Cultural differences don’t just apply to different countries, but they can apply to different regions of the same country. The United States may have a common language, common government, and a common love for fast food — so they say — but our regional differences are quite distinguishable, especially if you travel between what I like to call Old America — The East Coast — and Frontier America — The West Coast.
Usually when people think of the East Coast, they are referring to the Northeastern corridor of the US. This encompasses anywhere from Washington DC all the way up to Boston — and it generally only pays attention to the urban parts of this region for some reason. My hometown of Lebanon, Pennsylvania sits right on the edge of where the rust belt blends into the greater Philadelphia area. I spent much of my time in the DC area, Philly, and New York City growing up before moving to California in 2016.
Living in California for nearly 4 years, one of the biggest differences besides the weather, palm trees, and expensive gas prices is the temperament of the people.
My friends in California often think of rude people when they think of the East Coast. Though this isn’t entirely true, I can totally understand why they would make such an assumption about them. The East Coast is the most densely populated area of the country filled with cities and communities older than everything west of the Mississippi. This comes with a temperament that tends to be much more rushed, uninhibited, and impersonal than what my more laid back polite Californians are used to.
I remember being in a grocery store in Seattle once and the bag boy asked me if I “needed help out” with my groceries. A bit taken aback, it took me a second to realize that “help out” apparently meant assistance carrying my groceries to my car. Immediately, my cynical, east coast, brain thought “How much extra is that gonna cost me?” Much to my chagrin, it was free and done simply as a courtesy for customers. Back in Pennsylvania, you have a better chance of winning the lottery than ever having a grocery store clerk offering to assist you any more than they need to, much less with a smile and willingness to do it.
It seems to me that East Coast culture is a very every-man-for-himself atmosphere where people stick to their own circle and never expect total strangers to be nice to them unless they are trying to gain something out of it. It was something I never really thought twice about until I moved out West and started interacting with more people in my new community.
People in California tend to be a lot more easy going and generally passive in situations where I would almost always expect some sort of confrontation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in line at a store or in a public place where slow, incompetent workers were wasting valuable amounts time on my do-nothing Sunday afternoon where observing almost everyone in line quietly waiting with little expression on their faces. Some of them would discreetly walk out with little to no scene or huffing and puffing. Try holding up a line at any establishment in Philadelphia and I guarantee you, within 5 minutes, there will be somebody shouting at somebody with no real change in the amount of time taken to get your errands done.
This doesn’t mean people on the west coast don’t have emotions or experience frustration. It just seems like they are less expressive of those frustrations and would rather mutter under their breath or complain to their friends about it later rather than explode in ferocious frustration at that very moment.
This also doesn’t mean people on the east coast are heartless, uninhibited, jerks that just want to go out and ruin everyone’s day with their attitude. East coast people are on a mission when they set out to do things and see any little thing that gets in their way as an obstacle. Unless you know them personally, you are just an obstacle not to be trusted until they are proven otherwise.
I can definitely understand the nuances of both cultures and why people act the way that they do. I also understand that these nuances aren’t going to apply to every single person. These are simply vibes I’ve picked up living in various cities on both coasts. I still consider myself more of a west coast guy at heart. I prefer to stop and smell the roses and not take life so seriously all the time. Although, there is a certain raw, upfront, “genuine-ness” from my east coast friends that I do miss sometimes. Either way, it’s a culture difference that I appreciate and feel lucky to have been exposed to.