In June, we will be traveling to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit our dear friend, Soleil. I was born on the west coast, so I can’t say for certain that this will be the first time that I have been to California, but I can say for sure that this trip will hold my first memories of the state. Growing up in the South, I have definitely heard some preconceived notions about the whole state of California, not to mention the San Francisco Bay Area specifically. Most of these center around the politics and social climate of Northern California.
People say, “Californians are all hippies,” or “Everybody there is a liberal.” They assume that people see celebrities all the time, that California is a hot beachy wonderland all year, and that everyone smokes marijuana. The South is full of its own stereotypes, but I will discuss those in a future post. Just like the ones about the South, most stereotypes about California are mostly incorrect.
While I don’t think that California is a hot beachy wonderland full of celebrities smoking weed and throwing up the peace sign, I do have some preconceived notions about the San Francisco Bay Area. There are many things that I think I am prepared for but know I am not.
Number One: Convenience (at a Price)
I’m excited to be in a city that has it all. Living in a medium sized (36,000 people) town in the South, we have to travel half an hour to get to things like Asian markets, Vietnamese food, specialty grocery stores, escape games, movie theaters that show independent films, the list goes on. Beyond that, we have to travel an hour and a half to two hours to get to the nearest “large” airport. Our town just got DoorDash which only has about 30 restaurants to choose from. Soleil lives in a suburb of San Francisco and can order from any one of 300+ restaurants and stores.
There is an excitement to knowing that you can readily access international markets, international restaurants, art museums, history museums, concert halls, giant multi-national tech companies, and literally anything else you could want. That accessibility comes with a cost. Median rent for a studio apartment in the entire San Francisco Bay Area is $2,569 a month. Prices in San Francisco proper can be much higher.
This is accompanied by the traffic. The biggest traffic jam in my town is during graduation weekend for the local university. Well, that and move-in weekend. My normal drive from one end of town to the other is fifteen minutes tops. I already know that as wild as I think the traffic is, I need to triple that mental image.
Number Two: Cold California
If you turn to the person next to you and tell them to picture California, they will probably picture fun in the sun, beaches, and heat. Depending on the area of California you travel to, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I am guilty of this false image. Even when I think of San Francisco, which I know is cooler than Southern California, I think of heat. I think of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Painted Ladies, but I think of seeing both of them in sweltering heat.
The fact of the matter is, that mental image I have of San Francisco in sweltering heat just isn’t accurate. Every location has their extremes every now and again, but San Francisco just isn’t that hot, especially when you compare it to the South or Southern California.
The average high temperature in Kentucky during June, July, and August is 84 degrees. On top of that you have to add so much humidity that you feel like you’re walking through water. When you sweat in Kentucky it doesn’t evaporate which just makes you feel even hotter. The average max high in Los Angeles during those same months is 86 degrees. That better reflects the mental image most people have of California, but San Francisco is another story. The average high in San Francisco for those same summer months is 67 degrees.
I physically can’t wrap my brain around the idea that Soleil told us to bring a jacket to go to the beach in the evening. She didn’t say, “We are going to the beach one evening, so make sure you bring shorts and a tank top.” No. She said to bring a jacket. I simply can’t fathom needing a jacket on a beach, no matter where it is. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to a vacation in the summer that isn’t unbearably hot, but I’m sure I’ll take time to adjust. I’m also looking forward to experiencing the fog, something that we only get here on rare mornings.
Number Three: The Diversity
Diversity needs to be its own post and conversation in and of itself and it will be. For now, I am going to focus on the vast difference between my town and Kentucky as a whole and the San Francisco Bay Area.
I crave diversity. I am practically starving for it. Kentucky is severely lacking diversity. I have been fortunate enough to visit Washington, D.C. five times and each time one of my favorite things about the city is the diversity. When you walk down the street you hear five different languages, see people of color, people of different nationalities and ethnicities. That’s not the case here. Any given day I see one African-American man at work and an Indonesian woman and Mexican man at my favorite restaurant. That’s it.
Every single other person is white. Sure, there might be people of different ethnicities and nationalities or other people of color in stores, but I am not kidding when I say they may be one out of a hundred or one out of a thousand. According to the latest census data, within my town 86.8% of people are white, 8% are black or African-American and only 1.2% are Asian. In San Francisco, only 48.5% of people are white. Less than half! Six percent are black or African-American, and 33.3 percent are Asian.
I physically cannot imagine 33% of people being Asian. I think, given that any diversity I do see is Latinx, Hispanic, or African-American, interacting with that many Asian individuals will be the biggest difference. Soleil says that we are not ready for it, especially the bus advertisements in 10 languages. It will be a culture shock, but a welcome one.
So tell me, what are the stereotypes and preconceived notions people have about where you are from? Let me know in the comments below or on my Instagram, @tsmacintyre.