Baby, it’s cold outside
MY DAUGHTER, Adena, is packing for her first year of college, and she insists that she’ll need her flip-flops in upstate New York. In winter. What if she wants to run to the store, she argues -- for a taco or something?
Adena has lived in Los Angeles since she was 2, and I am just now realizing that she is utterly clueless about life outside Southern California.
She refers to the cold season as “winter” (with the quote-unquote hand signals) as though it were a myth. This is my fault, and I have no excuse. I was raised in New York state, and I know winter. Moreover, I know that the Northeast is emphatically not L.A. with snow. It is a completely different culture, an alien state of mind to those raised here. I tremble for Adena. But I will spend the little time we have left trying to prepare her.
So herewith the cram sheet, East Coast 101, which I am passing along as a public service:
The first question you will hear, no matter whether you’re from Pasadena, Riverside or Santa Monica, is: “Do you know any movie stars?” The only possible answer to this is “yes.” And then lie with abandon if necessary; no one will know the difference.
Easterners mistake laid-back for dumb. You can use this to your advantage.
People won’t smile unless they mean it. Don’t mistake this for being unfriendly.
Flip-flops are not considered proper attire. People may take offense if you wear them to a formal event. Besides, see winter, below.
People will ask you, “But don’t you miss the seasons?” Never mind that if you’ve lived your whole life in Southern California, you can’t answer this question. Never mind that we have seasons, just not European ones. Ponder your answer on the 15th rainy day in a row. On the other hand, be sure to take a walk in the woods on a sunny day in October. It will make you happy to be alive.
And speaking of seasons: Winter does exist. It’s not “winter.” Take it seriously. Layer. Wear a hat. Buy wool.
Restaurant etiquette: Food comes faster, restaurants are open later and wait staffs are less chatty.
I am told that you can now enjoy authentic Mexican food, even in upstate New York, but I can’t confirm this. But the East Coast is still predominantly Eurocentric. You will find that you are more influenced by Latin American and Asian cultures than you thought.
If you’re homesick and can’t find a good taco, take a yoga class. It will be warm and no one will care whether you wear flip-flops.
Some differences you may observe about the East but probably should keep to yourself: On average, people are uglier. People walk faster but drive slower. Trees are taller but “mountains” are shorter. Old people look old, and crabby people don’t try to hide it. There are a bazillion more mosquitoes.
People will ask you if you’re afraid of earthquakes. If you’re feeling snarky, you can retort that mosquitoes are much more dangerous than earthquakes.
People will ask you, “Do real people live there?” which may at first inspire a koan-like blankness in your mind. But the images of L.A. are so ubiquitous in film and television that everyone thinks they know it ... yet the place always seems fictional. They have a hard time reconciling this duality.
And dealing with contradiction, really, is the most profound difference between the East and West coasts. In an East Coast mind, a place can be either absurd or sublime. In L.A., we know that our city is both.
Have a great time. Dress warm. Learn what you can from our odd cousins to the east. And bring your great new ideas back home.