Scared of San Fran!
June 27, 2006 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Scared of San Francisco!

My fiancee's job may be moving us to San Francisco next year. I am terrified. I can't really explain it. I have lived downtown Atlanta for 8 years, I was breath away from moving to Boston for a couple of years, but the West Coast seems so foreign to me.

We should make an ok profit from selling the home we own now, but the cost of living in SF is so just unfathamable to me. It seems like I can't even think raationally about the move. Don't get me wrong, I am actually very excited and understand that my 4 bedroom 1 acre spread is about to turn into a little apartment, but still, I am scared. I worry about not being "cool" enough to be a bartender there like I am here, I worry about people not hiring me in my professional field because I sound a little Southern.

I guess my question is, what should I expect? What do you love about San Franciso? What struck you as very different or unique about the city? Just help me wrap my head around this possible change.
posted by stormygrey to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I have wonderful memories of the three years I spent in San Francisco. Not really because of any one thing, but more because there was always something to do. There's a lot of variety between the neighbourhoods and there's plenty of fun to be had exploring them, but at the same time the city is small enough that it's not too hard to comprehend. Subjectively, it's a beautiful city and you're close to miles of coast, mountains (I have great memories of Mt. Tamalpais) lovely little towns, woods, wine country etc. And everybody seems to be from somewhere else, so I don't think you need to worry about your accent. The climate is not to everyone's taste, but I loved it.

Get a guide book for the city or Northern California in general, you'll find tons to get excited about.
posted by teleskiving at 7:23 AM on June 27, 2006

I am a native NYer who lived in Chicago for 13 years and loved it. I am back in NY now after a one year stint in SF in the late 1990's. I hated SF. Don't get me wrong, it is a neat city with lots to do. Having a lot to do is not necesarily what is going to make your experience a positive one. The mindset of the people where you live is very relevant to the feeling of home you achieve. The mindset on the west coast is significantly different than the east coast, south and mid west which are all different from each other. No value judgement there. For example, the northeast corridor generally has people who are more aggressive and competative because of the nature of the over population and crowded area. If you don't stick up for yourself, you risk being passed by.

I do think your fears are not without merit. There are different mindsets all over the country. I would say that the folks I knew in SF were all open and friendly. I could never relate to them though. There was a lot to do, mostly outdoors.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:41 AM on June 27, 2006

San Francisco is absolutely tiny compared to Atlanta... it's very densely packed. The traffic will be terrifying by your standards; the hills are steep, the roads are complex, and people drive very, very fast. However, unlike New York, lane markers are more than just suggestions, and there are far fewer accidents than you'd expect from the high speeds. San Francisco drivers, by and large, are really good. Atlanta drivers are loose cannons in comparison.

In California, freeway merges are based on position, not speed. Everyone does zipper-merging automatically; you slow to let the merging car ahead of you in. In Georgia, the idea seems to be that if you're moving faster than a car that's merging, even if that car is ahead of you, you're supposed to speed up and get past them. If you do a California zipper merge, where you're slowing down very much to let someone in, it confuses the HELL out of most Georgia drivers. I've actually been honked at for trying to let people in.... by the actual people I was trying to make room for! They expect you to blow past them, and get a bit lost if you don't.

If you do that in California, you're GOING to end up in an accident.

There's always something open in SF, any time of the day or night. It's a very 'smart' city, with lots of stuff for the intellectual. The people tend to be very health-oriented; you'll find lots of vegans and such there.

California as a whole is a strange mix of liberalism and conservatism, and SF seems to mirror that, but take it to extremes. It's had a serious attack of gentrification over the last ten years, but the heart of the city is still pretty liberal. If you like nonjudgmental, interesting people, who are absolutely obsessed with health and nutrition, it's a really good place.

Like all cities, there are parts of it that are bad... find out where those are, and avoid them.

California supermarkets tend to be upscale and well-lit... expensive, but with very good food. Fruits and vegetables are extremely good and very cheap, because it's all grown right there. Same with can get absolutely fabulous $8 bottles. Food brands are, in many cases, quite different. Albertson's is probably closest to being like Publix; Safeway is rather like Kroger. "Arnold" bread in the South is "Oroweat" in the West. It's the same bread.

California has been fundamentally wealthy for a long time, and you will find that the services and infrastructure are far better than their Georgian equivalents. But taxes are much higher, too.

Some of the most beautiful country in the world is available to go see from SFO.... Monterey to the south, and the areas around Napa and Fort Bragg to the north. California weather and scenery are like nothing else... TAKE TIME to go see stuff. You will not regret it.
posted by Malor at 8:47 AM on June 27, 2006

I went to middle school and high school in Atlanta (Roswell, actually), and then college in Boston. The number-one thing I hated hated hated about Boston, which was especially noticeable after having lived in Atlanta, was that NO ONE TALKED TO YOU. Cashiers avoided eye contact, no one said hello on the street, it was really hard to make friends or meet new people. It's not rude by Northeastern standards -- I understand that cramming lots of people into tiny spaces means that some extra measures are required to give people a sense of privacy -- but I really hated the whole "New England reserve" thing.

(My roommate, who was from Maine, once explained to me that she found it rude when a cashier talked to her, because the cashier was "invading her space." This seems a fairly common belief there.)

I'm now living in San Francisco. What I love most about the city is how open and friendly and talkative and compassionate most people are here. Many of them have kooky theories about... everything, really; but all of them make eye contact, say hello on the street, and will joke around with you when you're waiting in line rather than glaring at you if you happen to make too much noise. In terms of everyday interactions, it's the closest to the South of anyplace I've lived (which also includes the Midwest and Europe).

People do have stereotypes about Southerners, but flat-out stupid assumptions seemed much more common in Boston, where I was constantly defending the South against allegations that "nothing" good ever came out of it, that "all" Southerners were bigots and stupid, that we should lop off the bottom half of the country. I haven't heard anyone in SF make the same comments (though I see them often enough on MeFi!).

I did spend my first few months here feeling like I was not at all cool enough to be part of daily life, but that really faded after a while (partly because the whole 80s look is back in among the young hipster set, and I think it looks so ridiculous that I can't care about not wearing the "in" clothes!). And it's California, so most people are really casual -- I definitely had to dress-down my wardrobe a bit, as in many places "clean jeans" equals "dressed up." There's a definite look here, but for the most part it's pretty easy to achieve -- jeans and a hoodie and you're halfway there.

What I like to remember about San Francisco is that it started as a Gold Rush town, as a place for all the misfits -- pioneering entrepreneurial men who wanted to get rich quick and not work for The Man, women who wanted to escape the dictates of "ladylike" behavior and find their own way in the world, and then later all the gay men who had been hounded out of the rest of the country, and then even later more entrepreneurial men who wanted to get rich quick in dot-coms and not work for The Man -- and it's still got a lot of that feel. Anyone can be a San Franciscan; the city is very accepting of anyone who wants to come out and give it a go.

I'd be happy to give you more info or encouragement, either here or through email. Good luck with the move!
posted by occhiblu at 8:51 AM on June 27, 2006 [2 favorites]

I was in exactly your shoes a year ago. I moved out to San Francisco from Philadelphia in July 2005, and boy was I terrified.

A year later? I love SF. I adore it.

Part of that is because I moved out to be with my girlfriend (a relief after a long-distance relationship), and also because after a bit of a search I found a great job, far better than the one I had in Philly.

The rest just seemed to follow. Salaries in SF are higher than in other areas, and that sort of takes care of the cost of living. I don't know if your husband's job is giving him an increased salary with the relocation, but if it is, chances are he'll be fine.

Owning in SF is expensive, but renting really isn't bad at all. It's a renter's market, and the nice places in SF don't seem at all different in cost than the nice places in Philly (although the cheap places in Philly are much cheaper). If you're worried about the location, you can rent for a few years (until the inevitable housing price crash ;) and then buy once you've figured out exactly where it is you want to be.

I also love the public transportation options in the city. I ride BART to work, and that's been great for my psyche. BART's a calm, pleasant experience (the buses less so, as is often the case, although I like the Muni Metro streetcar system), and both our home and our workplaces are easy walks from BART. I knew the commutes in cities I've lived in in the past were soul-sucking, but I didn't realize just how much.

San Francisco is dense, so there's always something interesting just around the corner, whether it's a theater playing an art film, good rock shows, or (as everyone will tell you) fantastic food. Once you get past the economic issue, it's just plain easy to live here, because just about anything you need is easily within reach. San Francisco really never frustrates on the level that other cities can. The *selection* of things here is always good, because it's such a diverse community. Being a movie buff, for example. it's nice to see that while SF isn't a first tier (NY/LA) city, it gets new releases of all types quickly. The same type of diversity holds to pretty much everything, so you're bound to find a pocket of whatever it is you like.

The laid-back nature of the city is real. There's far less angst and aggression than in the East Coast or the Midwest. Everything's casual. But it's not necessarily laid back in a "hippie" sort of way (although there still is that), the pace of life is just a little bit different. The only thing I've found frustrating is scheduling -- everything in San Francisco, from parties to shows, starts late.

I don't think you'll be in for much culture shock as long you're not intolerant. There's nothing like, say, the New York bluntness to completely throw you off. It seems that as long as you're open to people doing their own thing here in San Francisco, you can do whatever it is you do. Also, San Francisco is a city of transplants, so you're bound to find people who have come from wherever it is you're coming from for similar reasons. In Philly, there seemed to be cliques of Philly-native people who all grew up together, whereas here, people tend to hang with people from their work, organizations they belong to, or get together to participate in various events.

In short -- don't be scared. It's easier than you'd ever guess.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 9:41 AM on June 27, 2006

to answer your question: what should you expect?

first, expect fog. sounds facetious, but its true; we idenitfy outsiders as the ones wearing shorts in july, because that's not when its warm here (think later summer). expect to wear jackets in the evening, and things like that. the weather isn't bad and is often capable of being stunning, but i was pretty surprised when i moved out here, as have been most other east coast transplants.

Anyone can be a San Franciscan; the city is very accepting of anyone who wants to come out and give it a go.

Absolutely! The second thing I wanted to say was to be prepared for serious diversity. Not token folks, everybody. Based on my assumptions about Atlanta you're familiar with whites, blacks, and probably a lot of Hispanics (lack of knowledge of ATL admitted); here, you have all of the above, but with more specific, developed hispanic communities, as well as huge asian populations -- i believe the largest Chinese population outside of Asia, a lot of Japanese, Vietnamese, Koreans and more. The city is very accepting and used to people coming from different backgrounds, and is something to keep in mind.

California can stand on its own. We know it - we've got the technology, the food production, the land, almost everything. Almost anything flies here -- from the "misfit" mentality to a large, open gay population to being able to smoke weed practically anywhere. Some find it as not having enough standards and not asking enough out of people, some find it heaven.

beyond that i think malor and occhiblu have it covered. in general, i find there's very little to be afraid of here. and i joke of california as the clean slate state - you can start fresh here if you want, be anyone you want to be.
posted by andifsohow at 9:48 AM on June 27, 2006

I was born and raised in San Francisco and also lived there for most of my twenties. I lived in Sacramento for awhile, which has a lot of trees and gardens, and I noticed that when I came back to the Bay Area, I thought that San Francisco neighborhoods are actually pretty ugly. The Bay and the views are stunning, but people don't really plant a lot of things. ( I live 15 minutes away now - across the bay in Berkeley, and I love it a lot more - people have gardens and yards and the weather is nicer.)
It seems like there are two San Franciscos to me. One is made up of people who move there from somewhere else and they seem to be very open minded, liberal. But there are a lot of really conservative San Francisco neighborhoods made up of natives - born and raised there.

And as andifsowho said, there is a huge Asian and Latino population here, so you'll probably get more exposure to different and authentic cuisine (as well as "California" cuisine). I've been to Georgia three times and yes, the ethnic makeup is a lot more diverse here.

It's a little city but it has first rate museums, theatres, lots of concerts, shows, avant-garde stuff, and it's also near a lot of amazing hiking, Lake Tahoe if you ski, beautiful scenery on the coast, and it's only about an hour away from great camping, if you're into that.

At the risk of making a generalization, everytime I've been in the south (Georgia, Tennessee), I have found Southerners to generally be a lot more polite than Californians. Not that Californians are notoriously impolite - just that Southerners seem really polite to me. On the whole though, I think you'll like it here - at the very least, hopefully it will be exciting. In any case, have fun!
posted by gt2 at 10:12 AM on June 27, 2006

My wife and I moved from Birmingham, Alabama to San Francisco in June of '99. I pretty much would be content staying here for the rest of my life were it not for the one little problem of the fact that neither one of us are willing to work hard enough to buy a house. We want to be able to buy a place, but it is indeed just out of our capability to do so.

However, the upsides have been enormous. For myself, born in 1965 raised in a small town in Alabama (I am not even kidding about that, btw) until I was 19 and lived mostly in southern cities, I find San Francisco the single best place I have ever lived.

We live without a car here, and if you're moving from Atlanta you may ponder very, very deeply how that's possible, but it is. Seven years in we have been fine without a car to the point that we were able to pay off every last bit of our consumer debt by channelling car payment money into debt payment (and now we have a suprlus in savings for emergencies).

We came out here for my wife to do her PhD in pharmaceutical chemistry, btw.

Re being "cool" enough or "hip" enough. Forget about all that. You'll find friends of you own ilk. Unless you're some ultra-right-wing conservative who already hates San Francisco for being too weird for you to start with, the city has a lot to offer to nearly anyone who comes out here. And don't even worry about your accent. It just means people often make some dumb assumptions about you until they get to know you (at 40, I still have some nice southern affectations, but anyone that calls it an accent has never heard an Alabamian's southern drawl).

Accents are accents, and in SF accents are from EVERYWHERE in the world. :)

If you like good food, beautiful landscapes, mostly foggy and cool summers (say goodbye to your humid, hot, muggy gulf coast streams of humidity), film, shopping, etc. you'll love it here. You don't have to fit in with the left leaning folks (I'm still mostly a libertarian at heart, but SF has made me appreciate more about what the left has to say, I just don't belong there), and you don't have to hate them. You can walk by them on the street and just safely ignore them along with the Larouche idiots and the Scientology cultists.
posted by smallerdemon at 10:24 AM on June 27, 2006

I moved from NC to the peninsula and spent loads of time in the City. You will find that the Left Coast is just...different. Very different.

It won't take long before you feel like a Californian and belong there. Don't worry about the driving. Stay alert and you'll be fine. Atlanta's no walk in the park, traffic-wise, perhaps worse than 101 and 280 (which was my stomping grounds). They are serious about the HOV lanes...$275 fine...ouch!

Keep your head on straight and just stay cool until you realise that you are finally a californian. My wife has a thick southern accent and certainly got attention, however.

You are moving to one of the best cities in the world. Enjoy every free moment you have. There's so so so much to experience and explore. I'm jealous.
posted by toastchee at 10:50 AM on June 27, 2006

And I generally can't resist pimping my own neighborhood, The Inner Sunset. Yeah, lots of fog, but lots of public transportation and Golden Gate park just down the street, not to mention just a leisurely stroll to the Haight and Cole Valley areas.
posted by smallerdemon at 10:57 AM on June 27, 2006

I worry about not being "cool" enough to be a bartender there like I am here,

I hate to say it, but that actually may be a problem -- not necessarily the fact that you aren't "cool" enough, but that you don't know anyone. Most of the good bartending gigs ("good" meaning those at popular clubs that are gonna bring in tip money) in San Francisco are either spoken for or given out to friends of current bartenders/owners, etc. Most of these bars also tend to feature attractive folk who dress in the style that the bar intends to cater to.

From friends who tend, I've heard that it's really difficult to get a "real" bartending gig in the city unless you know someone -- still, 1) you're female (assuming from profile), and that should make it slightly easier, and 2) you have experience, which means that you can probably pick up the hotel/restaurant/catering bartending jobs which are less competitive.

Really, everyone wants to tend in this city -- I wouldn't expect to get a bartending job without some legwork.
posted by fishfucker at 11:06 AM on June 27, 2006

oh but besides that, I wouldn't worry. SF is awesome.
posted by fishfucker at 11:07 AM on June 27, 2006

It's funny ... seems like half the people that visit and/or live in San Francisco think it's nothing less than God's Country. The other half (/me waves at everyone) think it's a crappy city filled with self-indulgent, insufferable pricks (see the South Park episode, "Smug Alert").

All I can say is ... research, research, research.
posted by frogan at 11:13 AM on June 27, 2006

Thanks everyone, this was all really good information. Seriously, every post was excellent.

I think I will get a long fine if I keep my chin up, I am pretty odd for Atlanta but that will probably translate to fairly mainstream there. Which might kill my bartending opportunities, but expand my museum/nonprofit opportunities.
posted by stormygrey at 11:15 AM on June 27, 2006

Certainly every city has its drawbacks but unless frogan were to expand on specifics it doesnt make for good advice.

SF is a city that is hard to generalize about because its also very neighborhood-y - unusual for such a small city. I know people in the Mission who have never set foot in the Marina. And people who live in the Marina who think anything south of Market street is just dirty and stinky.

There's an enormous Asian population which nobody seems to talk about. They all seem to live out in the Sunset or Richmond districts and generally shy away from most of the city's activism but make themselves heard loud and clear at election time.

There is a huge underclass that lives down in the Excelsior area. they are generally poor and Black (or Latino) and don't vote as much. They fill up the 15 Bus on 3rd street at 4am on their way to clean offices downtown while most of the city sleeps.

SF has a huge Latino population. I dont mean Mexicans but also Salvadoreans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Colombians, Brazilians, Cubans. Nicaraguans etc.. and. judging at least by the storefronts on Mission, they love to eat out, hang out with each other in their own bars, and attend all these tiny evangelical churches (why does nobody talk about the fact that the Mission has an evangelical church on every block???)

SF is a tiny conglomeration. I'll leave out the well-known gay population or the young hipsters, or the SOMA geek/tech/startup crowd or the downtown bankers or the Italians in North Beach or the Japanese in Japantown or the vibrant Vietnamese community. The city is tiny and yet also enormous.

I thinkhink it's a crappy city filled with self-indulgent, insufferable pricks

posted by vacapinta at 11:26 AM on June 27, 2006

Sorta native here, I think it's one of the most amazing places anywhere. What I miss most about it are the stunning vistas from hundreds of streets in the city, the changing character of neighborhoods in the space of a few blocks, the natural air conditioning during the summer (I like fog -- sue me!), and lots of interesting, tolerant, good-hearted people. The self-righteous types exist too, and in droves, but they're part of what makes the place tick. Driving can be an adventure, parking even more so, but BART is fantastic for getting around (mostly in and out of the city or along the Market St. and Mission St. corridors) and MUNI is improving each year. The city is very walkable. With a monthly MUNI pass and some sturdy shoes a car is not all that necessary. Restaurants are simply excellent. Many great cafes and bars too. Architecture is unique.

If you're looking in the outlying areas, my guess is Berkeley would be the biggest culture shock in the entire Bay Area (possible exception: Bolinas). It has its charms, but I'm not a huge fan. Oakland, however, rocks. Huge problems, but lovely, friendly people as well across all walks of life and income levels.

OK, I'll be the one to say it: One easy way to not stand out as an outsider is to avoid -- I'm serious here -- ever saying "San Fran." People in SF hate hate hate that terms. "Frisco," perhaps even more. Some people care enough to actually be pricks about this, btw.
posted by donpedro at 11:49 AM on June 27, 2006

In regards to your sounding a little Southern, I think that's more of an asset than a hindrance. The accent makes you unique and the right bar would really latch onto that. SF really enjoys its diverse citizenry so be prepared for conversation starters about where your accent is from.

To the above commenters, thanks again for reminding me why I absolutely love living here! The endless peculiarities of this city are what keep me here - it's like constantly rediscovering the quirky girlfriend.
posted by junesix at 12:11 PM on June 27, 2006

Another native here to tell you, do not be afraid. We're a fairly amiable bunch and as gt2 said earlier, fairly diverse in ways that people in other parts of the country wouldn't expect. I second smallerdemon's recomendation of the Inner Sunset (my stomping grounds) and also suggest the Richmond and Glen Park areas of the city as being pretty livable. I have heard from other people from the south that they were concerned that their accents would be a hinderance; most of them found that to not be true at all. Personally, I find southern accents charming and a touch bit sexy.

And don't worry about the snobby, self-righteous, hipper-than-thou types - everybody hates them; they're kinda like the human equivalent of pigeons. They are unavoidable unfortunately, but a least you're not alone in disliking them.
posted by echolalia67 at 2:07 PM on June 27, 2006

donpedro, my family's from the Bay Area and we all say Ess Eff, and occasionally San Fran, but never Frisco. Usually it's just "the city."

I have not found San Franciscans or Bay Area people are tolerant- they're just tolerant of different things. For instance, if you're a practicing Christian, you'll run into 100 people willing to tell you completely unsolicited that you're an idiot. The Bay Area is full of proselytizing secularists, and SF is no exception.

It does help that many who are aggressively intolerant are intolerant of such stupid stuff it's easy to ignore them. For instance, I've had strangers lecture me on how unhealthy my Diet Coke is. (This phenomenon is more pronounced in Berkeley, which is where I work now.)

I agree with junesix that a Southern accent is an asset, but you'll probably still run into people who have some anti-southern bigotry.

Lastly, I agree with donpedro that Oakland is the coolest of the East Bay cities. I don't know the South Bay so I can't generalize more than that.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:07 PM on June 27, 2006

Theres a laundromat I pass all the time called the "Don't call it Frisco Laundomat"
posted by atom128 at 2:29 PM on June 27, 2006

You're right, "the city" is the most common way to refer to it among city-dwellers. Was advising the OP not to use either "San Fran" or "Frisco." It's a minor thing in any case, just a little tip to blend in.

The intolerance you speak of -- of anything not toeing an orthodox liberal line -- I find much more pronounced in Berkeley. And as a pretty left-leaning individual, it drove me nuts. That's why I'm down on the place. I found it less common in the city, but YMMV.

stormygrey, the Bay Area is a wonderful jewel, and I'm sure you'd love it.
posted by donpedro at 3:37 PM on June 27, 2006

This has been touched on by previous posters, but bears repeating: the thing I love most about San Francisco is that it's surrounded by other cities (Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, the cities of Marin County, etc., etc.), many of which have very distinctive characters of their own. I haven't spent much time in Atlanta, but I recall there's the center city and then there are suburbs.

The biggest mistake many people make when they move to San Francisco is that they stay in SF proper and don't venture out to surrounding areas, and then complain that they live in a tiny, provincial city. If you move there, roam around.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:53 PM on June 27, 2006

Oh, and fog != humidity. This is a very, very good thing.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:55 PM on June 27, 2006

anything south of Market street is just dirty and stinky

It is. That's what makes it beautiful.
posted by meehawl at 10:13 AM on March 17, 2007

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