One of my favorite spots on campus is the little library in Bloco L. It’s basically a few couches, a collection of various foreign-language books, and a very friendly librarian who stays true to her philosophical and literary principles. I found a gem in there the other day: a DK travel guide for New York City, written in Portuguese for Brazilian tourists.
I really like travel guides. And because I’ve relied on them so heavily when I’ve traveled, I was curious to see what it was like to read an outsider’s perspective of a place so close to home.
In full disclosure: it wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be. The tone was pretty neutral, and I think Brazil and the US share enough norms to make an extensive discussion of cultural differences unnecessary. I’ve never read a English-language guidebook for NYC, but the Portuguese guide struck me as pretty similar to what I think it would be like.
Regardless, I pulled (and translated as best I could) a few quotes that I thought were interesting.
First, here was a four-day itinerary the book suggested. I have spent 15+ years of my life living an hour outside the city, and I definitely haven’t seen all of these:
DAY 1: United Nations, Tudor City, Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal, Grand Central Oyster Bar, New York Public Library, Bryant Park, Times Square, Empire State Building
DAY 2: Museum of Modern Art, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Fifth Avenue, The Pierre.
DAY 3: Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Bowling Green, Fraunces Tavern Block Historic District, Bayard’s Restaurant, Federal Hall, New York Stock Exchange, Trinity Church, St. Paul’s Chapel, City Hall, South Street Seaport Historic District, Brooklyn Bridge.
DAY 4: Central Park, Children’s Museum, American Museum of Natural History.
“Tourists in New York are treated like any other person, without receiving special attention. So, if you follow the basic tips for personal safety, you can explore the city without major problems, as if you lived there.”
“Since the term of Rudolph Giuliani, New York has become a relatively safe place to walk. But the rules of good sense are still to be followed: stay alert and walk with a purpose. Avoid eye contact and confrontations with people who do not inspire confidence. If they ask for money, be careful and don’t initiate conversation.”
I’d disagree that tourists are treated like any other person—my impression is that if they stand around gawking, they might get treated worse—but I’ve never really thought about how little anyone (or anything) seems out of place in New York. It’s much less homogenous than a lot of other places in the world, at least.
“Stay alert and walk with a purpose” was one of the first pieces of advice we were given during the safety briefing during our Fulbright orientation, so I suppose it’s sound counsel no matter where you are. But I was a little disheartened to see less of a discussion about people asking for money on the street, especially in light of the imperative to avoid engaging at all.
“Whoever visits New York always makes some purchases. Considered the temple of consumerism, the city reveals a paradise for those who appreciating shop windows and filling bags.”
The book then goes on for twenty pages listing all the different places you can go to look for different things: men’s fashion, women’s fashion, accessories (buy umbrellas at Barney’s!), cosmetics, beauty salons, art, antiques, gourmet food, toys, electronics…
My host mom said that Brazilians love to buy things when they travel abroad, and I had two Brazilian friends here concur. To give you some means of comparison, the guidebook devotes as much time to shopping as it does to all of New York’s attractions—everything from theaters to bars to spas.
“In Manhattan, you can eat a snack in any place at any time. The impression is that New Yorkers eat all the time—on the corners, in bars, in coffee shops, in delis, before and after work, and until late in the night.”
“Order few dishes. The portions are enormous, and except in the chicest of places, an appetizer is equivalent to a light entree. You can divide dishes or ask for two appetizers without an entree.”
The book also lists the following as specialities of New York: Manhattan clam chowder, New York-style pizza, New York Strip Steak, and New York Cheesecake. Pretzels, Sabrett hot dogs, and falafel also get shout-outs in the street food section, and pastrami sandwiches, dill pickles, and bagels with cream cheese and lox are listed (among others) as typical deli foods.
As an aside: one thing I think this book does do well is address the sheer diversity of cultures that make up what we consider to be New York. Obviously it’s impossible to catalogue all the ever-shifting subcultures, but the “Flavors of New York” section does make it a point to name-check about a dozen different national cuisines, as well as include sections on soul food and different types of Asian restaurants.
“New York is full of unmissable sports bars, with TVs, sports flags, and happy beer-drinking patrons. To get an idea of American sports life, enter a sports bar on the day of a big game, and soon you will be screaming and cheering with the locals.”
“In order to capture the essence of this American institution, baseball fans ought to see the famous New York Yankees in action at Yankee Stadium, in the Bronx.”
The book takes a few lines to describe the team’s pedigree and its most famous players, then continues:
“It is unforgettable to attend a game of ‘America’s favorite pastime’ in the sacred Yankee Stadium on a summer day, observing everything from the crack of the bat and the flight of the ball in the blue sky, to the seemingly effortless slides into base and the roar of the crowd. If you can, try to attend a game between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox.”
But wait… doesn’t New York have two baseball teams? The guide adds, almost as an afterthought:
“The New York Mets, the other important team, play in Shea Stadium in Queens.”
“It is illegal to smoke in any area or public building in New York. Some restaurants now have special areas for smokers, but it is better to phone ahead.
Tips are an integral part of life in New York…”
The book then goes on to list suggested tipping amounts for various services. That’s literally it in this section. I told you it was boring.
On “The end of the night in New York”:
“New York is really the city that never sleeps. Whether waking up in the middle of the night wanting to eat a roll fresh out of the oven, having fun in the nightclubs, or watching the sun rise on the Manhattan horizon, you will always be able to fulfill your wish.”