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


One thought on “A Cultural Guide to Coastal Californians

  1. “While Californians tend to be politically liberal”…..so, it must have been inland Californians, not coastal Californians, who voted for Ronald Reagan, Pete Wilson, and Proposition 13.


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