Wow, a blog devoted primarily to Second Life, and I’m already throwing RL in? Because my avatar is not some character, but rather an representation of me in a pretty, pixelated form, I don’t think this is out of place here.
First, it’s a bit misleading to imply that California is one homogeneous cultural pudding, so to speak. California is huge, about as long as Japan is from it’s northern to southern mainland tips. So, we have lots of different areas, and the people are different in all of them. I haven’t taken a close look at them so I can’t give an exhaustive description, but I usually break it down like this: northern California, the bay area, Sacramento, Sierras, central valley, high desert, central coast, coastal southern California, and inland southern California. It’s neither extensive nor entirely accurate. I can tell you that there is very strong regional affinity especially when you look at general northern versus general southern California.
I come from the northern central coast. That includes places like Big Sur, Monterey, and Santa Cruz. I’d heard that one economist actually considers the area in which I grew up to be economically a part of the greater San Francisco bay area area. What’s amusing to me are some of the notions people have about California based upon a few people or what Hollywood presents. Now, it’s true, the most obvious people get seen while everyone else do not, hence the idea that NYers are rude, obnoxious, excessively loud, impatient, and uptight. On the other hand you get the idea from the other side that Californians are pot smoking hippies who care little about personal appearance, can’t handle reality, dislike criticism, speak kindly to you but then talk shit, have weird beliefs and eat strange foods. Of course, all stereotypes have a grain of truth to them, but it’s a bad thing to fall into believing that they are true (though you are all smart people and don’t fall into that stuff, right?)
I can’t really speak about east coast, particularly New York stereotypes, although I do know New Yorkers for instance are very upfront with you (which I appreciate), and New Englanders are sort of grounded “old salts”. As for California stereotypes, for me, it’s untrue that I wear bright, obnoxious colors. I may not dress up every time I go out, but I do believe in looking presentable and wearing the right clothes for the right situation (it appalls me when people wear flip flops or sandals to weddings that aren’t at a beach). I don’t eat “strange” foods, I eat the foods of the cultures that have settled here. I get and frequently use sarcasm, enough my mother wondered how I got to be that way. I’m an optimist in a cynic’s body, not some fluffy hippie who thinks everything can be solved with crystals and an aura cleansing. I walk fast and I will push through a crowd. I can be agressive if I need to be. I’d rather people be straight with me than beat around the bush. If I don’t like someone I don’t pretend we’re friends, but I know my manners (I’ll greet them, but I’m not going to go out of my way to talk to them). I curse a lot, and I can handle a “fuck you” if the intonation is right. I’m not fake or superficial and I despise that in people around me. It also amazes me how self centered people can be.
Granted, the stereotypes I’m thinking of apply primarily to the people along the coasts. You’ll find people in the mountains and the far northern parts are not at all like people in San Francisco or Los Angeles (and get very offended if you even imply it). Despite the negative stereotypes by people who should know better, I enjoy the more positive ones. We tend to be more laid back (what’s wrong with that?). Our climate means we don’t have to squeeze activities outdoors into the space of a few months, and our harvests are year round. We don’t have strict four seasons in an East Coast sense, but there’s nothing like seeing the hills and valleys turn emerald in Spring, or seeing the hills carpeted in wildflowers. Our foods are not strange and avocado isn’t in everything, but we have some of the best foods and wines in the country, and even barely above poverty line people regularly enjoy foods that seem frou-frou. Plus, I can find Korean and Japanese products in just about any decently sized town along the coast. Many of us speak similar to surfers, but that’s what I enjoy, I love the accent with its laid back tone. I also enjoy our informality, which may also be why I also like Aussies a lot since I see many affinities between them and us in coastal California.
In a thread on Metafilter about the differences between the east coast and the west coast (primarily California) summed up well the cultural differences:
I like to tie it into the area’s history. New England was settled by ambitious workers who wanted to create a new society free of excess, of showiness, of religious metaphor. Straightforward people, heavy on the work ethic, who tend to believe that excessive individuality was suspect. Reinforced by the weather — you can’t goof off for too long, because winter’s coming and you need to be a good ant and prepare. Now there’s a mix of that old Puritan work-ethic America combined with the immigrant American dream of Ellis Island — with hard work, you can make money and have a good life.
California, at least in American history, came in during the Gold Rush, populated quickly by people trying to escape the class system of the East (and other countries). Rough and tumble miners, women who wanted to make their own lives rather than succumb to society’s rules. Happens again during the 1960s with a generation of society’s drop-outs. Happens again during the 1990s with the dot-com boom — tons of money for people pouring on people for just a few years’ work followed by IPO. With luck and the right connections, you can stop working and have a good life. Again reinforced by the weather — sunshine rains down most of the year, grasshoppers can play as much as they want. San Francisco, at least, becomes a place where people drop out of the rat race and live “authentic lives” free of traditional rules or judgment, and disdain those still trapped by old-fashioned Puritan work-ethic values.
I don’t think I could’ve summed it up any better.