Whenever I hear a British voice in a room, I need to figure out who it belongs to. I’ve elbowed my way across packed bars and vaulted over desks to bombard a stranger with questions: Why did they move to New York? Would they trade it for the U.K. permanently? And how do they get by without the Sunday papers and Ant & Dec?
But there has to be a more British way of doing this. So welcome to my series, “Brits in NYC,” which allows me to get nosey under the guise of an interview. It’ll also give a glimpse into what it’s like to move here as an expat, as well as revealing some of the best places to go once you do.
My first subject is Katie Philo, a fellow Englishwoman working in media. We first met about seven years ago – through this blog, actually – and I was overjoyed when she officially made the move to New York in 2018.
By day, Katie is a content producer and social media manager for the BBC streaming service BritBox. (“It’s essentially a place for new, old and classic British telly for audiences in both North America and Canada,” she told me.) And by night, she’s the brains and voice behind the “When I Grow Up” podcast, where she speaks to inspiring people about how they ended up where they are today.
Thanks to Katie for answering my questions!
Why did you move to New York?
I first visited New York in 2008 for my eighteenth birthday and was struck by the energy here. I vowed to move here at some point in my life. When the opportunity arose to work at Reuters for a year after graduating, I jumped at the chance. I found it hard leaving New York after that but also wanted to pursue a long-held ambition to work at the BBC in London. I always knew I wanted to come back one day, I just didn’t know how. So when the opportunity at BritBox came up here in New York, it felt like the perfect use of my experience.
What was your first impression of New York?
Growing up in England, we’re educated on American culture and cities through film and TV. The moment I saw steam rising from subway grids and yellow taxis zooming past, I felt like I was on a film set. There is this contagious sense of possibility and excitement. Perhaps it’s something to do with so many people being jammed together so closely? I still feel this energy every day and it’s addictive.
How are New Yorkers different from Brits?
I think about this a lot and without sounding like a total caricature, the biggest thing I’ve noticed is how self-deprecation and bumbling submissiveness just don’t fly here. I really love how assured and direct New Yorkers are. I’m working on adopting a slice of of this New York sensibility into my nature, and to stop apologising profusely for everything!
How is the working culture different?
Tea breaks were a big thing at work in the UK and we’d do rounds … They even used to have a tea trolley come around when I first started at the BBC. Needless to say, this doesn’t happen in New York. This leads to the main difference between the U.S. and U.K.: hours, work/life balance and vacation time.
In the UK, holidays are a huge part of the year and it’s not uncommon to take two weeks off (especially since most companies give you a generous 25 days leave a year). Here, however, I read the average American takes less vacation time than a Medieval peasant. I think there is a big emphasis on ‘presenteeism’, but I don’t think more hours necessarily mean more output and I’ve definitely seen that by comparing the two workplaces.
Maybe this is an attitude we should import from the UK?
What does an average NYC day look like?
I’ve just moved apartments from Manhattan to Brooklyn, so given that my commute and routine is yet to be established, I’ll pretend I still live in the East Village.
I tend to wake up around 7.30 a.m. I try to listen to the Daily or watch Reuters TV while getting ready for work. After breakfast and the obligatory cup of tea (you can take the Brit out of the UK…), I walk to work. I get my second caffeine installment in the form of a latte from a local coffee shop called The Roost. On my walk, I either speak to family or friends, leave long rambling voice notes (sorry friends), listen to podcasts or music. I also frequently stop and admire dogs. Why are there so many cute dogs in NY?
I tend to get to the office in Bryant Park around 9.30 a.m. After booting up my laptop, I check emails, Slack and all the BritBox social channels to see what’s been happening over night, and also what’s been happening on the Internet.
There’s no standard format to my day, but I will generally divide my time between creative meetings, briefing and reviewing assets from our agency in London or in-house teams, planning and scheduling posts, engaging with the community, long-term campaign planning and any other ad hoc projects or post ideas. I always try to get out of the office for lunch, even if it’s for 20 minutes to walk around the park.
I try to leave by 6/6.30 p.m. and walk home if I have no plans. Otherwise, you’ll probably find me at yoga or Flywheel. I can count the number of times I’ve ordered in on one hand (I am obviously not a New Yorker), which means I nearly always cook. Sleep is my favorite hobby and I can hardly function with less than 8 hours, so I try to read and unwind and get to sleep before 11 p.m.
Why did you make the “When I Grow Up” podcast?
I’d been chewing everyone’s ears off about making one for ages. Then I started watching friends start their own and I thought, “Bloody hell, I better get moving.” Moving to New York was definitely the catalyst.
But my motivation stemmed more deeply from wanting to shine a light on the twists and turns of people’s careers on a more forensic level. I wanted to spotlight the many threads that contributed to someone’s current position and show people that life isn’t just a linear series of successes. I love meeting new people and asking lots of questions (if you ever meet me, you’ll probably feel like I’m interviewing you), so I just decided to give it a shot. It’s very personal and linked with a personal journey of self-discovery as I work out what I want to be when I grow up too!
What have your guests taught you about NYC?
I’d been reading Man Repeller’s Deputy Editor Haley Nahman writing for a long time before moving to New York and her piece 10 things I’ve learned since moving to New York resonated so strongly with me. She offered some great advice about NY, especially around feelings of loneliness and friendship groups. As an expat, I sometimes get pangs of sadness as I walk past gaggles of girls at brunch on a weekend and long for friends back home. But really, Haley taught me that this sitcom style friendship group doesn’t exist anywhere, let alone in NY.
She also put together this brilliant piece 10 New Yorkers Give Advice to New York Transplants. There are some great nuggets of advice in there!
What advice would you give to someone moving here?
Firstly, great decision. I honestly think of New York as a bootcamp. I’ve grown so much professionally and personally here.
It’s a really difficult place to live, so I’d say be prepared for a rollercoaster and know that you’re not alone when you feel lonely or lost. Try to see the bigger picture as to how this is benefiting you on so many levels. Remember that nothing is permanent, so try and make the most of every moment.
But also, don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you have to be busy all the time. If you want a day lying on the sofa doing nothing, that is more than OK.
As far as professional advice goes: you know more than you think and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Best tourist experience?
Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge at night. Oh, and Levain cookies on the Upper West Side. Google image search them and prepare to drool. You can then walk it off with a loop around the Central Park Reservoir.
Best non-tourist experience?
It’s good to experience a city as a local. A perfect weekend would involve: Yoga at Sky Ting. Sitting watching the world go by with a cup of coffee in Washington Square Park or reading a good book.
I’d take a wander to a classic New York bookstore, such as The Strand or McNally Jackson. I’m a big fan of vintage, so if I had time I’d dig around for hidden gems. Some of my favourites are L Train Vintage, Stella Dallas, Beacon’s Closet (in Greenpoint) and East Village Vintage Collective. I also recently bought a record player, so I can often be found browsing at Rough Trade, A1 Record Shop and Academy Records.
In the evening, I’d either opt to see a film in one of my favourite cinemas (Angelika Film Center or Village East Cinema) or if one of the bands I have on repeat on Spotify is playing, I’m there.
Best coffee shop for working on your podcast?
I’m a loyal devotee to The Roost on Avenue B, but I’m also partial to Devocion in Williamsburg. The Ace Hotel on hot summer days because there’s no windows, so it’s dark, cool and keeps my FOMO in check.
Ivan Ramen is a recent discovery and somewhere I’ll now drag every visitor. I’ve long been a fan of The Meatball Shop for price and the fact it’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. I also really like The Butcher’s Daughter.
I love a good dive bar. Maybe it’s because it’s the closest thing to a pub? Doc Holliday’s is one of my favourites for the pool table and jukebox. Lucy’s on Avenue A and The Commodore or Rocka Rolla in Williamsburg are fun too. Oh, and I love the Brooklyn Barge in Greenpoint in the summer.
Best British thing to do in NYC?
I don’t really seek out British things to do in NYC, unless you count watching British TV or films. That said, if I really do want a dose of home, I’ll go for a walk in the rain with an episode of Desert Island Discs.
You can listen to Katie’s podcast via her website. (My favorite episode is #12, Emma Rosen: Lessons From Trying 25 Jobs In One Year.) Follow Katie on Instagram here.