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The Californians

“Hi man, you know, I’m really feeling your energy – what’s your sign?”

Joking apart, this is the kind of thing you’ll hear in California on a daily basis. California is the centre of all things spiritual and you won’t be able to turn around without bumping auras with a therapist/shaman/healer. Whether they worship the Great Spirit, Buddha, or simply the Greenback Dollar Bill, Californians do everything with such a positive spirit that it practically begs the cynic in you to make fun of them.

Every couple of years a new spiritual bandwagon passes through and everyone jumps on without stopping to wonder why. Check out Hollywood’s love affair with Tibetan Buddhism for an example – a few years ago even the big movie stars found themselves mumbling mantras when they thought someone was looking.

Always upbeat, the name of the game is mutual admiration and to criticize is virtually taboo in many places. Tell the Californians that you’re a practitioner of say, toe nail therapy, removing past life karma through pedicure and their response will invariably be ‘cool.’ The lack of an enquiring mind can be infuriating at times but at least the people here are open minded, friendly and outgoing, characteristics lacking in much of the rest of the US. Whatever your plans or projects you’ll rarely be made fun of and, more likely, people will be enthusiastic and supportive.

The friendliness is all too often a front though; a plastic, smiling exterior that the Californians hope will get them laid. “It’s all good” you’ll often hear and which can leave you thinking, “Yeah, except for the part that’s not’. The plastic positive attitude is perhaps best seen in the service industry. There are courses run for waiters, salespeople and shop assistants in how to be suitably obsequious and sycophantic.

The big stores even employ ‘greeters’, people whose sole job it is to hang out by the entrance and give an enthusiastic ‘hey guys, what’s up?’ as you enter and a ‘have a nice day now’ as you leave. Or on a level of actual interaction, you’ll approach the information desk at the bus station and the lady will be like ‘Hi, how are you doing today?’ Once she’s fulfilled her first impressions quota though she’ll look at you with the suffering of a saint if you’re still there 30 seconds later.

People are more open here than in much of the US and it is easier to strike up conversation and meet people than in many places. There’s also a lot more environmental and political consciousness and, even though Arnie got elected governor, you’re unlikely to hear someone say anything good about Bush in public. Recycling is big and even at some malls you’ll see different bins for plastics, paper, cans and compost.

California is an immigrant state and you’ll find people here from all over the US. No papers or visa is necessary for them to relocate but a correspondence course in astrology is often recommended. California is so much more funky than most of consumer-culture Middle America that those who move here tend to swallow the culture whole. Provided it’s organic.