Shortly after moving to California, I attended a New Years’ Eve party in a mansion somewhere northeast of Berkeley. I didn’t know any of the people who were throwing the party (though many of them would later become my close friends), and I’d never been at a party in a mansion before. Or any New Years Eve party that didn’t include my parents, actually. I made the best of weird circumstances by eating an entire orange in one bite, which is my Party Trick.
Someone at the event asked me where I was from. “New England,’ I said, keeping it general. I was born at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, spent college in New Hampshire, and spent many of my summers working at a summer camp in Massachusetts for girls with diabetes. I’d been living away from my hometown for a pretty long while, but California was the first time I’d done it in a state where people called highways “freeways.”
“I can tell,” the guy said.
“How?” I asked.
“You talk really fast,” he said.
Growing up in Connecticut, I’d never really thought of myself as a “New Englander.” My parents were both kids from Chicago who went to college in New York, and they’ve spent close to three decades maintaining a kind of mental self-separation from the people in their new home-state. Some of that rubbed off on me. I’d just grown up thinking of myself as a Generic White Girl who happened to be living in New England.
But moving to California showed me that I really was a “New Englander,” whatever the hell that means. (It probably means that I should be living in a slowly-flooding pit filled with bears and pumpkins and Yankee Candles at the end of a gravel driveway somewhere just outside Boston.)
I’ll be honest: I really, really dislike California. It wouldn’t be too much of a dramatic exaggeration to claim that living here is like scraping my nails very quietly along a chalkboard every moment of every day. I’ve spent the past several years trying to articulate what exactly it is about California that is so wrong and fucked up, but I’ve had to admit, in the end, that California isn’t really fucked up at all.
It just doesn’t have enough trees.
And the highways are too wide, and the people here are flaky as shit, and there are too many people, and it doesn’t rain often enough, and because no snow falls and no trees change and no rivers of migrating birds follow the highway in the fall, it feels like time isn’t passing. And the towns don’t have centers, and everything is built flat on the ground instead of vertically with second floors and basements, and I haven’t seen a proper 24-hour diner in forever, and when you drive from one town to another, they just sort of bleed together with no trees or empty space in between. There is no Edge Of Town. And all the buildings are simultaneously too new and too run-down– everything looks like it was built in the 70s and hit by a zombie apocalypse in the 80s. And there’s a drought. Why the fuck would anyone put a huge chunk of the country’s agricultural industry in a fucking desert? Who does that? Why does anyone even live here?
My dad used to text me pictures of bears. My mom once called me to complain that a black bear had appeared in my back yard and that my dad standing ten feet away from it, taking pictures. Now, there are some mitigating factors here: the bear was in a tree, and the tree was growing out of a disused canal behind my house. There are all sorts of snakes and foxes and turkeys and opossums in the dry canal, and bears use it as a highway. When they climb up the trees next to the steep wall of the canal behind my house, they can be ten or twenty feet away from our fence, level to our eyes, while still being on the other side of the fence and also up in the top of a tree. But the point is that my dad was standing next to a bear and taking pictures of it.
When I moved to the Bay Area, everyone I knew was talking about how glad they were to live so close to nature. Meanwhile, I was getting bear texts from my dad. “You people are fucking deluded,” I once ranted to a friend. “You do not live in nature. You live in an urban scab that happens to be a day-trip drive from a national park.”
The fault was mine. I lacked proper California sympathy. Fact is, southern and central California are completely reasonable places that exist in this universe, and there just aren’t any Real Trees here. But there are a lot of people, and a ton of cars, and I just have to Deal With It. I am used to certain things and a certain way of living, and the things I am used to are not universal. I am not a Generic White Girl. I am a white girl from Connecticut, and I grew up next to a giant empty canal filled with spiders and snakes and red-tailed hawks that used to eat crows outside the windows of our living room. In many places in New England, you can live in a place like that and drive (or walk!) five minutes to a Starbucks and a Stop & Shop. Most places in California? No such luck.
I didn’t find California culture anywhere near as hard to adjust to. I’ve heard stories about people moving from California to the east coast and feeling a deep, unsettling dismay at the way we behave over there, but I think being an east coast asshole has given me an inherent advantage in my transition. I am guarded and quiet in public and kind of mean. I put a high priority on getting things done as quickly as possible. I show up everywhere incredibly early and hide it by parking five blocks away and reading my email in my car. I am the first person to arrive to any party, even if I am late. I am way more aggressively practical than I ever realized before I moved out here. Is this because I’m a New Englander, or because I’m just a highly practical asshole? No clue. But we have a reputation for this kind of shit, so sure, I’ll live it up.
I used to have a silly story I’d tell about the difference between east coast and Californian personalities. I’m not sure how closely I stand by it anymore, but I’ll share it with you now:
Imagine you’re at a party. You’re talking to someone you’ve never met before. He says, “Yeah, I’m a huge biker. I’m really really into biking.” Now, if you’re in New England, you can safely assume that this means your new friend bikes a lot. He probably has a real expensive bike, and he bikes to work every day, and owns one of those biking leotards, and he wears those death-trap shoes that you clip onto the bike because you want to die. But if you’re in California, and someone at a party tells you, “Yeah, I’m a huge biker, I’m really into biking,” you can make no such assumption! Does this person even own a bike? Do they bike once a month? Maybe they just bought a bike. Maybe they just spend a lot of time in bike stores. Maybe they used to be on a competitive bike-racing team in college, but lost a foot in a tragic accident, and now they just bike in their dreams. In California, everything’s up in the air.
I’ve heard people say that they want to move to California to live the “Cali life,” but I’m pretty sure there is no Cali life. There are just a lot of people here doing pretty much whatever they want, all the time, for whatever reason, whatever. I think this article about Los Angeles describes it best:
No matter what you do in L.A., your behavior is appropriate for the city. Los Angeles has no assumed correct mode of use. You can have fake breasts and drive a Ford Mustang – or you can grow a beard, weigh 300 pounds, and read Christian science fiction novels. Either way, you’re fine: that’s just how it works…
…L.A. is the apocalypse: it’s you and a bunch of parking lots. No one’s going to save you; no one’s looking out for you. It’s the only city I know where that’s the explicit premise of living there – that’s the deal you make when you move to L.A.
…And I don’t just mean that Los Angeles is some friendly bastion of cultural diversity and so we should celebrate it on that level and be done with it; I mean that Los Angeles is the confrontation with the void. It is the void.
This observation is more true in a general sense about the entirety of California than it isn’t. When the east coast was settled, it was settled by frightened European religious fundamentalists who cared quite a lot about inherited status and who were constantly being menaced by bears and the weather. There’s a humility and guardedness to New England towns– a close gathering around the central green, three-story houses with basements so you can store all the things you’d need for an apocalypse, only three or four kinds of churches. Only three or four kinds of people.
But by the time Americans got to California, we were proud and arrogant jerks. We just jizzed concrete over the entire landscape and marched around like we owned the place. Why bother building a second story on a house when you can build another one next to it, and another, and another? Why bother making a place livable and kind if it looks cooler and makes more money as a concrete iron maiden?
Sure, California has Google and Hollywood. But Silicon Valley is really and truly the most fucked-up place I have ever seen in my entire life, and Hollywood is basically just a gigantic heap of useless trash. (And I often have a hard time parking there.)
Okay. Here’s the rundown. New England pros:
- My family
- Roads are occasionally empty
- People tell the truth, walk quickly, and get things done
- You can pick your own pumpkin
New England cons:
- Often boring
- Too white
- No good Mexican food
- My job isn’t there
And California pros:
- Better food
- Actual jobs
- My job, specifically
- You are living in the void
- Everything here was built by a charming asshole
- You will never be menaced by a bear
Laura, you should come up on the Reddit Tahoe camping trips and get out of the city. As a fellow New Englander, Tahoe and Northern California are what keep me sane. Also I agree that L.A. is a hive of scum, villiany and the world slowest moving traffic jams.
I moved to Los Angeles recently unfortunately or fortunately, because my job is better here
I grew up in Southern California, spent my 20s in Brooklyn and London, then moved to Oakland when I was 30.
I agree with SO much of this. The only part where we differ is that you managed to find some pros. I feel like I’m living in a barren wasteland with no weather (other than smoggy, hazy, & either hot or cold), no job prospects (I’ve had the same job for 5 years & can’t figure out how to get anyone to respond to my resumes), weirdly overpriced EVERYTHING (especially property), and people who have a very odd concept of “on time”.
I keep wondering if there’s something I’m missing, because a lot of people seem to love it here!
Um, “no real trees”. California has the tallest, largest, and oldest trees in the world. We have also have the largest oak species in North America. New England would not exist if it weren’t for California agriculture, which produces more rice than Japan, more peaches than Georgia (the peach state), 80% of the world’s almonds, almost 90% of the country’s strawberries, and obviously a large majority of the country’s food. Not to mention, without Silicon Valley no one would enjoy the technology we use everyday, without Berkeley we would not have many of the innovations that permeate our world. California is generally temperate, California does not have the trees of New England or the muggy weather and nasty insects. But, what California is, is one of the greatest hotbeds of organismal diversity in the world, human and otherwise, and one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Shocker – the new person jamming an entire orange into her mouth at an NYE party and blogging about comics, video games, and other “niche” topics has a warped sense of reality. I just think you’re pissed because you’re likely an over-educated, arrogant, yet deeply insecure East Coaster with a shitty party trick. With your mindset, I don’t think you’ll ever find happiness here. I hope I’m wrong. There are plenty of places that you can visit in this wonderful state that will disprove all of your massively inaccurate conclusions. Anyways, good luck with that party trick.
This was awesome and yes you didn’t get every single detail correct because you were trying to be funny not writing a fucking encyclopedia entry and the fact that a norcal native wrote such an earnest and bitter but then at the end pseudo forgiving response to you is just proof of what a giant bag of dicks this place sucks even though i like it here and will never leave.
One thing you forgot to mention, but I’m sure you’ve realized it in light of these comments is the lack of understanding by Californians of our bitter east coast humor.
But please don’t forget those first two weeks in March when the jasmine blooms, it’s quite lovely…. This was fantastic. You’re hilarious and just made one new groupie to your blog.
Funny, but wildly inaccurate drivel. If you actually think the weather in New England is better than it is in California, maybe you should move back. “But by the time Americans got to California, we were proud and arrogant jerks.” Kind of sounds like you?
If Californians liked weather and nature, they wouldn’t live in a city where it’s the same temperature and same weather every single day and all the nature is confined to cement boxes near the sidewalks so the Californians won’t risk brushing up against them when they get out of their car and walk to the restaurant. (Note: does not apply to Californians who actually live in the not-city parts of California, which can be pretty primordial and wild, if still the same temperature and weather every day.)
Only people that don’t live here are stressed out enough to take the time to rant and rave about how miserable they are when they’re here. Meanwhile on this coast we just smile and think about how grand life is…while breathing in the sunshine, free spiritedness, multi cultural and diverse lifestyles. Soon after, we nod our heads with confusion wondering why everyone else would even bother to hate on us. Then we realize. Oh they’re stuck inside avoiding hail the size of grapefruit, rats, pollution, noise, and garbage on the streets.
Then we go pick a fresh avocado from the tree outside, pair it with some delicious local wine and take in the city lights below.
ENJOY THAT OTHER PART OF WORLD!
This was so perfect. I’m a Vermonter/Rhode Islander/Masshole and I can relate painfully well.
OH MY GAWSH. This is hilarious. My husband is a New Englander (Vermont) and probably could write his own version of this except from the perspective of a New Englander living in the South. One of the things he says (and I completely agree with him) is that New Englanders are pretty frank, where Southerners sugarcoat everything so you have no idea what they really think of you – whether they hate you or like you.
This is perfect and awesome and hilarious. I know several people who have left New England for the “cali life, bra” for and I truly believe that they are looking for a bunch of degenerate air heads to surround themselves with so that they forget their real problems/ the real world. Yes, the people are nicer than in NE and you grow food. But plastic hippies and Hollywood scum are how most of us perceive the typical Californian, and btw you have no water now so good luck growing weed- er, avocados and almonds. New Englanders are brutally honest. And who cares about avocados, I’ll be able to shower daily in the next 5 years because we’re not in a drought. Great and hilarious assessment.
“degenerate air heads”? California GDP is >$2 trillion/year. Greater than most *nations* of the world (including Russia). So you’re right Chuck, we’re just a bunch of plastic hippies that don’t get anything done and are running out of water for our weed gardens.
I hear ya Toke it up Brah. These haters wouldn’t be eating if it wasnt for the Great State of CA.
Hey Chuck…laugh about the drought all you want pal. You wont be eating if it continues. Considering 40 percent of the nations agriculture comes from here you might wanna think twice about your snickering comments. New Englanders are generally just BRUTALLY COLD by the way. The whole “we’re honest” thing is such an old and out of date characterization. What have you offered the World in the last 300 years other than a cheating football team, a grossly overpaid baseball club, and an unintelligible and uneducated accent? Oh wait…Lobster…you got me there. OH AND LASTLY…ARE YOU AWARE THAT MORE TRANSPLANTS TO LOS ANGELES COME FROM BOSTON THAN ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD? Whats that say about New England?
I will reply to all of these comments as follows: We will happily eat apples and pumpkins forever. Best hospitals in the world. Who cares about sports (seriously)?! The GDP for NE is comparable given it’s size. Despite the “uneducated accent” (snob) we have several of the highest ranked and oldest universities in the country, if you care about that sort of thing. If we are “brutally cold” it’s because, again, we are honest, and if we are being honest, who the hell likes empty small talk? Unless you’re referring to the weather, which is also brutally cold sometimes. But, why am I even responding to these comments when it is obvious that the snarky, biting humor that defines NE (Steve Carrell, Jay Leno, Amy Poehler, Conan O’Brien, Dennis Leary are just a few very famous and successful comedians from MA) can fly right over the head of anybody who refuses to see it and instead chooses to be butt hurt by it. Oh and by the way, the revolution that created this country began in the streets of Boston.
Hey Chuck….one question for you pal….WHERE DID EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE COMEDIANS NOT ONLY BUILD THEIR CAREER BUT NOW LIVE?BA DUM BUM….LOS ANGELES….CALIFORNIA. now excuse me while I drop this mic. Im glad your agreeing with me that the most important thing NE has done was over 300 years ago…and regarding me being a snob, and your University reference. Just because you have the Schools there…doesnt mean the people FROM there make up the student body. Regarding your assertion that NE has a GDP on part per capita…WELL LETS HOPE THE NATION DOESN’T HAVE TO RELY ON IT. The state of California is The Worlds 5th largest economy numbnuts…go away..you are so out of your depth is embarrassing…kinda like your cheating football team
Humor is humorous when its based in truth…THATS WHY. Its not over anyone’s head. Its just plain bad writing
Standard-issue east coast whining. They come. They whine. They won’t leave. Rents go up.
They all move here eventually
Also, to the owner of this blog. The vast majority of California’s agriculture is NOT grown in desert. (re: ” Why the fuck would anyone put a huge chunk of the country’s agricultural industry in a fucking desert? Who does that?”) California is a primarily classified as “Mediterranean climate”, ideal for agriculture. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/74/Medclim.png Maybe you should learn something about the state before ripping it?
Clearly an idiot. Does some of the best wine in the World grow in the Desert?
Keep on Whining East Coasters….you aint got nothing else to do. Ill be in my year round garden until such time as I decide whether I want a night in an incredible city, or a mellow evening in wine country, perhaps some April Skiing an hour away…or maybe ill hit the beach…or a museum..or the Countrys best symphony orchestra…the possibilities are endless.
This is amazing. I have lived in CA for three years- 2 in LA (pit of traffic hell) and 1 in Berkeley (so much better, more trees here), and I have struggled to exactly articulate my feelings of being a displaced New Englander (CT/MA) in a state where most residents are adamant they live in the Best Place in The World.
Ignore the native haters, they probably have no idea what it’s like to move to a different part of the country and adapt to the culture there because most Californians never leave the state…
Another idiot. Most of the population of California is not native. In particular in the cities, as they offer huge opportunity…unlike cities anywhere in the U.S. I myself am originally from St. Louis. A place I love. I also love Boston, however it doesnt mean that im blind. People that take all of the time to rant and rave about how much they dislike California have generally seen very little of it, and feel out of place in it. We are the only state in the US that is not completely designed on European settlements. Our roots are more central and South American as well as Asian. We ARE different…we ARE proud of that, we ARE the actual melting pot. Until you can see that, you’ll only be the salad.
Really? Because I’m a native Californian and I definitely think it sucks here.
I’ll take east coast weather & attitude over Southern California superficiality and northern California flakiness any day.
Hey guys, I’m shutting down comments because the atmosphere here is getting very toxic. You’ll have to find a different forum to thump your chests in. Community-managing people freaking out at one another in the comments of a **personal blog post** is not my idea of a fun weekend.
Additionally, around 95% of the shares for this so far have been through Facebook, where the article has been organically spread about by my friends and friends-of-friends. Which means that you angry dudes are probably connected to me, somehow, by a thin chain of human acquaintance, and that you are all possibly part of the same diverse and exciting meta-social-community! (Something to keep in mind before you start slinging curses around.)
Anyway, go outside, enjoy being wherever you are, and if that doesn’t calm you down, remember that you are an independent person with unique and non-universal life experiences, and that it’s okay for me to not agree with you. Cheers!