East Coast v. West Coast / one love

I recently wrote about how I was torn between two “homes”: SoCal and NYC. Having just spent a bit of time in “the OC,” I have refreshed my memory for comparisons. How do they stack up?

1. Transportation

I love being able to walk out my door and hop on a subway. The idea of having a driver any time you want, via the ubiquitous “yellow sharks” is also great. (Last fall, a father pulled his kid on the sidewalk having spotted a taxi speeding toward the intersection and called out “yellow shark! yellow shark!” and this has kind of stuck for me.) Of course, it’s not all roses, but I do like being able to rely on my feet and public transportation to get me where I’m going.

The only good public transport in OC is in Disneyland. As Jeremy notes below, you are judged by your ride in SoCal. Yes, this is very superficial, but if you like cars, it’s hard to be too critical of a car culture. It’s fun–if slightly harrowing–to be able to go out for drinks and pull your rental between one of these and one of these. And driving along PCH with the windows down and the radio up is one of my favorite things to do in the world.

2. Scent

Sorry, SoCal wins hands down here. As spring rolls around, the air there (at least along the coast) is scented with the smell of flowers and sea breezes. As the cold melts away, New York smells less appley than what Dinesen might suggest is the ultimate fate of Shiraz.

3. Housing

Ruined by Buffalo’s cheap housing, New York came as a bit of a shock. We had expected the housing in SoCal to be, at least in comparison, more manageable. It’s true that rents have remained stable (I think the rent at the apartment complex I used to live in has grown only by inflation–if that–over the last two decades), the cost of buying a home has doubled in the last nine years. Great for people who bought houses in either NYC or SoCal–not so good for those of us who hope to someday buy one.

And what about those spaces? Obviously, the housing stock in SoCal tends to be much newer, and that which is older is not usually old enough to be of interest. While San Diego is offering “real” lofts (unlike the ones that are created specifically for residential from the get-go) New York offers loft-living that often comes without the creature comforts. Like walls. A friend was offered a rental that, literally, was missing a couple of exterior walls. Very bohemian, no? Nonetheless, even though it’s impossible to afford anything more than a shoebox, if you care more about the livability than the number of square feet, I think Manhattan has to win out here, if only by a hair. Though the idea of walking out the back door onto the beach in California is appealing, there are very few opportunities to actually do that.

4. Stuff to do

New York is the center of the universe. It really is. There’s plenty to do in SoCal, but you better like the stuff that’s there, because it isn’t changing much, while in New York, all you have to do is wait five minutes. I grew up as a mall rat, and many of the malls in OC really are more commodious and entertaining than their east coast brethren. But, hey, they are still malls. How much shopping can you really do?

5. Weather

Um… duh. Even during earthquake season, this is a no-brainer.

6. Attitude

It’s pretty funny: the generally-held opinion in Southern California is that New Yorkers are at best brusque, at worst rude. New Yorkers seem to think Californians are superficial and vapid. And guess what: they’re both right! At least a little.

I have a strange feeling that both of these stereotypes are shaped largely by the culture of table service in both cities. In my experience, servers in OC (perhaps less so up in LA) are either very professional, very friendly, or both. They think of what they do as a service, and they grew up being exposed to this as a service. Is it fake? Well, yes. No doubt, they would rather not be working right now. But unlike in New York, they won’t tell you this.

And I don’t mean just fancy restaurants. Go into a diner in New York, and the person who waits on you will bring you your food, and generally do a pretty good job at it. But don’t expect them to be happy about it, and certainly not obsequious. Go to IHOP in HB, and your waitress will be friendly, and even if it is her job, I think the smile is in some way genuine.

I was startled by people saying hello on the street in California. That’s not to say that people ignore you on the street in Manhattan. Perhaps because we have a big dog, we are used to talking with people on the street. The last time we went to Fairway, on three occasions people gave their unsolicited opinion on my food selections. But especially at night, you pass too many people to bother to acknowledge them. If you are out on foot in California, there is probably something strange going on, so a disarming “Good evening” is in order. On the other hand, if you tell the person next to you at the deli counter that they should get more ham, you will probably be considered rude.

I do think that you are judged by how you look more often in SoCal than in New York, but what is seen as unnecessarily gruff in one place and superficial in the other is really, I suspect, a difference in vocabularies of interaction rather than anything else. Being bi-coastal-lingual can be a real advantage. This may be colored by reading Eastern Standard Tribe on the ride back, but it seems to me that the cultural differences between the coasts are deeper than our language and nationality would make immediately obvious.


Perhaps it is my innate optimism, but I like both places a lot. I like them enough to overlook their flaws.

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  1. dianeg
    Posted 4/6/2006 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    As a native Californian myself (SD), I am suprised that you think people are friendly in Socal, I’ve never thought so. I always attributed the lack of friendliness to the “car culture”. Less social interaction in public transportation and open areas. People aren’t forced to share space together. But, I’ve never lived in an area with public transportation…Buffalo doesn’t count.

  2. Posted 4/11/2006 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I’ll look for those traits when I travel. I guess for me it’s either San Francisco or NYC. :)

  3. Pati
    Posted 9/12/2006 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I moved to Northcentral PA from Northridge, CA in September of 2005. I cannot express to you the shock that I think I’m still suffering… The biggest is of-course the weather. It really sucks; the people are rude, when you say Thank you, mostly everyone says ahuh. (what happened to you’re welcome). I’ve counted the times that I’ve heard it in one year now and it is exactly three. Three times in one year!!!! Maybe my comment doesn’t count because I haven’t been to NYC. Are people the same as in PA?

  4. alex
    Posted 9/12/2006 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Hi, Pati.

    Funny you should say. Just last weekend we were waited on by someone from PA here in NYC. After she came to our table a couple of times, she said “You’re not from NY are you?” We admitted to being from SoCal, and she said she could tell because we were nice. She said she had been in NYC for the last few months and everyone she met was rude.

    I suspect it’s not a matter of being rude or not, but just differences in culture. I had Latin American colleagues back in Buffalo who absolutely hated it when people responded to “Thank you” with “no problem.” I don’t think I say “you’re welcome” very often. I might say “sure thing” or “no problem.” I’m not trying to be rude, it’s just what I’m used to…

  5. jim
    Posted 10/12/2007 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    I was born and raised in various beach towns in central New Jersey. I lived in north carolina for 3 years and south carolina for 1.5 years. I’ve been in Philadelphia for the last 8 years. Thanks to this I’ve come to realize that I also rarely say “your welcome.” I can see how people might be bothered by it but i really think that, here, it’s reserved for more formal situations or informally when someone is going out of their way to show their appreciation. The best way I can explain it is that what you associate with brevity is probably just modesty. It’s their way of saying “hey, no big deal, i’m just doing what i’m supposed to.”

    In general i think Philadelphians have the same stereotypes of New Yorkers that everyone else does and, given the proximity, a few extras. People who are native to the NY metro or who have lived there for a long time have a very low opinion of Philly (but most have never been) and can be incredibly condescending in conversation. I’ve actually stopped people and said “it’s philadelphia, not peoria.” With the subtext being ‘i don’t own a car either, i also ride the subway to work, i also enjoy the variety of ethnic foods my city has to offer, get over yourself.’ I guess that gives me away as being from the east coast. Self-respecting southerners will also let you know when you’re being condescending. Although the upper-class folk do it in such a subtle way you almost don’t notice but it’s wry and sarcastic nonetheless. I love it.

  6. anna
    Posted 12/19/2008 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    it was interesting to read your post actually. I just came back from a trip to California, where I visited San Francisco & LA (and some other towns on route). I really enjoyed myself in San Francisco, the people there were great.

    is there a significant difference between the culture in the east s& west side? I’ve heard that they’re really different, but i think that those views are stereotyped. i’m deciding whether to go to San Francisco or New York to study in their universities. i’m undecided between Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton or Yale, because both states seem like wonderful places to live in.

  7. alex
    Posted 12/19/2008 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    All of those places are interesting places to live, though I doubt you would actually be living in SF or NYC for any of them! As an example, living in Princeton or in New Haven places you close enough to Manhattan that you might make the occasional trip, but far enough that it probably wouldn’t be that frequent. Stanford and Berkeley are each a bit closer to San Francisco proper, and I think there is more of a unitary “Bay Area,” in some ways. If you are planning on spending several years in one of these places, I would strongly recommend you spend a few days in each. The culture in New Haven is very different from that of Berkeley, for example, although all of these are college towns, and share some similar feeling because of it.

    If you are accustomed to living in a large city, you may find the pace in New Haven, for example, to be a significant shift.

  8. Posted 6/22/2009 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    New York rules,
    the west coast is full of hippies, airheads, and people that walk so effing slow I want to shoot them with a machine gun.
    atleast here on the east coast we know what we want, how to do things, and most of all, dress!

  9. Posted 6/23/2009 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    the east coast has more class we aren’t snobby and we don’t stand for any bull crap and the west coast is like ohh watever dude in the east coast we cut you weel that’s what we do where im frm

  10. Gina
    Posted 3/25/2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    The East Cost is friendly, have values, morals and warm, better people and cultural understanding of events, offers alot of variety. The west coast esp. Idaho has no values, morals, people are rude, unaccepting. Has no cultural understanding, rude drivers that cut you off ir pull out in front of you and shows no hospitality unlike the East Coast. Never move to Idaho its the worst place.

One Trackback

  1. By Alex Halavais » Best lived cities on 4/22/2006 at 11:12 pm

    […] Following on my earlier West Coast / East Coast post, I was interested to see Mercer’s Quality-of-Living Report for global cities. Setting New York as 100.0 (Center of the Universe, remember?), it ranks a few US cities as better, including Honolulu (103.3), San Francisco (103.2), Boston (101.9), DC (100.4), Chicago (100.4), and Portland (100.3). Vancouver (107.7) ranked third worldwide, after Zurich and Geneva. Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Calgary all ranked above the highest-ranked US cities. […]

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