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City Essentials

Habitual Culture

We all have our routines: the coffee / tea in the morning, the weekly trip to the grocer / fruit stand / bodega. Once established, the familiar becomes the easy and comfortable way to get through the day. In a city full of people, these routines and habits (good or bad) can contribute to a city’s unique character. They’re probably not noticeable to the people who are living the life, but city habits are certainly something that expats may need to adjust to or adopt.

Subway Train

The subway commute is part of many New Yorkers' daily routine.

The Commute
Most people know to the second when their train or bus will pull into the station, where to stand for the exit, how to maintain your personal space, and whether the reading material they brought will last the ride. One of the reasons for the popularity of e-readers is the ready supply of reading material — you don’t want to be caught without when you’re on a long commute. Similarly, drivers will know how to catch the lights, find the best parking spots, and avoid the speed traps. Jaywalking becomes second nature on the final leg of the journey as most don’t give it a second thought (though hopefully they are giving it a second look). It’s always possible to pick out the tourists and newbies who wait patiently for the lights to change before crossing or who flinch when drivers honk.

Dress Code
In a pedestrian city like New York, running shoes with a dress or suit are a frequent sight. Women especially are also carrying multiple totes and bags with shoes for work, clothes for the gym, various electronic gadgets, lunch and other deemed necessities. And despite what designers tout every year, black is always an acceptable color. Dress is of course more than habit but also culturally-tied — burkas, head scarves, saris, kilts — so when does habit become culture? It seems we won’t find out, at least not with pajamas in Shanghai.

Dining Out
In New York, on a weeknight, it’s 8 pm or later. In some European cities, it can be even later than that depending on the season and whether a siesta was involved. Reservations are frequently made at more than one restaurant with last-minute cancellations being a given as food mood dictates the palate. On weekends, the brunch ritual is so prevalent that restaurants and cuisines that would never serve breakfast items are opening up with new offerings just for the brunch crowd.

Culture can be defined as a set of values, goals and practices shared by a group. If so, habits and routines can become so accepted and ingrained that they end up being part of the culture. Each city then has a culture that is the sum of its parts — the habits of its citizens.


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