Only in Los Angeles

I made a quick visit to Los Angeles last week, in an attempt to jump start my languishing acting career. (I’ll let you figure out whether I’m joking. If you aren’t sure, ask someone who knows me.) Here’s how I always know I am in L.A., and not at the University of Chicago:

1. Everyone is constantly telling everyone else how great they look. (No one actually told me I looked great, but they told each other how great they looked without fail.)

2. I’m not the only one trying to write email messages on my BlackBerry while driving.

3. Hotels don’t deliver newspapers to your room in the morning.

4. Everyone pretends to have read Freakonomics. (At U. of C., nobody bothers to pretend.)

5. The receptionist asks you whether you want your bottled water cold or at room temperature.

6. I wear a new shirt for the first time and don’t realize until the plane ride home that I have forgotten to remove the piece of cardboard that the manufacturer inserts around the collar to keep it stiff during shipping. All day long I have had the cardboard poking out from underneath my collar, and nobody said a thing. (At U. of C., people inform me when I do things like this.)


I'm surprised that you weren't told you looked great. Were you asked "How are you?" instead? Or maybe "Did you find it (this restaurant, this office, etc.) all right?" In my experience, in L.A., no one actually means you look great, it's just the normal conversation opener. I think it would be odd for them to replace it with something else just for you, unless there's some instant calculus that happens subconsciously that triggers an automatic out-of-towner exception.

Obviously, I completely disagree with coolrepublica. The "you look great" line doesn't have much to do with the individual's actual appearance. Of course it's interesting to think about what this norm says about the underlying culture.



I don't live in LA, but I live the next county over. I want to make sure that people reading your blog do not think that the whole state of CA is like that. I know how California haters love to say the whole state is like LA.

I have to admit that hat you experienced in LA is fairly easy to explain.

1. If you look nice in LA, and anywhere else people put effort in getting dressed, it's polite to compliment that person on their looks so they can keep doing it. I lived in New York for many years and they did the same thing there too.

2. It is not just an LA thing to try to write email while driving. It is a crazy person thing. Unfortunately, all the crazies somehow end up in LA.

3. Hotel don't deliver newspapers not because we don't read newspapers, but because we are an environmentally conscious state, and there is no need to give you the paper, if you can easily check out the New York Time, WSJ or USA Today from your computer with the high speed internet the hotels in LA provide.

4. How do you know they were pretending to have read Freakonomics and not actually read it. There are a lot of writers in LA. A lot of them. And writers are well read. So unless, you quizzed them on your book, you were actually guessing.

5. That's the best thing about So Cal, they give you choices. Paper or plastic? Do you want your water cold or at room tempature? You can't but love LA for that.

6. People in LA are busy, and busy people don't notice details as much as the not so busy people. If you were in NYC, they would not have noticed either. If you were in Alabama, I am 100% that they would have noticed 10 second after you stepped out of your hotel room, and told you to remove it.

Even though I live 30 minutes away from Los Angeles without traffic, and 2 to 3 hours with traffic, I have being to LA only 3 times in 10 years. They drive like psychos there, and I do not have a death wish. I am glad that you made back alive Steven.


Berly Thomas

I think steve has started to find everything normal in a freak way..


No need to be so defensive about SoCal. He wasn't even really criticizing anything.


Hotels don't deliver newspapers because CA is an environmentally conscious state?!?!?
That's rich.
Thanks for the morning giggle.


Now, I will agree that you should need a passport to go to Los Angeles. I have lived in LA for almost 2 years now (originally from NY), and I have to say, it has grown on me. When I first moved there, the traffic was the hardest thing to get used to, but as a skill of survival, I think I have just learned to numb it out. As for the people, there are good and bad people everywhere. It is said that LA has a pretty high concentration of "fake" people. While I don't set out to disprove this, I would like to try and justify a little. As LA is pretty much the home of the entertainment industry, you are bound to have a lot of people that are obsessed with their looks, their careers, etc..... But, for me, being that I have absolutely nothing to do with that industry, have successfully ignored it. I have been able to meet good, down to earth people, and not only that, but a very wide variety of people.

What I have found, is the longer you stay in LA, the more you like it. You learn that you can eat a different type of food, and go out and experience a different type of music every day of the week. LA has a lot to offer, from some of the best burritos I have ever eaten, to new forms of experimental jazz. And don't even get me started on the weather...:)

All I am trying to say here is that variety is the spice of live, and once you can block out the smog, and the traffic, LA is quite spicy.



Perhaps the second part of 1 ("No one actually told me I looked great") and 6 ("I have forgotten to remove the piece of cardboard that the manufacturer inserts around the collar") are related. Maybe they were trying to tell you after all.


I'd add to your list #7: at least one out of every two people you talk to will mention a celebrity connection, however tenuous. Not to mention annoying.


Soon there will be another indicator. No one will speak english :) :/


I'm surprised the list is limited to ONLY six items!

The "BMW" is the "Honda" of LA. Everyone has at least three, or two and a Range Rover. Both look smashing in gridlock!

Sunglasses are not optional indoors, or at night.

Clothes accent the jewelry.

Women under 50 almost NEVER wear a "sensible" shoe.

Commericals on television for re-hab centers and "Get-control-of-your-life Centers" outnumber those for the BMW.


L.A. is lame. O.C. is where it's at.


I'm a British guy living in Beverly Hills. The cultural divide between European culture and American is enormous, but, when in Rome...adjust! We Brits have a habit of not adjusting to other cultures and expect everyone to be like us. There's a wonderful pioneering spirit in this country which is nurtured by government and market stimulation, it allows people to be themselves and whoever they dream of being. Yes, some are seen through the media as taking advantage of that and yes, there is a lack of empathy and European sensibilities and yes, it's still the Wild West here, but for people driving around in BMW's and Mercedes instead of horses!.....The Beatles summed it up in their song 'In My Life'...Peoples and Places change....and we Brits aren't very good at adapting or changing....the culture here is based on this knowledge that one can change and one is not burdened with negativity for life.... About the cardboard collar thing.....people here don't have the sensitivity balanced with the refined manner to let you save face and get on with's all about money here...


Britney Spears

Long time reader, first time respondent. Love the column.

Stevie, you took the wrong strategy, baby. You need to embrace LA. Your air of detached bemusement will only further isolate you. Who doesn't want to be a big star. Stop fighting it and ride the beast. Freak-o-starobsession!!!!

Bill Henner


Don't know if you happened to see Fed Governor Mishkin's speech on Friday last, but was reminiscent of Freakonomics in its reference to information asymmetry:

Asymmetric Information and Financial Instability
We can better understand how financial instability can arise if we recognize the problem of asymmetric information--when one party to a financial contract has much less information than the other party. For example, the borrower is usually much better informed than the lender concerning the potential risks and returns associated with the investment projects to be financed by a loan. Asymmetric information leads to two basic problems: adverse selection and moral hazard. Generally speaking, adverse selection arises when investments that are most likely to produce an adverse outcome are the most likely to be selected. For example, investors who intend to take on large amounts of risk are the most likely to be willing to seek financing. When the problem of asymmetric information is particularly severe in the marketplace, lenders may decide to cut back on lending even though good credit risks exist.2 Clearly, minimizing adverse selection requires that lenders screen out bad credit risks.

Bill Henner



Hotels don't deliver newspapers because the LA Times is garbage. All the news is buried on page B3-4.


Regarding Steven's #4:

A poll a few weeks ago revealed that 50% of United States citizens had not read a single book last year. While it didn't break it down by state, since it was a representative sample of 1K+ with 5% margin of error- I think Steven has some numbers to make #4 a strong argument for deception. After all, if half of all people in LA didn't read a single book last year, I wonder what books those who did read 1 or more were? While I'm sure Steven would hope it was freakonomics, my suspicion is that Sci-Fi/fantasy, Romance and Comedy genres are probably over represented in books read.


"Commericals on television for re-hab centers and “Get-control-of-your-life Centers” outnumber those for the BMW." Rob

What LA are you talking about? I have never seen a commercial for re-hab centers and my county and LA county share TV stations.

And everyone who has never been to LA hear this. LA is ugly. Really ugly. LA as a rule is a dump. There are a lot of nice places in Los Angeles, but 70% of the county of Los Angeles looks like a third world country. Poor people are pooring in.

There are a lot of BMWs but they do not outnumber the Hondas. Unless you live in Brentwood and Beverly Hills and never step foot outside the bounderies of these places, you will see a lot of Hondas(hybrids) and Toyotas (Pruis) and Pintos (they don't make them anymore but the ones that are left got shipped to LA.) Hybrids are big because that is how you get to be in the carpool lane alone and not get a ticket. Hybrids did not take off because people love the environenment (that I would admit.)



"I'm not the only one trying to write email messages on my BlackBerry while driving."

We lose more economists this way.


The Midwest is about homogeneity; LA is about standing out. I suspect no one mentioned the cardboard because they werent certain you werent trying to a new way of dressing! At UofC, it would be viewed as yet another example of just how focused you were on something else - the Nerd factor, or Ivy Tower factor depending upon generation. The other is you were traveling. It's like getting into an elevator, or your car. People extend the personal space - it's like that zone of invisibility.

I find more automatic smiles in LA compared to Chicago - but that may be the wind and "leaden skies" (depending upon season) versus the sun.

LOL, I was in the Bay area and had to translate another customer's English into Spanish for the clerk at a the fast food counter - and I'm Chinese!


Uh, Stevie baby, saw your vids here on the blog. Wasn't really thinking that you had a future in acting.

Nice blog, though. Let's do lunch; have your girl call mine. Buh-bye.