I spent the first 20 years of my life in California, specifically Orange County, Santa Barbara and San Francisco. I was reading an article about how different it was moving from a foreign country to the US and was struck by how I similarly experienced culture shock after moving to New England.
Aside from having a strong accent to my ear, Rhode Island has regional vocabulary that still sometimes baffles me. Some examples (the Rhode Islandisms are listed first):
- sneakers = tennis shoes
- landscaper = gardener
- carriage= shopping cart
- bubbler= drinking fountain
- directional = blinker or turn signal
- soda = Coke
Also, a California convention that they don’t follow here is it to add the article “the” in front of the name of a highway. Example, take the 5 to the 405. Maybe that is because California’s highways are so massive and full of traffic they deserve an additional word.
Sense of Geography
California is a huge state with a lot of traffic. In spite of this, it is not a big deal to drive an hour to the beach (or skiing). If I drive an hour in Rhode Island, I will have left the state, maybe even another as well. In the time it takes to drive all of California, I would be in Canada. Despite their easy access to other states, Rhode Islanders are often disinclined to leave their small state. They like what is comfortable, what they know.
The expectation to be physically ideal in appearance and wealth is much greater in California. In Orange County, your car is expected to be expensive, new and clean. I know more than a few people who are paying interest-only loans to live in the big house they are expected to have. Most coastal Californians feel they are expected to be in peak physical health, with beautiful hair and nails– always bathing suit ready. I knew few people who did not have both landscapers and house cleaners, even though they were middle class. Of course, the weather does make it easier to be active all year. This expectation also leads me to think about the differences in food.
It is much easier to find healthy foods in California. The fruits and vegetables are plentiful and offered in most restaurants, where people are more conscious about how foods are cooked. Rhode Island has mind-blowing Italian foods and some unique foods that I love, but they are not always good for you. Some examples:
- Hot weiners- an already bad for you hot dog, smothered with meat sauce, celery salt, onions (that’s a vegetable right) and mustard
- Pizza strips- pizza dough slathered with red sauce and a little Romano cheese
- Clam cakes and chowder- A cream-based clam soup and a large ball of dough containing clams, deep-fried
- Dough Boys- deep-fried dough, sprinkled with sugar
- Coffee Milk or ”shake’- like chocolate milk, but with coffee syrup. Historically, what Californians would call a shake would actually be called a frappe in Rhode Island.
The Definition of Diversity
California is a melting pot and most families are relatively new arrivals. My next-door-neighbors from growing up were from Barbados. One of our favorite places to visit is Olvera Street, a little Mexico of sorts in Los Angeles. My classrooms were filled with kids whose parents came from all over Asia. You can also find restaurants to get most international foods.
Rhode Island’s melting pot is mainly degrees of European- Portuguese, Italian or “swamp yankee”. There are a few places with people from the Dominican, but they are not part of my everyday life here. My kids were confused by people speaking different languages.
People don’t leave Rhode Island, or if they do, they usually return. Which is wonderful for families as my kids know their second cousins. We can drive past the restaurant where my great-grandmother ate dinners out as a teenager (even I am returning, 3 generations later) or the bakery that my husband’s family ran.
Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon
Have you heard of the game? By connecting who Kevin Bacon worked with you can find that he is only separated six degrees from anyone else in Hollywood. That game would probably work with any person in the US if you know how to connect them. In Rhode Island, you can bring that down to two degrees, and they are probably related. That is wonderful, because you feel so connected, but also scary as it can really minimize your privacy. If you are talking to your friend in a random restaurant, even 20 minutes from where you live, it is highly likely that the person at the next table will know the person you are talking about. It also means that going out into public brings a higher chance of social interaction. Great for an extrovert like me, but exhausting for introverts. The biggest way it affects people here though, is that it leads to them being so much more protective of their privacy. There are so many people in California, and so very little chance of knowing anyone or them caring to overhear your conversations.
State of Mind
The biggest culture shock I have experienced is the provincial way of looking at the world of New Englanders. Socially, Californians are fun-loving, free thinking people. Comfortable in the world and their own skin. New Englanders think through the social ramifications of their actions much more and not just in Rhode Island. In some way they are much more tied to their English roots. They are also more on time than laid-back Californians.
Now I have been here nearly half of my life. I wonder how these things have changed me? I know although I miss my California peeps, its weather, food, diversity and beaches, I am glad to be raising my kids in an area where they are a bit more sheltered. We experience the seasons. They know their second cousins and interact with them. The pressure to be wearing the best shoes and to be thin is far less apparent. However, I also hope that my free-spirited California outlook is still intact and that I can pass that on to them.
Have you made a move and had a similar experience? Where do you feel is home- where you were or were you are?