From television shows to movies, New York City is glamorized in every possible way, to such an extent that when I tell people I live there, their eyes glisten, and they ask a million questions. “Yes, it’s beautiful during Christmas. No, I don’t drink coffee at Central Perk every day,” I tell them. If you’ve watched Friends as much as I have, you know the portrayal of the city is what gives the show much of its charm.
But how much of this portrayal is true? Can you really go from waitress to fashion executive, like Rachel Green did when she moved there? Here is a breakdown of the expectation versus the reality of living in New York City.
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Expectation: You run into celebrities all the time.
Monica and Rachel each date actor Jean-Claude Van Damme while living across the street from ABC News Host George Stephanopoulos — that’s just the reality of living in New York City. According to Friends, run-ins with famous people are as common as rats on the Subway tracks. Throughout the series, Chandler gets stuck in an ATM vestibule with supermodel Jill Goodacre, Ross runs into Isabella Rosselini at Central Perk, Phoebe stops by Sting’s house to ask for concert tickets, and Joey lands an acting role as Al Pacino’s butt double.
Reality: You can see a guy dressed up as Elmo in Times Square.
While it’s very possible you could meet a celebrity while living in New York City, the closest you’ll probably get is visiting the Madame Tussauds wax museum, or taking pictures with people dressed up as Sesame Street characters in Times Square. But if you’re serious about meeting someone famous while in the Big Apple, you could always wait by the stage door after a Broadway musical, or sign up for free tickets to The Tonight Show.
Celebrity run-ins happen, but not as often as Friends suggests — I shared an elevator with Lady Gaga at JFK Airport in 2009, but I definitely didn’t get to go to her house or snag free concert tickets like Phoebe did.
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Expectation: It’s possible to find seating for six people in a coffee shop.
For as often as the Friends frequent Central Perk, the big orange couch and its surrounding tables are always conveniently unoccupied. Except for in one episode, no matter how crowded it is, they always find a place to sit — if it’s not the couch, it’s the highly-coveted window seat. And unless it’s Rachel or Joey serving the coffee, the service is exceptionally fast. Almost as soon as anyone orders a drink, Gunther prepares it and serves it faster than it takes a New York taxi to honk its horn at a jaywalker.
Reality: A New York City coffee shop is a horrible hangout spot.
Grabbing a quick cup of coffee at a coffee shop like Central Perk on a busy weekday is basically a pipe dream in New York City. Unless you time it right, or pre-order your coffee on the Starbucks or Pret a Manger app, you’ll have to wait in a long line with all the other naive tourists. By the time you do get your coffee, you’ll have to enjoy it standing up, as there are rarely any seats for a single person let alone six.
Even so, better coffee is always within reach. There are bodegas and food stands at practically every corner — the same ones that sell hot dogs and pretzels, sell coffee and muffins in the morning too. You definitely don’t have to go to Starbucks to enjoy a Cup of Joe in the city. The best coffee actually comes in a Greek "Anthora" coffee cup, a New York City original.
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Expectation: You might have to work as a waitress for two years before you land your dream job.
As soon as she moves to the city, Rachel gets a waitress job at Central Perk, taking her first step towards financial independence. Two years later, she takes a leap of faith and quits waitressing, thinking her dream job is only one interview away.
But after sending out resumes and cover letters to every company she can think of, Rachel receives rejection letters from all but one — one that turns out to consist only of making coffee for her boss. Instead of going back to Central Perk and giving up, Rachel persists and ends up meeting the right person at the right time with the right connections, and lands an entry level job in fashion that propels her career in the right direction, even considering it took her two years to get her foot in the door.
Reality: You might have to work as a waitress for two years before you land your dream job.
Through seasons of struggles and successes, Friends accurately represents the reality of finding a job in New York’s most competitive industries. It’s not just Rachel who has to work as a waiter — despite having different career goals, Monica and Joey do too, and every character is unemployed at some point during the show.
Rachel’s reality is shared by many: For every designer or brand looking for one person to fill an open position, there are hundreds more qualified influencers, bloggers, and Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) graduates jumping on the opportunity.
To make yourself stand out, you need to do more than just be somewhat interested in fashion and shopping. Not only does Rachel drag herself to seminars (that Ross falls asleep at), she constantly hustles and sacrifices her nights, weekends, and relationships, working her way up to executive at Ralph Lauren.
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Expectation: It’s easy to afford a two-bedroom 1,500-sq-ft apartment in the West Village.
During the period that both Monica and Rachel are waitressing, they are still able to afford the rent of their two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment, complete with a full-size kitchen, living room, balcony, and enough closet space to store all of Rachel’s “one hundred forty-seven thousand pairs of boots.” Conveniently located in the West Village, and more than spacious enough for two barcaloungers, it’s no wonder Monica and Rachel had such a hard time giving it up to Joey and Chandler.
Reality: The West Village is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Manhattan.
Quite possibly the only accurate part about apartment living in Friends is the fact that they all live with roommates well into their twenties. Lower Manhattan is one of the priciest places to live in the city, and any apartment Monica and Rachel could afford there wouldn’t be nearly as spacious — Joey and Chandler’s is a much more accurate representation of one.
Though Monica explains her apartment has been rent-controlled since she began illegally subletting it from her grandmother, this is hardly the case for the majority of New Yorkers. If living in New York City is your dream, you’ll need to plan and save wisely, embrace the roommate lifestyle, and probably pick a neighborhood outside the Village.
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Expectation: You’ll never need a car.
In celebration of his 30th birthday, Ross buys himself a red MGB sports car, claiming to be a sports car enthusiast despite not even knowing the horsepower of the one he just bought. Spending all day trying to pull out of a tight parking spot and failing, Ross’ car proves to be impractical in the city, and he decides it would be best to sell it, as Monica had predicted.
Reality: You’ll never need a car.
Friends gets this one right — driving a car in the city is useless. Not only is New York City traffic and parking the worst, taking the Subway is just far more convenient and cost effective. Don’t be intimidated by the maps and colors, the city is easy to get around on foot or train — street names that end in “Street,” like 42nd Street, run east to west, while street names that end in “Avenue,” like Lexington Avenue, run north to south, so you’ll always know what direction you’re heading.
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Expectation: Brooklyn is a good place to buy name brand clothing at a discount.
To buy Monica’s wedding dress for a bargain, Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe head to Brooklyn in search of it. The sale prices at the wedding dress outlet are so unbeatable that their shopping trip escalates into Black Friday-like hysteria.
Reality: Thrift shopping in Brooklyn is more like luxury vintage shopping.
While Monica’s wedding dress adventure may have accurately represented shopping in Brooklyn in the 90s, Brooklyn today is not what it once was. Williamsburg is full of hipsters wearing what looks to be thrifted clothing, but was probably bought at full price at an Urban Outfitters or a luxury vintage shop. If you want to look like fashion executive Rachel, but you only have the budget of coffee shop Rachel, the best place to shop is a Bloomingdale’s outlet or an L Train Vintage, both of which have locations throughout New York City, not just in Brooklyn.
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Expectation: You can always find someone who’ll be there for you.
Season after season, Friends proves that there is always at least one person in New York City who knows exactly what you’re going through. From the moment Rachel wanders into Central Perk lost and confused, she gets offered a cup of decaf coffee, a place to live, and five other friends who are there for her along every step of her journey navigating life in the city.
It’s right there in the theme song, “I'll be there for you (When the rain starts to pour), I'll be there for you (Like I've been there before), I'll be there for you ('Cause you're there for me too).”
Reality: You can always find someone who’ll be there for you.
As Monica portrays when she reluctantly takes in Rachel in as a roommate, New Yorkers cherish their boundaries, often coming across initially as cold and aloof. But if the friendships on the show are anything to go by, the sense of community in New York City is like no other, and it’s one that Friends represents well. You might have annoying neighbors, like Mr.
Heckles or the guy who belts "Morning's Here" through his open window every morning, but your life will always be full of Joeys and Chandlers across the hall too. If there’s any reason to love the city, it’s for this one alone.
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