10 Differences Between the East Coast and the West Coast
April 19, 2017
When I was in my late twenties, I moved from Washington, DC to the San Francisco Bay Area, where I lived for four years, before moving to NYC, and then eventually to Boston. Obviously, you have to be careful when you talk about the personality of a region, and not brush with overly broad strokes, but at the same time, there are some significant cultural differences between the East Coast and the West Coast. Here’s my take on this.
1. Entrepreneurism is in the air in California.
There was a really interesting article in The Atlantic magazine that described a study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, where over a million participants from different regions of the United States described their own personality traits over the course of ten years. The researchers divided the country into three distinct regions, based on this study. Here’s what they found:
When I was living in the Bay Area, it seemed like almost everybody I met had a small business on the side, which definitely jibes with the creative culture reputation of this study. There was this attitude in the air of: “Just do it. Just start up your own company, whatever it is. You don’t need a degree or permission. Just do it now and figure it out as you go along.” This contrasts with a more circumspect and reverential attitude on the East Coast, where we often feel like we need to get a degree or have years of experience in something before venturing to start our own business.
I moved to California with no experience teaching music, and no formal degree in music, but I was able to start my own private piano teaching business because I was a decent musician, and I had a passion for teaching. I had taken private lessons with some excellent teachers for years, so I knew what I was doing, but I don’t think I would’ve been successful at getting clients had I started my teaching practice on the East Coast. Nobody in California seemed to care whether I had a degree in music; they knew I was a good teacher, and they could see that I had solid chops on the piano, and that was enough. If people were too advanced for me, I just told them, and they went and studied with someone else, and it was no big deal.
2. On the West Coast, a lot of people have many different jobs, instead of one big job.
I noticed that a lot of folks in California were working several different jobs; they might be writers, while working at Starbucks, while also doing some web development on the side. It seems like on the East Coast, we’re more steeped in this idea of one giant, expensive legacy career that you decide upon in college, and then pursue single-mindedly from graduate school until you retire, like being an engineer, or a physician, or an attorney. There’s not a lot of room for doing odd jobs on the side when you’re a corporate attorney.
3. Career does not define you as much, on the West Coast.
Shortly after I arrived in the Bay Area, I was invited to a party in Berkeley, California. Being in my late twenties, I was somewhat insecure, and since I didn’t yet have a job, I was worried about what I would say when people inevitably asked me, “So, what do you do?” I had been to many parties on the East Coast where that question often came up, usually right after entering the door. Much to my surprise, not a single person asked me what my job was. Instead, they asked me what movies I liked, and what I did for fun, and what books I was reading. Very refreshing.
4. California is too bright.
Some people love the sun. Not me. I have Swedish blood, and I’m always happiest when Daylight Savings time ends in early November, and it gets dark at like 4 pm. I’m in my element then, in the dark and cold weather, with sweaters and coffee and rain. I have nothing against sunny weather, but I think it’s overrated. So, the California brightness is a little jarring to me. It gives me headaches.
5. The Seasons on the West Coast are kind of lame.
A picture of California's brilliant red and yellow fall colors
I grew up on the East Coast, where winters are cold and snowy, summers are hot and humid, and the fall is crisp and cool. In Boston, the winter will break you. In California, it just means some clouds and rain. In the Northeast, February and March are depressingly cold and lifeless, even for someone like me who enjoys this kind of weather. Everybody in Boston is depressed by March, wondering why they live on the East Coast, checking out flights to Florida for next year when this awful bleakness returns. So, when spring finally does come in Boston, it’s a big deal because you feel like you just might make it after all. In California, spring just means less rain. So, who cares? You don’t appreciate something until you lose it. And in Boston, you absolutely lose the nice weather.
6. California traffic is on a whole different level of bad.
Drivers in Boston are bad, no doubt. But the sheer volume of traffic in San Francisco is impressive. So, take your pick: you can have ten incredibly bad drivers tailing your ass in Boston, or a thousand mediocre drivers crowding around you in the Bay Area. Personally, I prefer ditching the whole game, and taking the subway, which I used to do when I lived in New York. People say that living in New York is stressful, but I found that not driving in terrible traffic everyday was extremely relaxing. So, the East Coast gets huge points for better public transportation. BART vs. NYC Subway. It’s not even close.
7. Mexican food is better in California.
I had never really had good Mexican food until I lived in California. If you’re ever in the East Bay, make sure you try Luna Loca restaurant, in Danville. Amazing burritos. Bring those burritos to Boston, please.
8. Pizza and bagels are better on the East Coast.
You can’t beat grabbing a slice of pizza for 2.50 at the corner pizzeria in Manhattan, on a humid summer evening, walking home from work. The same goes for the breakfast bagels at the delis in New York – authentically delicious – and fast. I miss those breakfast bagels so much. The guys who made them recognized me, and knew how I liked them: “Sesame Down” was my order, which meant, “Sesame bagel toasted with two scrambled eggs and cheese.” As soon as I walked in the deli each morning, and they saw my hungry face, they would shout, “Sesame Down!” And that’s a nice thing about New York – it’s like a small town, in many ways, because you’re often interacting with the same people, at the same delis and bodegas, and they get to know you and your preferences. And mine happened to be “Sesame Down.”
9. California has a gentler vibe.
You’ve probably heard this quote from Chicago Tribune Columnist Mary Schmich’s famous “Wear Sunscreen” essay: “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.” This line wouldn’t have resonated had it not contained some element of truth. New York is hard: the rent is hard, and the sidewalks are hard, and the weather is hard. But the bagels are soft.
10. East Coast thunderstorms are better.
It might not seem so urgent, when considering where to live, but you shouldn’t overlook this important variable. We do thunder and lightning really well out here on the East Coast, and sometimes you just need to blow off steam. It matches our personality, according to that map from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology – we really are temperamental and uninhibited, just like our weather in August. When everybody’s sweating on the subway, and it’s 95 degrees on the pavement in Manhattan, and people are shouting at their Cupertino-made iPhones, and grabbing their pizza slices on the way home from work, and the storm clouds are gathering, and you can just feel the electricity and tension building in the air – all that energy has to go somewhere, and man, do we let it go with some crashing thunder and lightning among the skyscrapers and the velvet humidity. Like a big, raging family argument – East Coast style. What a fireworks show, and it costs nothing – the only thing that’s free in New York. It’s like a massive collective release as the temperature and humidity plummet and the rains fall down on your face. And everybody just goes, “Ahhhh….” Where do you get that kind of release in California? Earthquakes? Yoga? Pixar movies? I’d rather have the thunder. And so that’s why I live on the East Coast.
And now I’m down for some sesame, so I’ll see you later...
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