West Coast Rudeness

Are people on the West Coast more rude to each other than people in other parts of the US? I know, I know, don’t generalize, there are good and bad people everywhere, individuality, etc. But you know, when you see a trend, sometimes you just gotta comment.

Earlier this year I moved to North Carolina after having lived in California and Oregon, in big cities and small towns, for my entire life, so that would be, let me see, add this column, carry a two, multiply by four, right — 36 years.

Thirty-six years on the West Coast, and I always vaguely suspected that we all hated each other, but I had nothing to compare it to.

Ten years ago I spent some time in Cork, Ireland, where strangers would carry my stroller on and off the city bus for me as a matter of course. When I first arrived at the Gatwick airport in London I had to stand in an enormous customs line with my two small children and a cart loaded with bags. The agent at the front of the line motioned for me to skip ahead of everyone but I shook my head no, trying to look like I was fine where I was. If I’d have tried to jump ahead in the States I would have been beaten to death with baggage. When the people in line (obviously not Americans) realized I was refusing, they all began waving me ahead, looking at me like what kind of an idiot was I to think I had to stand in line when I had children with me. My entire stay consisted of one act of kindness and courtesy after another.

Of course, as soon as I arrived back in my homeland, among my dear compatriots, the cold shoulder began again. What else could I do but assume it was an American thing to have a mutual disdain for each other.

But I was using the West Coast as my control group. Now, in the Southeast, I am surrounded by people who say “Ma’am” and “Sir” to each other. On the West Coast they would be screamed at for doing such a thing, because next to the Pacific Ocean, it amounts to calling someone old. Here, beside the Atlantic, it is a common courtesy, a way to show respect for someone you don’t know, whatever their age. What a novel idea!

Being a pedestrian here is also more pleasant. When you pass someone on the sidewalk West Coast style, you keep your eyes averted, pretending as hard as you can that the other person doesn’t exist. You know how the first thing you learn in a foreign language is how to greet someone? You don’t need that if you’re headed West! I think in some demented way it is seen as polite, letting the other person have their space.

Here, people passing on the sidewalk will catch your eye, say “Hello, how ya doin’?” The streets feel friendlier, strangers less threatening. Not that this is fundamentally true, but the illusion certainly is pleasant.

Is there something we have inherited from our pioneer ancestors that makes us West Coasters naturally wary to the point of rudeness? Is it the cowboy Wild West atmosphere carrying over into every social interaction? Is it the Gold Rush every-man-for-himself, watch-your-back, gimme-that-back-I-saw-it-first mentality?

I’m not entirely sure how the Pacific Coast evolved mannerisms that made you wish you were dead (or wish everyone else was dead) every time you are out in public, but it sure is refreshing to have a little break from it.

And to the East Coasters, if you go traveling or move to the West Coast and feel like everyone hates you, don’t feel bad. We treat everyone that way.

Don’t ask me why.

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