Like, totally?
July 27, 2005 10:46 AM   Subscribe

California stereotypes: What do East Coasters really think about Californians?

We are moving from Northern California to Providence, RI, and I am curious what assumptions people will have about us. Will my car get keyed with its CA plates? Do people know there is a big cultural difference between Nothern and Southern California? I've never lived outside of California and I really don't know what to expect!
posted by slimslowslider to Human Relations (45 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
First off, my sister lives in California, whereas I've spent most of my life on the East Coast/Midwest/South (not all at once), so I can't be considered completely unbiased.

Now then, most people aren't going to differentiate between Northern California and Southern California. They're probably going to assume you voted Democrat, and are more left wing than most Democrats. They'll probably ask you about what actors/actresses you've met.

That's probably about it.

Honestly? Key your car because it's from California? I highly doubt it. Unless of course you're in a rap group or something, then some East Coast rap group might in fact attempt to key your car. Otherwise, it's not like RI has this simmering hatred of California and it's inhabitants.
posted by KirTakat at 10:53 AM on July 27, 2005

First of all: Your car will not get keyed, at least not because of your plates. =)

I lived in the north, and currently live in the south. I generally hear foreign stereotypes used in conversation in both places, and any stereotypes to people from other parts of the US were jocular in manner. I think you'll find that people in the north will be receptive to you, or better yet, not even pass judgment based on where you grew up.

A family originally from Asia who had lived in California moved to NC and came to my church and was welcomed very warmly; I like to think that this is an accurate representation of what would happen if a family from anywhere in the world moved here.

Of course, you'll always get some jerk who makes a comment about San Francisco or surfing, but who likes to be around those kinds of people anyway?

In general, I don't think too many people know about NorCal and SoCal differences. I know there are huge cultural differences, but only because I have been to California numerous times. However, just because they generally don't know doesn't mean that you can't prove the difference the first time you meet someone.
posted by Third at 10:57 AM on July 27, 2005

I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the concept of there being any real difference. I think the Northeast and California are similar enough that no one would (for example) key your car just because you're from the latter. I don't know what the weather is like in your part of the state, but be sure to bring a shovel. My wife likes to tell stories of a CA-raised neighbor at college who tried to clear a foot of snow with a straw broom.

(On preview, what everyone else said, plus a derail-y anecdote.)
posted by Plutor at 10:58 AM on July 27, 2005

You should have blonde or dirty blonde hair.

You should drive either an H2 or a hybrid.

If you're white, you should be either a mellow surfer or an uptight super-rich conservative.

If you're not white, you're a second-generation immigrant.

(Born in CA, lived on the East Coast for the past 15 years.)
posted by Espy Gillespie at 10:58 AM on July 27, 2005

This isn't strictly on topic, but it presents something of a similar situation that you might find enlightening nonetheless. I live, these days, in Toronto, the largest city in Canada, and one where the residents are quite convinced that everyone else in Canada hates them. It's a weird perception that Torontonians have, that as the biggest, wealthiest city in the country, full of unapologetic self-interested urbanites, everyone must dislike them.

When I first moved here, people would constantly ask me questions like 'What do people in Prince George think about Toronto?' and 'What do people say when you tell them you've moved to the big, bad city?'

And they constantly had their egos crushed when I would think for a moment, and then comment that people in Prince George really don't think of Toronto at all, and are, at best, indifferent to its existence.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:58 AM on July 27, 2005

You are tan.
posted by rainbaby at 11:01 AM on July 27, 2005

Austin might be a bit oblique for an answer, but I remember hearing hazy statements that Californians brought a high-consumption lifestyle to Austin that contributed to a sprawl of suburbia and 'yuppified' businesses. Not that I really agree with it, considering all the Texans with boat, RV, and dualie pickups in the driveway.
posted by rolypolyman at 11:01 AM on July 27, 2005

No hate on. But there are honestly people who will be surprised for a moment if you're not a blond(e), tanned, rich, liberal, tofu-eating surfer/actor. Just lame jokes now and then, totally harmless. Your stereotypes about "east coasters" will similarly be challenged by meeting actual people. *cough* East coasters are as varied as west coasters are...
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:01 AM on July 27, 2005

Having spent a lot of time on both coasts (though I was born on the East Coast), I'm imagining that, aside from the occasional "Cold enough for ya?" comment in the winter months, it won't be much of an issue.

I can't guarantee that New Englander's will always give you accurate directions though. :) (It's an old joke.) Enjoy the East Coast.
posted by jeanmari at 11:06 AM on July 27, 2005

I moved to Providence from Southern California once. No one cared, really.
posted by dame at 11:16 AM on July 27, 2005

All tanned blondes or asian (Latino Californians are actually "Mexicans" and therefore not really Californian). Fruits and nuts. You will be asked about your surf board and assumed to smoke pot.

Kidding. Just as you will find that most stereotypes of East Coasters are false, so do they come to realize about West Coasters.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:17 AM on July 27, 2005

In my experience when moving to a different region of the country the worst is that a person might make a negative generalization about the area of the country you moved from. If you don't take it personally that's where it typically ends. By my accent I'm obviously from the south. On very rare occasions I run into someone who feels the need to tell me what they think is wrong with the region. I don't remember anyone making it any more personal.
posted by Carbolic at 11:26 AM on July 27, 2005

I've lived in the Boston area my whole life and I think jeanmari is right about the "Cold enough for ya" thing.

Otherwise, I suppose there are some folks who will think you should either be a blonde surfer or a blonde liberal hippie. In either case, they'll assume you're more mellow and open, being from California.

I'm sure no one will key your car b/c of CA plates!
posted by jdl at 11:28 AM on July 27, 2005

Will my car get keyed with its CA plates?

You're probably supposed to get your plates/license/insurance changed a lot sooner than you think, or face a fine - I know this happened to me when moving the other direction. So if you do this, there probably won't be time (not that it seems very likely to me anyways).

posted by advil at 11:30 AM on July 27, 2005

Providence is a big city, people will know other Californians and will probably be more informed by that than by your license plates. I don't know about my fellow New Englanders but I differentiate between No Cal and So Cal.

So. Cal: married to cars, style-conscious, tan, have a hard time dealing with bad weather, care about famous people. No. Cal: relaxed, helpful, outdoorsy, hot tubbers, tend not to have dictionaries in their workplaces/homes. I probably know as many Califorians who fit this mold as who don't, so they're just silly leftovers probably from the first time or two I went to CA from when I was 11.

On the other hand, you may get asked about Schwartzenegger, medicinal marijuana and the whole hot tub culture because a lot of that is mysterious out this way.
posted by jessamyn at 11:42 AM on July 27, 2005

Yeah, that whole Schwarzenegger thing makes me glad I'm living in Utah, and given Utah's reputation politicially, that's saying something.
posted by craniac at 11:51 AM on July 27, 2005

Welcome to Back East.

Here's what this East Coast native knows about California:
In 1776 the 13 Colonies were independent and the Mission San Francisco de Assisi was founded at Yerba Buena near the Golden Gate.
California is the best and worst of America. The most people, the most fresh fruits and vegetables, the most cars, the most crap out of Hollywood, the most amazing things out in all media today.
But everything California is, outside of the descendants of the approx. 100,000 California Indians alive when Spain traversed the Yuma River, derives from the East, whether the East Coast or the Far East. It's just that you used to have to work really hard to get there.
I don't suppose I have to remind you that in the time it takes to get from Ashland Oregon to Tijuana, B.C. you can drive from Providence to Atlanta (or close to it).
Though this doesn't apply so much to Northern California, any of us who have watched television know exactly what California looks like, even if we are savvy enough to distinguished fiction from fact. Maybe that's too savvy, actually.
If the USA is the part of Europe, Africa and Asia that decided or was forced to leave, then California is the State made up of folks for whom the other 49 was too much or too little.
Anyway, I think you'll like Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations and the rest of New England. Just imagine you're in a California that is mostly green instead of mostly brown, has the Appalachians instead of the Sierras, actual plains between the foothills and the sea instead of the cliffs of the P.C.H., and where the sun moves backwards, and you'll be all right.
posted by Dr. Grue at 11:52 AM on July 27, 2005

We're jealous of you because northern CA is so much nicer than the cold Northeast.

SF and Boston seem to attract similar people, and it seems like lots of people move in between the cities. Providence is close enough to Boston that you'll probably encounter lots of people who have lived in CA.
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:54 AM on July 27, 2005

I feel kind of obligated to chime in here, since I got my nickname when I lived in New Hampshire. One thing that hasn't been mentioned is that, until they get to know you, people may assume you aren't as bright as you are. It's the accent and the drawl, I hear southerners get the same thing. Apart from that, I think you will be surprised by them more than the other way around. After all, your home state is where most movies and TV shows are from and reflects the culture here more than you might realize. The same is not true of Rhode Island.
posted by cali at 11:58 AM on July 27, 2005

Hot tub culture? What's that?
posted by geoff. at 11:59 AM on July 27, 2005

I'm a Northern Californian, born and raised, and I just got back from a business trip in Charleston, SC. I had the same questions you have -- I wasn't sure what stereotypes people would have about a Californian, what questions they'd ask, etc. I was only there for three days, and most of the people I spoke to were students, teachers, or college professors, but in general they had more questions than assumptions, and were polite and friendly without exception. But the cultural differences between Northern and Southern California were completely new to them. I think most people outside of California, and maybe the states with which we share a border, are probably unfamiliar with that distinction, or at least its depth and importance to many of us who live here.
posted by Acetylene at 12:14 PM on July 27, 2005

Being a Rhode Islander, I've never anyone say, "Damn, that's a Californian's car! Look at the license plates! Let's key that bastard!" Now, if you are driving a foreign car and work on a union job site, I can't say the same.

Seriously, though, Providence is pretty progressive. It's essentially a college town if you are under 30 and a businessman's town if you are over 30. It's just like any other big city on the east cost, just a lot smaller and without a lot of the pretentiousness. Generally, if you treat us with respect, we'll treat you with respect, no matter where you are from. Considering most Rhode Islanders (with the exception of Providence) have never lived anywhere but Rhode Island, you may, however, be asked a lot of questions about your life, experiences, etc. in California. But I don't think anyone will treat you like an outsider.

If you have any other questions, feel free to e-mail me. E-mail address is in my profile. And an early "Welcome!" to Little Rhody to you!
posted by LouMac at 12:35 PM on July 27, 2005

My parents lived in Palo Alto for a few years when I was a wee one, and then moved to the east coast, where I was raised. Somehow they got the impression that California has a high percentage of loonies. Like they would talk about someone being weird or strange, and then would add, "He's from California." FWIW

I have since visited myself, and I loved California and Californians.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 1:07 PM on July 27, 2005

I think most people outside of California, and maybe the states with which we share a border, are probably unfamiliar with that distinction, or at least its depth and importance to many of us who live here.

I don't think that's necessarily true. It's certainly not an unfamiliar concept to me or people I know. But who cares if people aren't familiar with the cultural differences? If it comes up, and it really bothers you, take the opportunity to educate. But really, since I've moved to the Midwest I can't tell you how many people think that everyone from New Jersey lives outside NYC. There's a world of difference between South Jersey and North Jersey, and if people ask me about it or make incorrect assumptions, I'll tell them about where I grew up. Simple as that.
posted by amro at 1:13 PM on July 27, 2005

The greyhound bus stop in sacramento is a shit hole, and enforces any stereotypes you have about being scared and alone at a bus station in the middle of the night.
posted by Dean Keaton at 1:51 PM on July 27, 2005

i'm a californian who has relocated to elsewhere on the west coast, and a lot of people don't seem to remember how *big* the state is. for instance, once i mentioned that i had flown into the san francisco area for a couple of days and was asked if i had stopped by disneyland while i was there.
posted by clarahamster at 1:52 PM on July 27, 2005

I think you're superficial and shallow. But also very laid back, approachable, and cool to hang out with. Granted, I only spent a week in southern California, but you did ask for stereotypes. I don't really think these things.

No, living in Providence with Cali plates isn't going to get you keyed or killed or whatever. Rhode Islanders are a closed-minded bunch, they don't see much beyond their own lives. (Again with the stereotypes.) They won't say hi to you on the street, and they don't know how to drive. But I don't see much derision about where people come from around here, mostly people just don't care. Then again, if you don't support the Red Sox, you might very well get a beating...
posted by knave at 2:34 PM on July 27, 2005

I love Southern Californians. One of my favorite peoples on the planet. I don't care about Northern California. Does anybody care about Northern Cali? I think it's cold there.

East Coasters usually respect Californians as equals, if a bit more eccentric. A lot of EC mental maps have the coasts as civilized, normal places (except for New Jersey) and the middle as barbarian No-Man's Land. RI is a civilized, progressive place for the most part so you should fit right in.
posted by nixerman at 3:05 PM on July 27, 2005

a lot of people don't seem to remember how *big* the state is

Big? With emphasis? Pshaw. If you want big, you need to look to Canada. British Columbia is the equivalent of Washington, Oregon, and California combined... and plus some.

posted by five fresh fish at 3:11 PM on July 27, 2005

Two years ago I moved from Boston from San Francisco. I found that the cross-over was huge. I would go to parties and almost everyone there was an ex-east coaster. The culture shift from one city to the other was pretty minimal IMHO. I'd be more worried about the weather. I'm moving back east this weekend myself (New Haven) and I'm dreading both real summers and real winters...
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 3:14 PM on July 27, 2005

And then there is Saul Steinberg's famous 1976 New Yorker cover: View of the World from 9th Avenue.
posted by ericb at 3:24 PM on July 27, 2005

I'm a Rhode Islander, and when I think of California, I think "wow, they have oxygen bars there. How odd."

But seriously, your car will be fine. You will be fine. It's a college town with an Ivy League university, so we're used to people from foriegn parts (anywhere past Hartford, CT). Drop the r from any words that need it (for example, you pAHk ya cAH) and add an r to words that don't need it (like idear) and you'll blend right in. And get used to telling people that you live just south of Boston. Welcome aboard!
posted by Ruki at 3:47 PM on July 27, 2005

East Coasters usually respect Californians as equals, if a bit more eccentric. A lot of EC mental maps have the coasts as civilized, normal places (except for New Jersey) and the middle as barbarian No-Man's Land. RI is a civilized, progressive place for the most part so you should fit right in.

Absolutely right...they don't have much to base a stereotype on, but the image they do have is mostly positive (or at least not negative).

Some of my east coast friends have this half-joking perception that everywhere you go in California, people are in flip-flops and swimwear, and twangy surf music is piped in on loudspeakers.

I kind of wish that were true.
posted by Brian James at 4:26 PM on July 27, 2005

I'm an East Coast native. After living in SoCal seven years, I moved back, where I'd hear these stereotypes; but what was rather annoying was, those who'd express them didn't really care to hear my enlightened opinion (kinda like all prejudiced people). After about six months the novelty of being back had worn off but it wasn't until three years later that I was able to return to the Golden State. Now I've lived NoCal eight years, and I still annoy folks up here with my lack of discrimination between North and South -- it's all good, only difference is there's more palm trees down south, but the north has redwoods. Somehow, I'm oblivious to this culture stuff others perceive.

I heard the split described somewhere as NoCal people are more pretentious, whereas SoCal people are more presumptuous. Whatever, it's Oregon and Washington State which have the reputation for California-emmigrant hatred -- my experience is, folks back east aren't much interested.
posted by Rash at 4:28 PM on July 27, 2005

Oh yeah, forgot to mention the teasing you get whenever something happens in Cali, be it an earthquake, financial crisis, blackouts, celebrity governor, etc. "It's going to fall off into the ocean!" But I don't think that's anything unique to California, people from any state will get that sort of stuff when they travel outside of their home.
posted by Brian James at 4:29 PM on July 27, 2005

I'd expect something about the housing market/bubble and Schwartzenegger if they're older Yankees.
posted by rleamon at 4:36 PM on July 27, 2005

On spell verification: Schwarzenegger. Sorry, Arnie.
posted by rleamon at 4:42 PM on July 27, 2005

As several people have said, there seems to be a lot of overlap between SF and Boston. At least, I know a bunch of people who've moved between those cities, in one direction or another. Providence [and nearby Boston] are liberal cities, and both have large college populations. Don't expect people to know or care that much about in-state differences, politics [beyond the handful of things that get national press], etc. - after all, most states have regional differences, and you probably don't know about the big cultural differences in, say, Northeastern versus Southern Ohio, or between the Northeastern states. Beyond that... Like nixerman says, a fair number of people think of the coasts as the civilized parts of the US, with a few big-city oases in between. Your reaction to Northeastern winters will be laughed at, but that's about it.

If you want generalizations, I could provide some, of course. But I'd do so knowing that I know as many Californians that don't fit the stereotypes as ones that do. Most of them run along the lines of "yuppies, consumer culture [albeit one that focuses more on stuff like smoothies made with soy milk, furniture handmade by indigenes of some suitably exotic country, etc], cities that focus around cars, people who're a little flaky and self-centered, etc." However, as I said, I'm very much aware that those are not particularly accurate even among Californians that I know, let alone the entire state. I think you'll find the same understanding about the inadequacy of stereotypes and generalizations among everyone in the bigger cities at least. Small towns? Maybe not, but that goes for small towns everywhere, and Providence isn't really a small town.
posted by ubersturm at 5:03 PM on July 27, 2005

Californians are crazy. The state was settled by get-rich-quick suckers during the gold rush. Their get-rich-quick descendants brought us the tech bubble. Recently, they brought us the housing bubble. If I were to start a Ponzi scheme, I'd start it in Cali.

Californians believed there was a legitimate reason behind the rolling blackouts. If I had to sell a bridge, I'd do it in Cali.

California is inhabited by computer programmers who work 80 hour weeks in windowless cubicles. If asked, the programmers would say they live in Cali for the nice weather and scenery.

What else? Oh yeah, east coast muggers can totally beat up west coast muggers.
posted by malp at 7:27 PM on July 27, 2005

The stereotype is that Washingtonians dislike Californians because they drive up housing prices and contribute to sprawl. However when I moved to Washington in 1990 I never heard any of this, maybe because I'd lived in California for less than 2 years prior to that, and also because I came from San Francisco, which is kind of like a bigger, badder Seattle. (I lived in NYC before that, and before that originally from the Midwest.)

I think mainly east coasters and west coasters think of the other place as Very Far Away, and basically not really relevant to their lives in a significant way. The fact that I went to the college I went to was considered a Big Deal on the East Coast, but out here, most people haven't even heard of it, and only have a vague idea of what the Seven Sisters or Ivy League even are.
posted by matildaben at 10:33 PM on July 27, 2005

East Coast vs. West Coast
posted by ericb at 10:55 PM on July 27, 2005

I'm a Rhode Islander, and when I think of California, I think "wow, they have oxygen bars there. How odd."

Hey ruki, there used to be an oxygen bar on Park Avenue in Cranston. Only one I've heard of in RI, and I'm not sure that it's still there, though.
posted by LouMac at 9:02 AM on July 28, 2005

matildaben: I dunno, I've lived in Washington most of my life, and I'd say that there's been a definite resentment of Californians. I don't think it's quite so strong now as it was in the late 80s or early 90s, but it's still there.

Of course, living in Olympia, I live on the outskirts of civilization, so the yokels and rednecks of parts south occupy my mind much more than the Californians.
posted by Captain_Tenille at 9:54 AM on July 28, 2005

Response by poster: Wow, thanks everyone. I had no idea that "hot tub culture" was exclusive to California. I don't expect to be treated badly, I was just curious because traveling in the West, Californans get a lot of flack. Idaho and Washington both seem to seriously dislike Califonians.
posted by slimslowslider at 11:17 AM on July 28, 2005

Well, it's a completely different story if you drive into Maine with New York plates on your car! :)
posted by jeanmari at 11:36 AM on August 2, 2005

« Older How to excite my child about learning...?   |   When and how often should I water my lawn? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.