To uncover some of the unwritten laws and customs in cities across America, we’ve put together a mix of unique, strange, and sometimes just plain quirky best practices you should embrace when visiting these five major cities. After all, you want to blend in with the locals, don’t you? Making sure you understand some of these unwritten laws means you’ll get high-fives and free beers instead of stares and disdainful shaking heads.

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston T_FINAL

  • T time: Boston’s subway system is known as the “T” by locals. The clean and punctual system will get you around the quaint little city with ease. Make sure you keep an eye open for the “T” sign that denotes stations.
  • Know your sprinkles and jimmies: When in Beantown, remember that sprinkles are the rainbow-colored ice cream toppings, and jimmies are the chocolate ones – crucial to know when ordering ice cream during a sticky and hot Boston summer!
  • Quench yourself at a bubbler: Bostonians refer to water fountains as “bubblers”  – any attempt to call it a “water fountain” will be frowned upon and be a sure giveaway that you’re an out-of-towner.
  • Red Sox all the way: There’s only one sporting team to support when in Boson, and that’s the Red Sox. If you’re a Yankees fan, you should probably keep your team hats and t-shirts at home unless you want to be the butt of endless jokes on every street and in every bar.
  • Aspiring Jedis beware: We don’t recommend taking your lightsabers with you on your cheap domestic flights to Beantown. In Boston, it’s illegal to harass someone in public with a laser beam.

New York City

Woman Hailing Cab in NYC

  • Don’t hog the sidewalk: A “New York minute” didn’t get its name from New Yorkers being leisurely walkers. If you’re a tourist walking slowly and taking up the entire width of the sidewalk, you’ll get plenty of rude stares. Stick to the right side so that those in a hurry can get a move on and don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk to take pictures/selfies.
  • Tip with a smile: Everyone from cab drivers to doormen EXPECT a tip. While you can always tip anywhere from 10% to 20% at bars and restaurants, don’t forget to have a few dollar bills in change handy for those other times where a baggage handler or a concierge helps you out.
  • It’s okay to ask for help: Though New Yorkers are often stereotyped as being rude and unwilling to communicate with strangers, they are in fact most helpful when you ask them politely for directions and are more than happy to show you how to see their great city.
  • Don’t block the subway doors: Don’t stay close to the subway car’s doors. People will get off to let you off when it’s your stop so there’s no reason to block the door making it hard for other commuters to get in and out.

You may also like: Seven Travel Etiquette Tips for Americans Touring Europe

Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta, Georgia Skyline

  • It’s all Coke: When you ask for soda in Atlanta, all you have to say is that you want a Coke. You’ll then get asked what kind. Asking for a Pepsi would almost be criminal. It is, after all, the home of Coca-Cola’s headquarters!
  • You gotta know which Peachtree: Probably the most used street name in Atlanta, there are about 71 streets with the word Peachtree, or variants, in the city – so make sure you specifically ask which one when getting directions.
  • MARTA is the popular scapegoat: Atlantans love to complain about their public transit system, and you can fit right in by joining in the venting! Atlanta is a driving city and is notorious for its insane traffic. Taking the tip from most locals, it’s probably a good idea to avoid using MARTA, as it may not have the reach to get you very far. Lyft and Uber are probably safe bets.
  • You down with OTP?: When in A-Town, you’ll probably hear “OTP” (Outside the Perimeter), which signifies the outlying burbs, and “ITP” (Inside the Perimeter), signifying the central city area. Slip them into casual conversation and you’ll be sure to impress the natives.
  • Engage in Southern Hospitality: Atlantans are famous for their hospitality and courtesy – so don’t forget to say “please,” excuse me,” and “thank you” when appropriate. Opening doors for people and letting others go first will also win you brownie points.

Chicago, Illinois


  • It’s still the Sears: Native Chicagoans will still call the second-tallest building in America (The Willis Tower) by its previous name – The Sears Tower. Avoid quizzical looks by sticking to this name as well.
  • Catch up to mustard: Applying, or even asking for, ketchup on your hotdog is an insult to most Chicago natives – stick with mustard and other toppings to show your Windy City spirit!
  • The “L” word: Make sure you ask where you can catch the “L” or “the train” – there is no “subway” in Chi-Town.
  • Finding your way: It’s easy to find your way around the grid-based city. To make things easier, all you have to know is that the lake is East. Now you’ll be able to navigate like a native.
  • Tip like a local: Once again it’s good to have some change on you when you’re in Chicago – restaurants and bars expect you to tip about 15-20%, while cab drivers and other service providers also expect a little sumthin’ for their efforts.

Miami, Florida


  • PDA: The people of Miami love to kiss each other when greeting! Don’t feel nervous – it’s the Miami way to show affection and welcome!
  • En español, por favor: Spanish is almost the first language in this vibrant city, so don’t feel out of place when people start talking to you in Spanish right away – it’s all part of the rich cultural diversity that is Miami. Be patient and someone will eventually catch your drift.
  • Supper? What’s that?: Unlike the rest of the country, dinner takes place around 8 pm or later around here, so if you’re invited for dinner don’t expect to eat anytime soon.
  • On Miami time: Don’t get fazed when people show up a bit late to meet you and socialize – things just take place at a bit more of a laid-back pace here. Think of it as island time … without the island.
  • No politics please: While everyone has their right to an opinion, it’s probably best not to talk about the Cuban political climate and the Castro government when you’re out and about. It’s still a very passionate topic that strikes a raw nerve. It’s best to keep your political views about neighboring Cuba to yourself.

If you’re planning on visiting one of these amazing cities, remembering a few of these unwritten laws will help you blend in and soak up their true spirit.

Are there any unwritten laws or quirky customs that are unique to a city you’ve recently visited or live in? Mention them in the comments section below!

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Socialite, philanthropist, costumed crime fighter by wait...that's bad ... Musician, writer, travel junkie, dog lover, and database of useless information. I love to learn about new cultures, experience new cuisines, meet new people, and have a few laughs along the way!