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.)



Lowest per capita energy use by state by far!

Eighth lowest gasoline usage by state. How is California not environmentally friendly?


When I lived/worked in Tokyo, my friends asked me to teach them some examples of local US dialect. I chose the LA greeting, "You look great!"

I still crack up when, years later, they greet me with that in Japanese-accented English.


When I would leave UC for brief periods, I remember how I used to know I was no longer at the University of Chicago: I would realize that the people around me did not all know 5 languages.

Matthew Noreen


Your picture looks great!



I don't get #1. I don't think it's unusual. In LA, you only tell people that they look great if you've met them before and you haven't been in touch with them in some time. But I imagine it's the same all over the place. What else is there to say? "It's been 2 years. Oh, my god, you got old!"

Dan Wuh

I think the main difference between LA and everywhere else ive seen and lived (world wide) is that in LA, most people have accepted that armageddon is comming (in all its guises) and its probably better to just enjoy what you got while you've got it. The sad part of it is, the cost of that robs a lot of people of it.

Interesting article though..


LA is the best honey, and if you had a bad expirience, it's probably because you weren't to positive about it in the first place :D


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!!!!