How to make a positive impact as a tourist in New York
Since last year, because of the documentaries I watched and also because of the moment of pause that the pandemic brought to me (I know it wasn’t like that for everyone), I started to reflect a lot about my role living in New York. I know that my work helps a lot of people, but I found myself reflecting more about my existence here as a resident of the city. But, as an immigrant, how do you integrate with the place where you live? Until this pandemic happened, for example, I didn’t even know who was the governor of NY and I didn’t know the face of the mayor of the city. I think that when we live abroad it is also our duty to find out about the scenery of the place where we live.
As of the day I write this post, protests have taken over several cities in the United States, including New York, over the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. His death was just another reflection of the racism that exists in this country – and that many insist on ignoring it. Racism is just one of the social problems that exist here – there is also the issue of undocumented immigrants, the LGBTQ struggle, and other issues. As a New York content creator for over six years, I started thinking about how I could take this moment to bring a reflection to my audience, which is mostly composed of Brazilian tourists visiting the city. I was reflecting on good practices that a tourist can take to make the best impact in New York. Small actions make the difference!
Tourism is undoubtedly a multi-million dollar industry. Because of this, the tourist does have an important role, but I see that many times that the same tourist takes only the passive role, as someone who places himself in a very important place – “they need our money “- without noticing that as a tourist you also have an impact on the place you’re visiting. I think the time when people don’t question their choices and their impact needs to be left behind. We need to reflect more on our actions – where we live and where we visit. Even if you don’t have the right to vote, there are several ways to make a difference and impact the place you visit. The following are some reflections and suggestions for actions that can be taken when visiting New York:
- Don’t be racist – I believe that, in the historical context we live in, this needed to be the first topic. I think that in more than 90% of the times that I mentioned Harlem or The Bronx, I always read the following comment: but, isn’t it dangerous? The same tourist has never questioned his safety in Times Square – which is by far the top place in robbery Manhattan. Anyone who knows the least about New York knows that the black population is a majority in Harlem and The Bronx. I always like to share this crime map in the city. You can filter by type of crime – rape, assault, murder – and by period. It divides the city into large neighborhoods and illustrates the number of crimes in such neighborhoods per thousand inhabitants. Yes, it is hard to assume prejudice, but in many cases, it is the prejudice who disguises this “fear”, which is often unfounded. It is a fact: it is no longer possible to generalize an entire neighborhood. It is almost impossible to speak to avoid a certain area, especially without knowing and just repeating what others say. A lot of people talk about The Bronx or Harlem without ever having been there or even being interested in getting to know it better. I’m not saying that there are no dangerous areas in The Bronx – but they also exist in Queens and Brooklyn. So, don’t perpetuate those lines. Search, read, find out. And more: be the agent of change. If you visit these places historically marked by prejudice and racism, don’t be another person to spread that feeling. Don’t go out and make comments that you “received strange looks”. Spread the good news and don’t feed something that is probably part of your pre-judgment. When something bothers us, it’s important that we ask ourselves why it bothers us.
- Respect NYC’s black culture – many people come to New York and want to attend gospel worship, whether in Harlem or the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Many churches ended up creating rules of behavior – from the dress code to the recording ban. If you attend such a service, be respectful. If the rules were created, it is because, in the past, there was certainly a tourist treating the event as a tourist spectacle, when it comes to religious celebrations of a local people who are not obliged to see their culture being the target of spectacularization. Respect, do not record it and leave a contribution to the institution.
- Stop questioning and pay the tip – I believe that while I create content about New York, I will come across people questioning the tipping culture. I understand that this is not part of many people’s lives, and that is why one should read and be informed. You are the one visiting the city – so you are the one who must adapt to the rules of the place you are visiting. Who is in the most privileged position: the person who buys an airline ticket, pays for accommodation in one of the most expensive cities in the world or the worker who serves at a restaurant? No one is saying that your efforts are worthless. However, think: as much as you do not have all the money in the world, you are a privileged person when you come to have fun in New York. You don’t agree with the system, great, but not paying only hurts the less privileged part of the equation. And do you know who are the people who depend on tips? Minorities: blacks, immigrants, women. In the USA, 4.4 million workers depend on tips for a living, two-thirds of them are women. Is it really fair that you, who don’t live here, wanting to refuse to pay the tip? Do you have that right? And as I always say: you have a choice: just go to other places to eat. Or predict tipping in your budget.
- Think about how you shop – and that involves restaurants and shops. You see, I’m not saying that you can’t eat at Hard Rock Cafe if you feel like it, or that you can’t buy that Nike sneaker you wanted so badly. But, if I can give you a suggestion, also include local restaurants in your itinerary. You can also find out about the owners of these restaurants: are they black? Are they immigrants? Have you ever thought how cool it is to support businesses like that? How about exchanging coffee at Starbucks for a local coffee? As for shopping, value the less obvious options. How about buying at local markets, like Artists & Fleas? Or even that art by a street artist instead of that souvenir from the famous store?
- Respect and value local artists – when walking around New York – in its streets, parks, and even in the subways – we see several artists: musicians, dancers, poets. But, remember: these artists are not there for you to guarantee your click or video for Instagram. It is not meant to be a one-way thing, and the artist is not there only because he loves it. So be generous and don’t forget to make a contribution.
- Be generous with people that help you – I have been creating content about New York for a long time and I know how much my work has made many tourists’ lives easier. And I know because people write to me to say that if it weren’t for a video or a post of mine, they wouldn’t know something that was essential for their trip. Therefore, I reinforce: support the work of content creators like me. Buy from affiliate links, subscribe to their channel, tell other people about it.
If this post helps at least one person to reflect more on his role as a tourist, I am already happy. I think the least I can do is use my platform to share this learning.
In addition, with the amount of information available on the internet today, it becomes easier and easier to find ways to make the best impact on the place we visit! These examples take into account my experience and knowledge in relation to New York, but I think that several of them can be applied anywhere. Be a conscious tourist: go beyond shopping and sightseeing and try to discover other facets of the place you are visiting. Small changes and actions do matter!
Laura Peruchi is a Brazilian blogger, author, and entrepreneur. She has lived in Manhattan with her husband since 2014. Since then, she has shared on her blog varied content about the Big Apple. From travel tips, including unusual things to do, shopping tips, etiquette, restaurants, and a lot more, her blog has become a reference in Portuguese (also available in English) for anyone planning a trip to New York City.