” says one letter writer. “What do you recommend?”

The reply: “You should get a cat.”

As a dog owner, I was outraged until I read Dobkin’s reasonable and specific justification behind that choice. Now I’m thinking about a cat. (Just kidding; wrapping my hand in a plastic bag and picking up dog poop is a highlight of my day.)

At very least Ask a Native New Yorker will challenge your thinking about the minute decisions you make on a daily basis. After all, should you wash your hands after riding the subway? Maybe not. Next time you ride a non-crowded subway, observe the number of times you touch any subway surface. The answer will probably be zero!

Photographer: Erik Calonius, US National Archives

At top: New Yorkers, photograph by Ernst Haas