Cleveland, Ohio

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Culture Shock: Moving to Ohio from California. We relocated for a job opportunity: as a California native, this was going to be an interesting opportunity for personal growth. I love learning and information -- about people, technology, history, or just stuff. Usually what I know is the stuff that others don't care about, and don't necessarily want to hear about (at least for not as long as I'm willing to go on about it). But isn't that the fun of sharing and people? Getting to pin them in a corner, and talk their ears off while their eyes glaze over or they look desparately for escape? Ohio (or the midwest) may be old hat to many readers -- but to me, it is totally fresh information. And such a change from what I'm used to. This is a summary of some things that were "different" to a Californian.

Culture Shock

I've lived all around California -- Orange County (Land of Disney), Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and the bay area (meaning San Fransisco or Silicon Valley) -- but my foray into the wide world has been a few vacations to various places around the nation -- with even fewer jaunts to England or Mexico. "Ohio" is completely new to me. I'm already learning totally new things and "growing".


One thing that I've learned already is that Ohio has seasons -- and by that I mean four different ones. Including a very cold one.

Sacramento, California (where I recently moved from) has a couple seasons -- really hot (up to about 110 degrees, with like 0 percent humidity) in the summer -- and it gets down in the 50's and drisly (wet) in the winter (for a couple months). Fall and spring are like slightly cooler versions of summer -- marked by an occasional desert winds (up to 40 mph), or showers (that never last more than a couple days). And that was the most seasonal area of California I've lived in.

San Diego, and most of Southern California, eliminates the variety of two seasons and opts just for one -- especially if you live close to the Ocean. Then it gets as cold as 60 in the winter, and as high as 80 in the summer (averages) -- but usually opts to stay in-between. As you go inland, or north, you get larger extremes (50's to 90's). Just to confuse things, at least once every month or so, even in the dead of winter, for a couple days it will warm up into the 80's -- and people will go the beach or do outside activities.

As one television show said about Los Angeles, "I hated the place, until one day I was outside playing basketball, and realized, 'hey, it's January'". That really happens -- but Californians don't notice it or appreciate it much. Instead they opt to grumble when it's been raining (and 70 degrees) all week. People from other places always ask Californians, "what it is like to be this warm all the time?" They most often ask this when they are visiting in January from somwhere like Ohio, and people are all walking around in T-shirts and jeans and playing basketball. The answer is that it is pretty bland: I like chocolate -- but if that was all there was to eat all the time, it would get pretty boring.

Talk about the Weather

People in Ohio like to talk about like the weather, which is foriegn to a Californian, because "what's there to talk about? Partly cloudy in the morning, breaking up and going to sunny and 75 degrees". That would be close for 300 days of the year. I've seen more variety in weather in a single day in Ohio than an entire year in California -- no wonder Ohioans talk about the weather, there's surprises.

So I'm learning to talk about the weather and become an Ohian. I really like that there are seasons. But then again, it has been a few weeks for me -- I imagine after surviving a whole winter, I may have more colorful words to apply to the weather. I've briefly lived in the midwest (a semester of College in Kankakee, Illinios), and I'd ski'ed quite a bit as a kid -- so I understand cold and snow. But when I say that, Ohioan's give me a look and then shake their heads as if to say, "poor, poor, out-of-touch Californian, you have no idea what you're in for".

If wife is not happy, nobody is happy

My wife of 6 years (Melissa) wears long sleaves when it gets into the lower 70's in California -- and was grumbling in Sacramento, because it would drop into the 50's for weeks! Our first day in Ohio we were driving from the airport, and it started to snow. That was the first time she had ever seen it snow. She asked "is it snowing, or is this just flurries?". When I told her that this was indeed considered "snowing" -- like a California guy is some authority on snow -- she wanted to get out of the car and catch flakes on her tongue. She was saying "weeee... it is SNOWING" -- and I'm thinking "I hope that thrill doesn't wear off too soon".

But the opportunities for personal growth and learning have already kicked in. When I grew up, I had a bit of a phobia about static cling and layers of clothes. Even skiing and my first year of college, I'd wear a jacket and/or ski-pants directly over blue jeans and a T-shirt. It took me 24 hours in Ohio to be convinced that thermals are pure genius -- not to mention the new concept of an "over coat". What do you mean you wear a coat over a jacket, isn't that redundant? The first night under the synthetic covers, with the static cling crackling in high gear, I'm thinking "Wow, that static is neat -- it is fluffing up my leg hairs and helping to keep me warm". I think that Ohio will give this California guy a lot more opportunities to grow.


I love watching people and cultures, and learning what is different about different areas.

I've always liked people. Both as individuals and as groups (cultures) -- which makes me a somewhat atypical nerd. Of course it isn't like I always understand people, or am good at relating to them -- and my wife points out (every so often) that my clothing choices, or some things I say that's too direct is allowing me to keep my "nerdy edge". But I'm still a pretty social creature despite my complete inability to catch on to certain "faux paus" that I do.

It was culture shock that actually helped drive me out of Illinois after one semester of college -- the first time I moved to the midwest. I went straight from Southern California, where they actually have a nude beach or two -- to a small College (Olivet), in a small town in Illinois, where they definitely do not have nude beaches, nor do they find any references to such things in the slightest bit amusing. I popped the clutch on that paradigm shift -- and think I grinded a few gears on other people as well. Let's just say, we didn't quite see eye-to-eye on many things -- and I felt a tad out of place. Being a 19 year old rebellious kid from a liberal sub-culture, and moving to a conservative midwestern town was quite a shock. But I think it was a good one. And after I went home (about as quickly as was humanly possible), I did think of some of the things I'd learned, and reflected on some of the ways that people though -- and that was the biggest shock for me, "people thought different". But that experience helped influence me, and got me very interested in how America does vary a lot by region.

People are people -- and if you get down to basic desires; security, happiness, work, family, and so on -- then people are pretty similar at the fundamental levels. But above that, there is a lot more room for variety than I'd previously realized. Opening my eyes to that variety was interesting -- and got me into sort of studying how people think differently, and realizing the uniqueness of individuals, along with the similarities among sub-cultures. All completely fascinating stuff.

Now I'm a 37 year old adult (usually). And my values have changed susbstantially from when I was 19 (thank goodness). So I think I've come more into alignment with smaller town values. And things that used to drive me nuts as "different", are more neat by being different.

I already have noticed a few differences between Ohio and California.

Smoking in the boy's room

I don't smoke, and never have -- nor will I pick up the habit any time soon. But in California, it is a capital offense to smoke in a public place. And by public, I mean anywhere that you might be seen, or the bloodhounds might smell nicotine. I think they have kill squads roaming the streets with "shoot on sight" authority for the evil smokers.

I always felt that California law went a little too far (OK, a lot too far), when it came to smoking. You can't even have smoking sections in Restaurants, even outdoor patio's! I'm not kidding, some cities it is illegal even to smoke outside, and others are trying to outlaw smoking in your car or home -- because the smoke leaks out. You can't even watch Television in California, without being accosted by advertisements where corpses in body bags are littering a beach or public place, while the announcer is telling you exactly how many people per year, week, day, or second, are dying of "smoke related illness" -- which seems to include getting shot by a gang-banger or run over by a drunk driver who was smoking, is a "smoking related death". This campaign is called the "truth" campaign -- whose spokesperson is a woman with a tracheotomy (hole in her throat) telling you in her gasping way how she lost her voice-box to smoking.

Imagine our surprise when my wife and I rented a furnished appartment and the "objects de' art" were actually glass ashtrays? I'm serious, I hadn't seen one of those in a long time. And the first time we went to a resteraunt, and they asked, "Smoking or non-smoking?". I nearly fell over and said, "you mean we have a CHOICE?!" I don't like smoking, but a tear welled up in my eye at the idea that I now lived in a country where some people were given choices. So unlike California. My wife looked at me and said, "Toto, we're not in California anymore".

As I said, I don't like the habit. Smoking is not good for you. But then neither is running around trying to spoil everyone else's vices and telling them what to do. And there are much worse things for your health, like poor diet or lack of excercise (something else they do in Ohio) -- but we haven't passed laws governing those, yet. In California, they are seriously thinking of pioneering laws in those areas too -- something about high fat and fast foods being bad for you. (I only wish I was kidding).


Guns are another thing that Californians seem to be very against. They try to outlaw the ammo, annoy the buyers, zone out any ability to sell guns or have gun shops, and then pass laws to harass gun owners. Some examples:

  • You are guilty of a felony if you have a gun within like 1500' or within sight of a school (even if you don't know the school is there). What if you live next to a school? Do you know how hard it is to drive to a gun range without ever passing near a school? They build schools next to major roads for accessibility, so then you can't use those roads.
  • They relabel everything as an assault weapon. My Baretta 92f pistol -- a standard, ordinary pistol used by the police and civilians the world over -- is labeled as an assault weapon in California, as is any gun that holds more than 9 rounds.
  • I could never find a legal way to LEGALLY transport a gun in my car to a gun range. (I read a few books, and talked to a few cops and even a couple lawyers on the subject). My car has fold down rear-seats, so I could crawl into the trunk and get the gun is in the trunk, so the gun is accessible. I would have to put a lock on my gun bag or something. That was another felony because of some anti-drive-by-shooting law (when I thought shooting people was already a crime, so we wouldn't need a special law about shooting people from cars). In fact, if you had bullets in the clip (magazine) of a gun in the glove-box, and the gun locked in the trunk, the gun was considered loaded, because the clip is considered part of the gun!

But then California has lots of dumb laws -- as I'm sure all states do (though few have as many). Still, the idea that I could shoot, and own guns without the usual harassment or full wall spreadsheets to figure out what was outlawed by the California fascists was a refreshing reminder that I was now living in Free America, not the one "occupied" by jack booted know-it-alls.


A major difference between California and Ohio, is the cost of housing -- and what that means to people and their lifestyles.

I'm no real estate experts -- but I've noticed that people (meaning non-Rockefellers) can actually buy a house in Ohio. Coming from California, I thought the family home was a fictional thing for the top few percent, or the people that had bought when my parents were young. In California, buying a home (by Ohio standards) varies from being difficult, to being insane -- depending on the city or location.

Let's say you wanted to buy a 1300-1500 sq. foot starting home in Los Angeles. Assuming you wanted to be within a 45 minute commute of anything (which means within about 10-15 miles) -- that means that you can either live in a slum (and by that I mean a place where you would put bars on your windows and get some security system and have a savage dog or two), you could buy a condo (in a tenement), or you could expect to be paying a few hundred thousand U.S. dollars, easy. This is no real property (land), and not even a particularly nice place, though not that bad. Orange County was roughly the same.

Remember, those prices aren't for exclusive areas (those cost far more). And housing prices go up VERY fast. If you wanted something like a few thousand square feet, in a nice area, with say 1/2 acre -- you start measuring in large fractions of a million or more. Two million? Three? No problem. And remember, in California there are no finished basements, and no basements at all -- so you have less usable space than most houses in the Midwest.

My parents bought new a nice 2400 square foot home (on a 1/3rd acre) in 1975 that was the outrageous sum of $45,000. Now it would sell for about half a million dollars+ -- and they're 20-30 miles (or an hour commute) from the more "downtown" areas. (Since there is no real "downtown" in Orange County, it is hard to categorize).

San Diego pricing is slightly better than Los Angeles or Orange County -- but not that much. Usually to get affordable housing, you have to be at least an hourís commute away. My friends just bought for $300,000 a 2000 sq ft. home about 45 minutes (25 miles) from downtown -- but the traffic is getting worse in San Diego, and so it will soon be an hour from downtown. And if you wanted say a 3500 sq. foot home, that would be $500,000+. And all these examples are without any real property. You can't afford property, or you have to drive for most of your day to get there, so don't even think about it.

Sacramento was quite a bit better in housing, as are many of the non-resort, desert communities. But again -- you usually want to be "out a ways" if you want to afford anything -- and we don't need to start talking about how expensive somewhere like a resort community like Palm Springs would be. Some cities are worse!

I was looking in Silicon Valley (San Jose, etc.) or San Fransisco and forget it -- an entry level home is $400,000+, unless you want to be at least an hour away, or if you want to live in seedy areas. When I say these are for entry level, I mean it -- some of these places are "fixer uppers" and barely over 1,000 sq. feet for that price. People go into bidding wars just to buy the place to tear it down and build something nice.

California is big. And if you want to live in the desert, then housing and property are more reasonable. But what would you do for a job? Something like 80% of the state lives around half dozen major urban areas (say 10% of the land) -- and the rest is desert, if it wasn't for the water and power that they import. So most people have to pack into the high cost and higher density areas.

Now don't get me wrong. People adapt. You can buy a place to live -- but what you get for it, and how you live is quite different. In California, lots more people buy Condo's, or usually little homes right next to their neighbors -- and they live smaller. I owned a 800 sq. ft. condo, and actually had a large yard (by Condo standards), of about 15' x 20'. It had a car port (no garage). It was in a mediocre part of town -- a couple blocks from some worse areas, but also fairly close to amenities and nice areas. I sold it for $100,000 when we moved to Ohio. In Ohio you can find fixer uppers for $50K or less, and most condoís of my old ones caliber are a in that range (unless youíre right downtown in a major urban area).

In California, new houses are usually built so close, that if you extend your arms, you can touch your neighbors exterior walls (assuming they are not attached). In Ohio you can find houses with land; acres of land. And they arenít that expensive.

There are other differences in houses as well. Like what Buckeye's call a "Glamor Bath", Californians call a bathroom. Nothing built past the 70s in California doesn't have a separate bath and shower in the master bathroom; but in Ohio this is still rarer. California bedrooms are much smaller -- expect the master -- but the bathrooms and closets are larger. And little houses have luxury counter-tops, upgraded appliances and floor coverings. If you're paying a few hundred thousand and up for a 1800 sq. foot home, then it is going have nice countertops and cabinets; the cost of those features are less relative to the total cost of the home. So most California homes feel more ìupgradedî compared to Ohio ones.

Exteriors are different as well. Houses made with bricks? In California? Bricks fall down in earthquakes, so tend to be less than popular. In Ohio driving around, I was thinking ìWhere's all the stucko?î I've seen like three stucko homes in Ohio so far. Not to mention style. Colonial seems to be very popular in Ohio; with variations on the theme, but still mostly that style. In California there is far more variety in homes. From Spanish to Desert to Contemporary to Modern to Classic to Craftsman, and so on. Thereís a lot more variety in California overall; but there are lots more ìplanned communitiesî, which means much less variety for the size of the community (a few blocks to entire small cities). While in Ohio, homes on the same block are by different builders, and pretty different styles of colonial. Which brings up another phenomenon; small and local builders, they actually exist in Ohio. In California large tracts are common, in Ohio, much smaller sub-divisions or individual homes being built are more common.

In California, everyone has fences to mark off what little land they have. Nothing says welcome like a nice cinderblock or stucco wall! Many people fence in their front yards as well. Some have multiple fences in their yard -- to separate the pool area from the rest, and so on. They even love to put fences around communities as well as houses, so you have fences around fences around fences. It was really weird for my wife an I to drive around and see so many homes without fences -- that's like having a sliding glass window in your bathroom. "You mean your neighbors can see into your yard? Well these are just newer homes, they'll get the fences up soon, right?" And they keep dogs in their yards with invisible fences? That was something Iíd heard of, or seen very rarely in California.

People in California and in Ohio don't live the same way. There are of course cheaper places than Ohio to live -- but many more people in Ohio can afford homes than ever could in California. Nice homes. Large homes. And land. A half acre is rare and very, very expensive in California. Rich people in Ca. might have an estate with less than that, or if they were ostentatious about their wealth and have a whole acre. In Ohio, I found many homes with land, 5, 10 or 50 acres. Before coming here, I didn't really know how big a one acre plot was, let alone 5 or 10. "You mean way back there would be MY property too? I could build a small town!" When I look at Ohio -- anywhere -- and the cost of housing (for about anything), I just want to giggle. I don't think most Ohioans realize how good they have it.

I donít think people realize how much being able to buy a home, and not working for the dream of someday being able to afford one (or fighting to stay ahead of a $3000 mortgage), changes the entire culture. Almost everyone owns homes and fixes them up, and that means a lot less tension and a lot less envy, or so it feels. The whole place feels a little calmer, and I think some of it is the cost of housing.

Written 2001.03.12