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09.23.09

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Phaedra

Colder But Wiser: Every cross-country relocation involves painful learning experiences.

Culture Shock

She went to school in MA; he went to school in CA--hella wicked

By Cassandra Landry and Daniel Hirsch


WHAT the hell is wrong with you?" is usually the first question East Coasters sling when they discover I'm a California native. How I could even consider leaving the celebrity-filled hills and good Mexican food of California is a conundrum they can't seem to wrap their minds around. However, working from the notion that the college years provide a perfect opportunity to live somewhere completely new, I traded drives to the beach for rides on the subway, and headed to school in Boston, Mass. Once there, I learned many strange things.

It's Freakin' Cold I was warned about the snow. My response was sanguine. "Seasons, schmeasons. I'll be fine." The first winter was the worst. I found myself staggering home from class, tears freezing on my cheeks, swearing under my breath and ruing the day I applied to college anywhere past the Fresno border. I pulled my pea coat, layered over about 15 sweaters, closer around me and vowed to invest in the biggest snow jacket I could find, fashion be damned. Most everywhere outside of California and Florida has seasons--yes, trees lose all their leaves and stay that way for months! What a concept.

Sole Truths I soon discovered the importance of footwear. Shoes that aren't flip-flops or Chuck's are a must, and rain boots do not double as snow boots, unless slipping and face-planting on iced-over sidewalk sounds like a good time.

NorCal! Outside of the Golden State, "California" equals "Hollywood." Many otherwise intelligent East Coast folks naturally assume I live in L.A., surf every day and am next-door neighbors with Matthew McConaughey.

Mind the Gap I had never quite experienced brand-name clothing as a religion until I reached Massachusetts. Forget Puritanism, high-end Bay Staters find their deity in J. Crew pastels.

Slang Culture People in the real world don't say "hella." Outside of California's sunny vineyards and coastlines, it sounds, well, hella stupid. Besides the fact that "hecka" has probably just become cool in the Midwest, "hella" is sure to blindside a few peers and leave no question as to where the ditzy Californian stereotype comes from. I quickly learned to lose the term after I inadvertently dropped it into conversation. The other person stopped, grinned, and said, "Duuuude, sick wave, bro'." Like I haven't heard that one before.--C.L.

Twain Shan't Meet
Raised in Western Massachusetts--birthplace of basketball, hotbed of Puritanism and, most pertinently, within spitting distance of half a dozen small liberal arts colleges--I grew up with certain assumptions about how college students lived and interacted with each other. When I came to school in California, I realized I had not just crossed the country, I had crossed into another world. Californians are like a whole different species. Here are some sweeping generalizations and flimsy observations for your perverse entertainment.

Weirdly Positive Unlike on the East Coast, whose denizens keep their enjoyment of things at a safe, critical distance and neatly nestled in layers of ironic detachment, Californians (and people from Oregon) like stuff and aren't afraid to admit it. When I came here, I was shocked by enthusiastic invitations like "Want to play disc golf, man? It'll be tight!" I was more familiar with something along the lines of "We're going to play disc golf, er, whatever. You can come ... I guess."

Living Foods? I've yet to completely figure out what qualifies as "California cuisine," but chances are, whatever it is includes avocado and Sriracha hot sauce.

Life's a Beach Every summer, my family went to Cape Cod, where, for a whole week, all we did was sit by the beach and eagerly soak up the summer sun. After a long, bitter winter, nothing brings greater joy to a New Englander than the feel of hot sand against his toes, warm ocean breezes in his hair and the shrill cry of gulls above. When visiting a friend in San Diego, I asked if we could go to the beach. A San Diegan all his life, he didn't quite have the same pull to the coast as I did. "I don't really like going to the beach," he said like it was no big thing. "Let's just watch some DVDs." What the hell?

Slang Culture I want to be able to say "hella." I want to come back to the East with sun-bleached hair and surfer biceps, no longer the pasty Red Sox-crazed teen who inserts "wicked" where "hella" dwells on California tongues. But each time I try to casually slip that oh-so NorCal derivation of "hell of" into my speech, I sound like an imposter. Californians don't buy it as homegrown; New Englanders think I'm putting on airs. I suppose I must dig deeper into my geographic roots for the appropriate modifier--to Eastern Europe. Yeah, that will be übertight.--D.H.


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