California, n. (kælɨˈfɔrnjə)

‘Oh, when I’m abroad, I don’t say I’m from America,’ my busmate told me, ‘I say I’m from California‘. She waited a moment and then added, bashfully, ‘it helps’.

Breezy, affluent, liberal and pancultural, California has been a unique experience in my travels. It’s not hard to see why it’s the most populous state in the nation, with its gorgeous weather, beautiful scenery and easy charm, but it’s more than that. It’s just an opinion, but coming to California feels like I’m stepping forward in time. Not only are the politics here progressive and forward thinking – for example, the state is internationally renowned for its environmental policies – but the food is healthier, the portions are sensible, the people more energetic, active, and technologically savvy. Gender consciousness, gay rights and feminism are all at strength here, as are more socialist ideals pertaining to healthcare and economic justice. The liberalism of the people is not one of anything-goes apathy, either: in Las Vegas, people don’t care what you do. Here, people just don’t mind. Crucial difference. Several times I’ve seen people here, when challenged, rise calmly but firmly to the occasion – but so long as it’s not affecting them, most don’t seem to think that what other people do is much of their business.

Alongside this is an incredibly easygoing culture (and you’re never far away from the rich aroma of cannabis). I thought the south would be pretty laid back – and don’t get me wrong, it is in areas – but it was actually a lot more stressed-out than I had imagined. Inversely, I thought California might be full of OC-style self-absorbed myopics, but I’ve found a people distinctly broad in their styles of thought. Folks will usually be up for a conversation, on any matter.

All this results in a state that feels more like a different country than a part of the rest of the US, and most Californians I’ve spoken to seem to feel the same way. Of the coast, San Francisco is (I believe) the most cultured, well-to-do bastion of intellectualism, which isn’t too surprising given that the liberal stronghold of Berkley, which I explored yesterday with Raslin, is just off the bay. The other areas in CA still however possess the same unique sort of character, to different degrees.

Maybe the post title should be a verb, instead of a noun. To California. Such is the sense of shared cultural priorities I get here.

Naturally it’s not all roses, and like I said, homelessness in San Francisco is just one of the problems I’ve seen here, but I leave the cities of the state with the impression that the rest of America might have a little bit of catching up to do.

My opinions, of course, are my own.

3 Responses to “California, n. (kælɨˈfɔrnjə)”

  1. 1 Kanamit 27/08/2009 at 11:22 pm

    I’m glad that my home state still gives a progressive impression, but believe me, California has not been a bastion for progressive politics for more than 30 years. Some of our policies are among the most reactionary in the nation: we are the only oil producing state without an oil severance tax for example. Governor Ahnold attempted to “solve” the state budget by eliminating the welfare state in its entirety; he had to settle for a destroying only a sizable chunk of it along with the state university system.

    It’s good that you enjoyed your time here though. California does have a lot to offer, despite it’s plutocratic nature.

  2. 2 Evil_Reaver 28/08/2009 at 7:49 am

    I’m really happy to see that you have enjoyed touring my former home state. Indeed, the coastal cities (San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco) are the liberal bastions of the state, but one cannot forget that they are not all of California. A large population of conservative, “redneck” type folks live outside the cities and have a large influence on California politics.

    You’ve seen the awesome parts of California, but it’s not rainbows and unicorns everywhere in the Golden State.

  3. 3 Renée 28/08/2009 at 2:55 pm

    California is also the only state staring down the barrel of immediate bankruptcy. Sometimes progressiveness pushed for the sake of being progressive takes a distinctive toll. They’ve also had to revamp their lower education system because the immediate enactment of progressive pedagogy and curricula turned out to be a very, very bad idea. The thing about California is that they are always ready to try something new. But new does not always equal better. Change must be weighed in the balance of “Is this currently feasible” and “Is this actually an improvement” and “Is what we’re currently doing already the best choice.” That doesn’t always happen in the flurry of new ideas. On the other hand, I will agree that keeping things the same just because they’ve always been done that way isn’t always the best thing, either. Finding the balance when you have millions of people to be affected is the conundrum of government.

    You are so right about the people there, though. They are not as stereotypical as even the residents of the state tend to believe. haha. Glad you have enjoyed it. It’s beautiful there. Too bad it’s so expensive to live there. :-/

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