The difference between New York and Los Angeles in one bite.
Home sweet bagel.
Although originally coined on my Instagram beside some lox, I do really mean this statement.
As a New Yorker studying in Southern California, one of the hardest things of starting college was acknowledging the culture shock. Los Angeles and NYC seemed similar, both modern, busy, cosmopolitan cities, oversaturated with diversity and hope; I thought the transition would only be away from my parents. It was simple enough, America had two centers, and all I did was switch the coasts they were located on. I was wrong.
Within my first weeks in the Golden Poppy State, I knew that it was not going to be that easy. It’s hard to articulate how out of place I felt. Because no one told me I was. Everyone just said I was “honest.” Every time I said my piece, which was often full of opinions, the label would chase me with a hint of surprise. From my professors, to roommates, to first crush, they all proclaimed me “honest.” For the first time it didn’t feel like a compliment. It felt like a passive way to identify me as overly blunt. In New York we’re always vocal; expression of thoughts was always been preached in my household. I never felt like an outspoken woman, because all women were outspoken, as were the men, and children, even the dogs. (If my beishan wants your meal, she is never afraid to bark for it.)
Suddenly I was that girl – the one with a mouth. People assumed I was feminist – not in the demanding basic equality way, but the don’t shave my anything and vehemently hate anything with a penis way. Which, as my smooth armpits can prove, was from true. I felt the weight of transformation. I became an archetype, a representation, a bold avant-garde spectacle on display. I played by different rules, and I started losing.
When my roommate couldn’t take my messiness, she posted SUNDAY CLEAN UP DAY on our door. She would send me text messages asking if I knew where cleaning equipment was…leaving me unaware she was telling me to use it. Apparently one day, she tried to convince our other roommate to put masking tape around my area, which fortunately, they decided against. But she never told me she had a problem. Never asked me to clean up. So I didn’t get it. So when she requested reassignment, it was a shuddering shock. I thought everything was fine, because she had never openly expressed otherwise. For something to be communicated to me, I needed communication to actually occur.
Same with guys. When someone told me we were going on a second date, I demanded they respond to my texts. I wasn’t going to put up with the “not interested in a relationship” line to supplement an actual conversation that parted our ways. That didn’t work for me, I realized that for so many guys I couldn’t work from them.
The worst experience though was with a professor who only critiqued my writing with the dreaded “fine”. The lack of reaction was more insulting than tearing my words to shreds.
People always ask me, what is the difference between New York and LA. Usually I can’t litmus test their passiveness, so I utter: the bagels.
And it works. It’s a cute, authentic New Yorker response. But overtime, it’s gained more meaning.
The bagel has come to signify the complete coastal cultural difference. But it’s not as simple as the culinary skill. New York bagels feel right to me, whereas what comes out from Los Angeles bakeries is just weirdly shaped bread. In the city, bagels are chewy, just like the people. We like to mull our ideas over on our tongues, discussing the issues so a situation isn’t hard to swallow. But out in California, the texture is light, fluffy, like the majority of conversations I’ve had. You can practically peel the bagels apart for hours without actually getting beneath the surface. The softness doesn’t seem like a coat of armor, but in small talk is endless and almost impossible to burrow through. Angelinos layer themselves in politeness, so afraid of conflict that they never actually digest an issue.
At home, it was fine not to like someone. It was expressed, acknowledged, and put to rest. But at school, people persist on feigning friendship with people they honestly can’t stand. In the past year, I’ve cleaned out my friendship closet, having the realization that just because I hung out with people never classified them as my friends. They weren’t a support system. When they asked me about my day they were just waiting to announce the events of theirs, picking apart my comments for a chance to insert one of their own. People might say drama takes too much work, but for me, trying not to drown in cordiality was exhausting. I needed a break.
And boy did I get one. My “friend group” was sliced and seized like a pizza in the middle of finals week. I had relationships I really valued. True friends. But to be honest, I missed the “friends”. People who I was friendly with, but made no emotional commitment to. I felt left out. My program, who I felt were a bunch of friendships based off convenience, stopped hanging out with me. Because I was no longer on the short list of go-to company, I lost contact with people I really valued. My old best friend through a party for the gang, and didn’t invite me. Yet somehow my New Yorker bluntness made it difficult to express how crushed I felt. How could I? I was an outsider. And despite my New York hard headedness, it really damaged me.
Isolation is never fun. regardless of what values construct it.
Although the bagels I grew up with might taste better, I had no right to deny the authenticity of the ones from the West. People communicated differently; but that never meant it didn’t happen. My love of words made a strong writer, but didn’t guarantee eloquence. Physical and sub-textual conversation is extremely valuable – I found that in my screenwriting classes, my scenes were over written. What took me a page in dialogue could have been expressed in a paragraph of action. Even though I preferred the New York bagels better, I still needed to have breakfast. So I had to learn to accept what was on the Californian menu.
I’ve been home for this spring break, and I have to admit I’ve had my share of bagels. I will be bringing plenty back to school to share with my friends, many of which love their different style just as they appreciate my approach to communication. But instead of two dozen, I think I’ll just stick with one. (I’m sure TSA is getting suspicious of my carry-ons filled with cinnamon raisin, anyway.) I will never stop being myself, just like I will never lose a craving for a sesame seed with lox, but I’m actively making a decision to try a different recipe.
Hey, at the end of the day, everything tastes good with cream cheese.