From California

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I take it pretty offensively when people refer to me as “from California.” First and foremost, I don’t really like California. It’s nothing personal against anyone that does – I just don’t gel with it. Secondly, though, I’m just not from there. I’m from Chicago. Get over it. Just because I happen to live in California right now doesn’t mean anything.

I would get just as annoyed anywhere said besides where I’m actually from. It’s linguistically wrong.

But then there is the added insult that comes when someone says that you are from California, because they don’t just say that. That you are from California. In the last few days, I’ve witnessed quite a few embellishments on the statement.

“You talk like you’re from California…”

You don’t say. What exactly does that mean? For someone to talk like they’re from California?

Is it the accent? I don’t really have an accent, in fact if I do it’s still a Midwestern one. My ‘a’s are always hard, and on occasion I get that Northern ‘you know’ that you find in Minnesota.

People say all the time in Chicago that I talk like I’m from California, and I’m not entirely sure what they mean by that. I didn’t think that I said words such as ‘like’ or ‘oh my God’ or ‘rad waves dude,’ but perhaps I’ve become so much from California that I don’t even notice it anymore.

“You’re from California… you must want brown rice, tofu, and vegetables…”

It is true that in California we often eat very light food. Brown rice. Tofu. Salads. California style food is supposed to be fusion, but a lot of the time it’s just shit. Shit with shit piled on top. Add some asiago cheese to make it sound slightly more appealing, and that about sums it up.

We were at Panda Express today and I was talking with the guy behind us in line about how we were visiting from where we live – in California. When we got to our turn in line, the guy slopping the faux-Chinese food onto the plates said “oh you’re from California… you must want brown rice and vegetables.”

Kiss my hairy ballsack, you minimum wage employee. What a horrific stereotype.

“Coming from California, you must be spoiled from the weather…”

People’s response when I say that I want to move back to Chicago from California is always one of horror. How could you not love laying on the beaches in the sunny, 70 degree weather every day? Basking in the glow of the warmth that showers down on the Golden State literally every day of the blissfully perfect year?

How dare you insult us as we sit in the snow, or the muggy heat? How dare you insult us with such a suggestion that the perfect climate in California is not something you would give up everything for?

Coming from California, you must be spoiled from the weather… you must have forgotten what it’s like.

Actually, no. I haven’t forgotten what it’s like because it still gets cold and it still gets super hot, and we still have really muggy days and the times that it is legitimately 70, sunny, and perfect are so few and far between that we don’t really know how that California stereotype came about.

What’s worse about California weather too isn’t just that it isn’t what everyone thinks it is, but we’re not equipped for it. When it rains, we have massive flooding. And mudslides. When it’s hot we have disastrous fires. When it’s hot we have no air conditioning. When it’s humid, our houses get demolished by mold.

And even when it’s nice in California, the air is so filled with the pollutants and pollens that you can barely breath without choking and getting a migraine.

From California…

Being on vacation – this vacation in particular – is hard enough without having to deal with that kind of stereotypical bullshit. It just goes to show that everyone is judgmental, or has their opinions on what it means to be this or that.

If people are proud to be from California, kudos to them. For me, it’s just not who I am. Daily I struggle with the influence that the California culture has had over me. I feel guilty for eating anything beyond air. I can’t go out without making sure my hair, my makeup, my accessories, and my clothes are just right. When you’re from California, this is the kind of crap you do; you do more – I do more – but that is just the tip of the iceberg that is my daily struggle.

Really it’s all of our daily struggles, though, when we find ourselves in a place that is not conducive to who we are. It doesn’t matter if you are from the Midwest, from the East Coast, from another country, or from California. The ongoing crisis identity is not reserved for the alleys of high school hallways, nor people that go somewhere new to reinvent themselves. Wherever you go, people will notice that you are not from there. Or maybe they just assume when they hear it that you are different.

Hello my name is … and I will be giving you bad service today.

This is Jacques.  He is your stereotypical rude, French waiter.  He is the thing people think of when they hear about France.  “No I will never go to France, the waiters are rude,” my father always used to say.  The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, an history and culture completely unlike our own – but a rude waiter?  That is the deal breaker.  No France!

Here is the irony, though.  The irony is that the waiters in France are not actually rude.  Nor are the ones in Italy, or most of the European countries.  Same goes for Asia.  I have had many friends go on vacation to different parts of Asia, only to come back and report that the service in the restaurants was horrible.  “They didn’t even spell their name upside down with a crayon on the paper table cloth!”  But what my father, my friends, and the hoards of people that have created the stereotype of the bad table service in other countries have done is overlook something  quite obvious:  cultural differences.

America seems to be a wholly unique culture in the sense of the dining experience.  At some point, Americans grew to expect things like pithy introductions and witty banter in between entries (in France, this would be considered invading the customer’s personal space).  At some point, Americans thought that it was standard practice for your waiter to sit down at the table with you when they took your order, leaning in just close enough to smell the beer that had been downed on lunch break in an effort to deal with such a miserable job (in Japan, this is unheard of).  Somewhere along the line, Americans decided that it was a necessity to tip, and tip well (in China it is an insult).  And in the most ultimate of idiosyncratic American eating out expectations, somehow we decided we wanted to be treated as though – even though we have just met – a true friendship is being formed between waiter and waited (in Italy this would be grounds for termination).  Nowhere but here do customers expect such an explicit show of affection between strangers that happen to intersect long enough for a grilled cheese sandwich and a Diet Coke.

The caveat, though, is this:  while I do not necessarily care (or even want) to be treated like my waiter or waitress is my best friend when I order my salad; and I most certainly could do without the invasion of my personal space when taking my order, if an employee of a restaurant I am eating at knows that this type of behavior is expected of them and does not do it, I take pause.  Okay, that’s not really true – I don’t take pause if there is just an absence of those annoying and uniquely American dinner-time behaviors.  When I do take pause, though, is when I get the face that Jacques up there is making.  “You don’t want pinto beans on your salad because you are allergic?!” “NO MEAT?!” “Wait, so all you want to drink is water?”  I have gotten that face – that I’m-so-above-you-and-your-annoying-order-and-while-I’m-at-it-you-had-better-be-grateful-that-I-did-you-the-favor-of-allowing-you-to-eat-in-this-establishment-despite-the-fact-that-I-have-single-handedly-chased-away-all-of-the-other-customers-and-we-need-your-$15.40-bill-to-stay-open face (whew-that was a long one).  Since I hate cooking and find myself cooped up in the house all day, every day, we eat out a lot.  On average I get this face once every third or fourth time.  And, in fact, I got it tonight when I said that I was allergic to pinto beans, so please keep them off my salad.

Lesson of the day for those of you in food service out there:  while Americans most certainly need to get their heads out of their asses and stop expecting you to replace them (their heads) with your lips, you also don’t need to give them fodder to create a true stereotype of the rude American waiters like they have created for those poor other countries who just want to do their jobs like everyone else.