A Cultural Guide to Coastal Californians

goldenstate          Adjusting to foreign cultures can be challenging for some people. I’ve learned from experience that Costa Ricans are unlikely to correct your Spanish if they think your mistakes are funny, even when you end up saying “Cogí muchos peces hoy” (I fucked a lot of fish today) when you’re trying to for “Agarré muchos peces hoy” (I caught a lot of fish today), and Japan is not a good place to talk back to your parents in public[1]. I’ve also learned that many non-Californians experience culture shock when visiting the Golden State or are confused by the behavior of Californians they meet outside the state. As a Native Californian[2] I feel I should help explain things to those not fortunate enough to have been born on the “edge of the world and all of Western Civilization”[3]. The behavior of Coastal Californians can be understood through the context of our cultural tendencies of informality, equality, hyper-individualism, superficiality, and chillness.


Silicon Valley tech types are already notorious for wearing hoodies to business meetings, but this tendency towards informality seems to have extended to Californians of all social levels. Many of us count flip flops as formal wear or wear yoga pants to work. This informality also extends to speech patterns and the only people Californians, including young children, routinely address as Ms. or Mr. are schoolteachers. Calling someone, other than perhaps a police officer, Sir or Mam can also be interpreted as an age-based insult. Non-Californians should not take it as an affront if a Californian initially fails to comply with a dress code, but should feel free to use the Californian’s first name when asking him/her to find different shoes.


While race and class based differences in opportunity exist in California, we don’t like to admit this. We are even more loath to presume ourselves to be above anybody else or for anyone to think they are above us. This is why we don’t give direct orders unless we consider a situation to be critical and why the British concept that individuals should “know their place” is viewed with outright hostility. This is also why Californians are so proud of our state’s reputation for tolerance of the entire spectrum of races, cultures, and sexual orientations.


While Californians tend to be politically liberal, we’re not big collectivists, as the unfortunate number of anti-vaxxers in our ranks should prove. While not unwilling to help others, we resent anyone who we feel makes unreasonable demands on our time and energy or claims that we owe them assistance. This also makes us reluctant to ask others for any difficult favors, but especially grateful for any help we do receive. This means nobody should expect to crash at a Californian’s house without asking first and should not even ask to borrow our cars for any extended period of time. We try to pay back and favors we do receive and if we cannot reciprocate in kind we may offer money to the friend who helped repair our computer or dive gear and it surprises us that non-Californians sometimes take offense at this.

This hyper-individualism can also be seen in the idealization of non-conformity among Coastal Californians. Many of us are more interested in “doing our own thing” than either leading or following. Eccentricity is seen as a virtue so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. Many different lifestyles are seen as equally valid, and a comparatively high number of us belong to religions that our parents do not.


My fellow Coastal Californians aren’t going to appreciate this, but we do have a tendency to value form over function. In spite of our informality we would rather wear a stylish Patagonia fleece to work than a cheap one from Old Navy. Californians also put more value on our own physical appearances than do most other humans. The upside of our concern with appearance is that we are more likely to exercise and wear sunscreen and less likely to smoke, but the downside of our concern with appearance is that we’re also more likely to spend obscene amounts of money on clothing or plastic surgery and to fear the natural results of aging the way others fear cancer. We consider it extremely rude to say anything negative about someone’s physical appearance, because we would be devastated to hear the same thing said about ourselves. In other words you won’t find out that we’ve noticed that you gained weight until after we congratulate you for losing it.

Coastal Californians also have trouble forming deep emotional connections with other unrelated humans unless we are sleeping with them, and sometimes not even then. Luckily for us we’re tolerant of non-monogamous lifestyles so we can make as many deep emotional connections as we find necessary. This also often leads us to assume that any man who calls any other non-related man every week is in a homosexual relationship. Nobody will think any less of him for this, but he may be frustrated by a lack of female flirtation if he turns out to actually be straight.


Where chillness lies on the emotional spectrum.
Where chillness lies on the emotional spectrum.
How Californians vs. Non-Californians react to irritation
How Californians vs. Non-Californians react to irritation

If California had commandments our first would be “Always be chill.” “Chill” can be described as happier than average, but not ecstatically so. This can also make us appear to be stoned even when we aren’t and it’s an attitude that most people already associate with our state. What non-Californians have a bit more trouble understanding is the consequences that the desire to maintain chillness has on other aspects of our behavior. Apparently non-Californians engage in a strange behavior where their level of expressed anger or displeasure at a stimulus correlates to its severity. Among Coastal Californians anger is binary; while the switch between off and on is not easy to flip, because being a hothead is extremely un-chill, once flipped a formerly civilized Californian transitions almost instantly from Green Goddess to the Incredible Hulk. While some may feel vindicated to know that Coastal Californians do have a dark side buried beneath the laid back exterior, it’s inadvisable to attempt to demonstrate this. Californians also tend to erroneously expect others to have this same binary response, which is why when non-Californians express more reasonable levels of anger to us we tend to assume that person now has an issue with us permanently unless we are informed otherwise.

The behavior of Coastal Californians, like the behavior of anyone else, makes more sense if one understands the cultural context that it occurs in. I hope this can help non-Californians be a little less confused when they visit our state, although since I value equality I would never insist that they assimilate completely, and I’ll be chill about it unless they act like they’re better than me or call me fat.

[1] The whole restaurant fell silent.

[2] Does not have the same connotation as Native American or Native Hawaiian.

[3] From “Californication” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers


Don’t Try this at Home, Or Abroad Either

Lions hunting, not being hunted, in Namibia's Etosha National Park. Spring 2010.
Lions hunting, not being hunted, in Namibia’s Etosha National Park. Spring 2010.

Cecil the lion was relatively famous, at least by lion standards, in life, but anti-trophy hunting sentiments have turned him into the most macabre sort of dead celebrity. Rumors are flying, but we do know that Dr. Walter Palmer paid roughly $54,000 for the ‘privilege’ of traveling to Zimbabwe and shooting a lion. It has been alleged that Dr. Palmer’s guides lured Cecil out of the Hwange National Park with bait so Dr. Palmer could shoot him with a crossbow. The Zimbabwean government is claiming that to do so was illegal and Dr. Palmer has responded by throwing his hunting guides under the safari jeep and claiming that he had counted on them to secure the necessary permits and make sure his hunt was conducted lawfully and that any illegal actions are their fault and not his.

The problem with this argument is that anybody who knows anything about Africa knows that Zimbabwe is hardly the land of law and order. Wildlife poaching is rampant (Wadhams 1-August-2007), hyperinflation has led to the complete collapse of the currency, and the government is notoriously corrupt and repressive and is headed by Robert Mugabe who feeds off his people like a vampire[1] and serves up his country’s endangered species at official banquets. Dr. Palmer’s excuse of “I trusted my guides to conduct the hunt legally” rings about as hollow the claim of “The pimps told me that the girls were over 18 and not trafficked” made by somebody caught with his pants down in a Bangkok brothel.

The inaccurately named "White Lady" (thought to actually depict a male shaman) pictograph is believed to be around 2000 years old. Unfortunately it has faded considerably due to tourists pouring water on it in order to make the colors more brilliant for pictures. Brandberg, Namibia, Spring 2010.
The inaccurately named “White Lady” (thought to actually depict a male shaman) pictograph is believed to be around 2000 years old. Unfortunately it has faded considerably due to tourists pouring water on it in order to make the colors temporarily more brilliant for pictures. Brandberg, Namibia, Spring 2010.

It’s easy to condemn the behavior of scummy sex tourists and privileged poachers, and they certainly deserve it, but all travelers would do well to think on the sins we may have committed while abroad. Many of us from North America and Western Europe behave differently when in countries with different laws, laxer enforcement, or just where we think any bad reputation we acquire with the locals will not be able to follow us home. This can be seen in the behavior of surfers who will drive drunk in Ensenada, but never in Encinitas, backpackers who buy pieces of endangered species or ancient artifacts as curios, adventurers who trespass into sacred or ecologically sensitive sites, because apparently their desire to “really see” them outweighs the importance of any efforts to minimize impacts, and partiers who start yelling in the international language of drunks at 3am, because they’ve forgotten that not everybody in San Juan del Sur is on vacation.

While committing these misdeeds is less likely to land anyone in the middle of an international media feeding frenzy, that certainly doesn’t excuse them. It can be enjoyable cut a little loose when on vacation, but just because our actions abroad may be freed from legal consequences doesn’t mean that they’re also freed from ethical ones. I won’t even try to write a list of acceptable behavior for every travel situation, because I’m sure that there are many situations I can’t envision but I will suggest a change of attitude. Instead of seeing ourselves as consumers of experiences who use countries and move on, let’s see ourselves as guests in others’ homelands and behave as if we would like to be invited (not extradited) back.


Wadhams. 1-August-2007. “Zimbabwe’s Wildlife Decimated by Economic Crisis”. National Geographic News. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/08/070801-zimbabwe-animals.html

[1] It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if vampires were offended by this comparison.

How to Type Spanish Characters on a PC with an English Keyboard

A male Northern elephant seal rests in the sand at Año Nuevo State Beach (January 2011).
A male Northern elephant seal rests in the sand at Año Nuevo State Beach (January 2011).

If you are a PC user who speaks English as a first language, but frequently needs to type Spanish because it’s your second language, you’re taking a class, or because you live near somewhere like Año Nuevo (the ñ versus n is especially important here) or La Cañada you’ve experienced the frustration of trying to type Spanish characters on an English keyboard. If you’re a Mac user you get to feel superior knowing this is actually quite easy to do on your preferred brand.

The first solution often suggested to PC users is to use Microsoft’s notorious Alt codes, but these don’t always work (especially not on laptops) and are extremely non-intuitive to memorize. Holier-than-thou internationalists will then say that you should change the settings on your computer to switch the keyboard to either “International” (whatever that means) or Spanish. The problem with this strategy that all of a sudden keys will produce different characters than the ones they are marked with on the keyboard and this can be confusing and frustrating, something that any gringo who has struggled in vain to type an @ on a Spanish keyboard already knows.

The solution I have found that works best for me is to use the program autohotkey, which lets you create a script that instructs your computer to automatically insert specific words or characters when specific combinations of keys are pressed. I’m not particularly good at programming, but even I was able to figure out how to create a script that I will now be able to use to type Spanish characters whenever I need to inform people that “Yo no sé mañana” is one of my favorite salsa songs. I know, however, that some of my readers probably have no programming experience so for you I am providing cookbook instructions. I must first clarify though that  the instructions have no warranty.

Cookbook for Spanish Typing on PCs

1) Download and install autohotkey

2) Right click on your Desktop and a Menu will appear. Scroll to new and then click AutoHotkey Script.

3) Paste the following text into your script
RAlt & n::
Send, ñ

RAlt & a::
Send, á

RAlt & e::
Send, é

RAlt & i::
Send, í

RAlt & o::
Send, ó

RAlt & u::
Send, ú

Send, Á

Send, É

Send, Í

Send, Ñ

Send, Ó

Send, Ú

Send, ¿

Send, ¡

4) Save the script to your desktop

5) When you want to type Spanish characters right click on the script and click run (you only need to do this one time per computer session).

6) The codes for the script are as follows

Right Alt Key (hereafter called RAlt) and a = á

RAlt and e = é

RAlt and i = í

RAlt and n = ñ

RAlt and o = ó

RAlt and u = ú

Control and Shift and / = ¿

Control and Shift and 1 = ¡

Control and Shift and A = Á

Control and Shift and E = É

Control and Shift and I = Í

Control and Shift and N = Ñ

Control and Shift and O = Ó

Control and Shift and U = Ú

¡Qué les vaya bien!

Farmed Bluefin Tuna: A Luxury We Can’t Afford

When I tell Westerners that one of the ocean’s most majestic predators is at risk of extinction due to its status as a luxury food item in Asia, most of them roll their eyes and tell me that they’ve already heard about the ecological havoc wrought by shark fin soup. Sharks, however, are not the only top predator being overfished for high-end cuisine. Human appetites currently threaten all three species of bluefin tuna, and the overfishing may be even harder to stop, because sushi, sashimi, and sesame encrusted fusion filets[1] have achieved levels of worldwide popularity that shark fin soup has never approached.

Image from World Wildlife Fund's campaign against eating bluefin to extinction.
Image from World Wildlife Fund’s campaign against eating bluefin to extinction.

High global demand for bluefin tuna has led to an industry of tuna farming, but perhaps the better term for these operations would be “loophole piracy”. Tuna farmers behave like the witch in “Hansel and Gretel” by catching large numbers of small fish, confining them to net pens, and feeding them until they grow large enough to be killed and eaten. The reason for this ghoulish behavior is that catch limits on bluefin tuna are set by tonnes of fish, not by numbers of individuals, and by catching large numbers of smaller, lighter fish to fatten in pens, tuna farmers can sell more total tonnes of tuna than the quotas would otherwise allow. This process results in a lot of money, but in no baby tuna, because bluefin destined for farms are caught before they are old enough to breed and although they eventually grow larger, it seems that they would rather die virgins than attempt to mate in net pens. While defenders of fish farming claim that it reduces the need to fish wild species, tuna farming depends on a continued supply of new young wild fish and magnifies the effects of overfishing.

Those who would defend tuna farming point out that laboratories have succeeded in spawning bluefin tuna under artificial conditions, but the process is too expensive to be attractive to commercial tuna farmers (Kawasaki 1-Sep-2014), who continue to use the “Hansel and Gretel” method. Even if closed-loop tuna breeding does become widespread, it will do nothing to solve the problem of tuna-farming being an inherent drain on human food supplies and marine ecosystems. Tuna are one of the few fish that warm their blood metabolically and also, like sharks, must swim constantly in order to breathe. This leads to extremely high energy demands and producing 1kg of bluefin tuna requires 10-20kg of feed (Ottolenghi 2008). Furthermore, as tuna are exclusively carnivorous, all of this feed is generally fish and squid that could have otherwise been used to feed humans or to help sustain seabird and marine mammal populations.

The final defense of tuna farming is that it increases the supply of a highly preferred food item available to rich and middle class consumers around the world. While this is probably true, squandering fish protein to create luxury products in a world where 6 million children die of protein malnutrition each year (Otten et al. 2006)[2] is morally indefensible. Tuna farming is a shameful example of our current economic system prioritizing “profits over people”.

While I won’t deny that raw bloody tuna is delicious, I understand that my taste preferences don’t justify overfishing and food injustice. While farmed tuna is a luxury that some of us can afford financially, the moral cost is much too high.


Kawasaki. 1-Sep-2014. “Nissui closes life-cycle bluefin tuna farming”. undercurrentnews. http://www.undercurrentnews.com/2014/09/01/nissui-closes-life-cycle-bluefin-tuna-farming/

Otten JJ, Hellwig JP, Meyers LD eds. 2006. Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. National Academies Press. Washington, DC. USA.DRIEssentialGuideNutReq

Ottolenghi, F. 2008. Capture-based aquaculture of bluefin tuna. In A. Lovatelli and P.F. Holthus (eds). Capture-based aquaculture. Global overview. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. No. 508. Rome, FAO. pp. 169–182 tunafeed

[1] Bluefin has become popular with Americans in spite of a historic cultural aversion to both raw fish and food that bleeds. We still retain an aggravating tendency to overcook steak though.

[2] Unfortunately I was unable to find a more current figure for protein malnutrition, because it doesn’t seem to be quantified all that often.