Monday, March 06, 2006

Central Valley culture shock

It was so nice and comforting to return to the home I was raised in after age 10, and to share Maylin with my parents and brother.

But one day, early in our visit, Maylin and I were home alone, with my parents slaving away at the office and my brother not yet arrived from Oregon. I took Maylin for a walk to a neighborhood park. Immediately, I felt like a sore thumb. First, I was walking. No one walks to get from point A to point B. They'll walk for exercise, but not for travel. Everyone was driving SUVs or suburbans. Huge things! I don't know how people get by with their monster vehicles and the price of gas these days. I'm so used to seeing mini-Cooper-sized cars and Smart cars which are even smaller (two-seater with just enough room in the back for a briefcase) in Paris.

My clothes were out of place, too. My Paris black just didn't cut it. The moms at the park were wearing jogging suits and sneakers. I don't know if I can learn how to dress super-casual again. I'd feel naked. Or, I might as well go out in my pyjamas.

I met a nice woman at the park with her granddaughter. We chatted a bit, and I eventually revealed that we were visiting from Paris. We talked some more, and then the woman realized that Paris wasn't in the States! Nope, it's in Europe...in France to be precise.

Okay, there's Paris, Texas, and there's probably another Paris in the U.S., too, but from our conversation I thought she'd figure out pretty quickly that I was talking about France.

A young man I met at the local Walmart selling a newspaper subscription to my mom thought Paris was in Italy. Geez, I'm afraid these Central Valley people don't get out much.

And some of them are clearly very content to keep it that way. That's fine by me. The happier the better. It just surprises me that some people never want to leave this small town of Walmarts and fast food restaurants. No desire to see beautiful, coastal Monterey? No desire to enjoy the good food and culture of San Francisco? It's too bad, though. There's a much bigger, more interesting world available to explore.

Some people in town leave every moment they can to ski, visit Yosemite, see the Bay Area, etc. The Central Valley is very well situated, actually. 1.5 hours to the Bay Area, over an hour to the coast, about 3 hours to Yosemite. Many San Jose employees have even decided to live here and commute to work. Bay Area real estate is ridiculously expensive, so it's no wonder people make the sacrifice to get their 4-5 bedroom home.

And there are so many new housing developments. Each time I come back, there's more, and more. It's a bit frightening. The homes are HUGE, and the yards are tiny! The houses look like they're just a couple feet apart. That doesn't make any sense to me. In '85, the city population was around 12,000. It's tripled since then.

And still no decent bookstore. No fine arts auditorium. Very limited public library hours. According to some, the biggest thing that happened to the city was when they got a Starbucks. I wept in the late '80s and early '90s when the bowling alley got knocked down and the roller skating rink closed for good. What are kids supposed to do? At least the movie theaters are thriving. But 11 dollars a movie?

If you want a good Mexican meal, which I was craving, the Valley is good for it. I got my fix of refried beans, rice, tacos, and chile rellenos. Please don't come to Paris looking for authentic Mexican food. It doesn't exist.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

In response to your blog labeled, Central Valley culture shock I found that your remarks were mildly insulting, and a little degrading. While I understand these are all taken from your point of view, this is my point of view regarding your comments. You fail to mention the financial diversity of the folks living in the Central Valley.

There are the folks that are fortunate enough to live in the Central Valley, and there are those that are barely able to afford homes in the Central Valley. A larger portion of those living in the Central Valley do not belong in the first half of that demographic. Unfortunately, due to rising real estate costs it is difficult for natives to remain in the valley, yet somewhat affordable for those in the Bay Area to come in and purchase. With that being said, how would it be possible to afford to travel out of the country, state, or let alone their hometown. Is it possible that the young man selling newspapers, is selling them as a fundraiser due to lack of financial ability? When you have people that can't afford to enjoy the fine wine and dining of bigger cities, does it really mean they have "no desire" to experience them? The things that you mention are things that most people really can't afford. The people that you do mention that can afford luxuries like skiing, visiting Yosemite, Monterey, or the Bay Area are only a very small distribution of the Central Valley population. So really it's not a matter of "desire" because I'm sure if everyone was as fortunate as you, they would also like to "explore" the world out there, "experience" new cultures, "tantalize" their tongues with exotic wine and food, "decipher" fine art, and "educate" themselves with a good classic.

On another note, I'm almost positive not everyone drives an SUV or Suburban. Take a trip to the other side of your town and see what those folks are driving. How about the ones in the new development areas you mention. I'm pretty sure you'll come across some european luxuries like a bmw, mercedes, porsche, even civics make good commute vehicles. Well at this point, I think you probably catch my drift.

So please, before you make degrading statements about folks not getting out much, it's not really the "desire" to not get out, it's more of the inability to get out. If you're going to generalize, at least be fair to the general population as opposed to what you've learned from a select few. Otherwise, you make yourself out to appear snobbish. If that's really you, I'd be ashamed to call you my sister. If you haven't figured it out, this is your brother you have offended. Please don't be a snob, and be more culturally sensitive. While you may have experienced the world, you really haven't experienced the realities of life. Just a little wake-up call that I experienced in Haiti.

megc said...

"While you may have experienced the world, you really haven't experienced the realities of life. Just a little wake-up call that I experienced in Haiti."

Perhaps, having had a similar experience in Haiti, can you not understand how your sister is trying to process her experience of this "cultural collision?" You could be kinder to her. Help her to understand your point of view in a constructive way instead of bitch-slapping her in public. You obviously have experiences to illustrate your points.

I imagine, though, that the poverty in the Central Valley is rather tame compared to that in parts of Haiti. Not to say that the people in the Central Valley have it easy - there are a lot of economic and social justice issues there. I speak as someone who has lived in both the "big city" and lived in areas with a high farm-worker population. I also find it irksome when people in exurban communities rail against those who live in the urban centers. It's a snobbery all of its own. Why perpetuate that?

Anonymous said...

I agree there are various levels of poverty no matter where you go, whether it be Haiti or Hollywood. I also agree that it is distasteful for exurban communities to degrade those living in urban centers. I believe there is no excuse for anyone to talk down to a general population or any individual. With that said, who's perpetuating snobbery? Let me quote some for you.

"No one walks to get from point A to point B. They'll walk for exercise, but not for travel. Everyone was driving SUVs or suburbans. Huge things! I don't know how people get by with their monster vehicles and the price of gas these days."

"My clothes were out of place, too. My Paris black just didn't cut it. The moms at the park were wearing jogging suits and sneakers. I don't know if I can learn how to dress super-casual again. I'd feel naked. Or, I might as well go out in my pyjamas."

"A young man I met at the local Walmart selling a newspaper subscription to my mom thought Paris was in Italy. Geez, I'm afraid these Central Valley people don't get out much."

"It just surprises me that some people never want to leave this small town of Walmarts and fast food restaurants. No desire to see beautiful, coastal Monterey? No desire to enjoy the good food and culture of San Francisco? It's too bad, though. There's a much bigger, more interesting world available to explore."

"And still no decent bookstore. No fine arts auditorium. Very limited public library hours. According to some, the biggest thing that happened to the city was when they got a Starbucks."

Thus, who's really perpetuating snobbery. If you're referring to my comment about Bay Area folks moving into the Central Valley to buy a home, it's not snobbery. The fact is folks that cannot afford homes in the Bay Area are buying affordable homes in the valley driving up the costs of real estate thus making it unaffordable for valley natives. It's just a fact of life, and it happens everywhere. I don't consider this railing against city folks who are populating small towns here in the valley.

On the issue of financial diversity, middle class in the Central Valley is probably considered lower class in more wealthy urban areas. Yes poverty is tame compared to Haiti, however even if you have a middle class income in the valley, it doesn't mean you can automatically afford to leave town and explore the surroundings.

While I understand this is a big culture shock for my sister, being spoiled by the fine arts, and foods of Paris, France. It's not as if she didn't grow up in small town america i.e. Virginia, MN, and here in the valley. It doesn't make her gross generalizations about the Central Valley any less offensive to me. I realize I don't know you and you don't know me. While you may take a response like this as a "bitch-slap", my sister understands my perspectives differ from hers. My sister also understands that I would never "bitch-slap" her or ever use such a harsh word towards her. I love my sister. I look up to her, but when she offends me, I don't mind saying so. So there's no need for you to get on a personal level with me MegC, you aren't a part of my family. Consider this the end of your flame war.

megc said...

Well, Mr. Jou, you spoke out in a public place, not in the privacy of your personal phone line or personal living space. You made your thoughts known in a public place, a decision that has certain ramifications. Perhaps next time you get really upset with something your sister says, send her a private email. To me, you sounded mean and judgemental of my friend Caroline, and also sour on percieved attitudes of people from more urban areas. That's basically it. I'm not denying you your right to speak out, but I am objecting to the manner in which you did it.

Anonymous said...

I agree that I did speak out in a public place. Her blog can be perceived as publicly offensive. So what's your point? Again, I'd like to reiterate that I never mentioned anything regarding attitudes of people from more urban areas. My sister and I have both had the luxury to experience both small town and big city living, they each have their own benefits, and misgivings. I applaud your concern for my sister. I apologize if I have offended you, because it seems like you're taking this more personally than my sister. I believe I stated my opinion with enough to support my claims, and I'm happy with it.

megc said...

I decided not to get into the details of the issues of your objections because I know that if Caroline wants to address them, she will. Lately, I find myself troubled when I see people taking others to task in public when it could be hashed out privately. I have no problem with debating of issues, just the language and approach that is used.

I also live in the town America seems to love and hate at the same time, and am sensitive to this double standard. So many in the exurbs and rural areas look up to us yet despise us simultaneously and I am beginning to tire of it. The term "snob" is often bandied about, used as code-word for those "liberal elites in their big cities." Perhaps that is not what you intended; my apologies for assuming so if not. So yes, I'll admit that some of my own pet peeves have found their way in to this little discourse we've been having.

Thanks for your more sensitive response; I do appreciate it.

Caroline Jou Armitage said...

Whoah, what happened here? I just found your emotional debate now. I'm not going to be able to address everything you discussed here, but let me just first apologize for having offended anyone, especially you, little bro. I do find myself blurting out generalizations that may come out sounding like criticisms. And I exaggerate! Anyone who knows me knows I exaggerate (for entertainment purposes only). I never mean to hurt anyone, and I do consider myself a sensitive person, even if it may not come out in my blog. If you do find yourself being offended by my blog, you may be reading too much into it. I do find I need to address the issue of the thought that I may be attacking or making fun of the less financially fortunate in the Central Valley. The SUV comment was a gross generalization from my observations in our own neighborhood whenever I went out for a walk. I am well aware that lesser-valued vehicles do exist in town. But still, very few people walk. My idea that some people lack the desire to get out of the Central Valley was directly through conversation with some of its residents over the years. It always shocks me a little. Little bro, you're probably right that the people leaving town every weekend are the people who can afford to. Therefore, the city needs to do something to improve itself culturally for the people who are confined to staying there. I'm waiting for the day they build some sort of all-purpose facility for everyone to use with different activities proposed for different age groups -- small children, teenagers, and seniors, especially. The tiny library needs to be expanded. How can people learn about the world (and where Paris is) if they don't have the books to read about it? (The schools might not be giving the best geography lessons.) The city does have the money now with all the new residents paying property taxes. At least the high school looks much improved -- with millions put into a new building. But the city as a whole could be so much better. Why not elect a new mayor and city council? There needs to be new blood in the system.

I digress a bit. Thank you, megc, for coming to my defense in this public place. I don't mind, though, the debate. More sensitive would be better. But debates like this do make people aware of issues that they might not otherwise ponder. By the way, hope you're doing well!

Little bro, I love you very much. It's always a surprise to me how we turned out so differently. If you can call me a snob, can I call you a country hick? ;p

Anonymous said...

I think traditional small town person with deeply embedded roots would be more p.c... just a side note, even mom thought your comments were kind of inconsiderate, as well. On the other hand, we both know how you are and it's really not that big of a deal. Just try not to insult those of us that still live in this area. (Again, you may think that the city has more money with more residents. With more residents comes more expenses. The state government pays for places like a new high school, not the city.) I don't know why you think it's such a surprise how we turned out so differently. You even mentioned it yourself, that we are far apart in age and don't have much in common. At least we have chess. So instead of snob, could I use "liberal elites in their big cities" haha j/k.

For MegC:

Apparently somehow my discussion of "people's inability to afford to get out of town" turned into "damn the city folks, and their new fandangled money." Sounds like somebody has a chip on their shoulder.

"I also live in the town America seems to love and hate at the same time, and am sensitive to this double standard. So many in the exurbs and rural areas look up to us yet despise us simultaneously and I am beginning to tire of it."

So when you mention the word "us" and assume that people "look up" to you and "despise" you at the same time, can I safely assume you consider yourself a "liberal elite?" This is a political issue for you, which I refuse to discuss with my sister at all. So, I still don't know where you pulled that out from my initial posting, because I make no mention of that at all. The only thing I will say on this new issue is that you have the freedom to choose, and having that freedom is what's important, not the fact that you are a liberal living in a city. The one thing we all have in common is that we have that ability to pick our own lifestyle, and people shouldn't be concerned or put down those of other lifestyle choices. It flat out doesn't make sense today to call people "city folk" and safely assume they are all liberal. As you will note in past and soon to be elections, country bumpkins can vote liberal too. Welcome to the real melting pot, stereotypes are a thing of the past (unless you live in the Appalachians where the movie "deliverance" is very real).

lil bro

Anonymous said...

While I was plowing the field with my diesel powered John Deere 4400, another thought hit me about you mentioning our library and how we should elect a new mayor and city council. The library is actually no fault of the city's because it does say "Merced County Library." Therefore, is funded by the county which actually shut down the library for sometime, and has been reopened under a volunteer workforce.

I do believe that we are failing our children with the quality of education. Now believe it or not, this actually isn't a liberal/conservative issue. Schwarzeneggar (however you spell it) did bring up a good measure on teacher's tenure issues. However it was shot down pretty badly by a largely liberal state and teacher's union. Teacher's should be held accountable for the quality of students they put out to some degree. Believe it or not, some teacher's can't even pass the high school exit exam which is just now starting to be a requirement for seniors to graduate. So now, if these teacher's have tenure, how are you going to get rid of them? While Schwarzeneggar's measure may not have been perfect or possibly written properly, he does bring up a good issue in regards to holding teacher's accountable and rewarding those that perform. I'm not saying I know the answer to that, but the "tenure" issue should definitely be looked into and revised to give teachers incentive to perform better. If this is offensive to anyone, tough I don't want to hear my sister criticize kids who don't know that Paris is in France.

You also mentioned that the city needs to enhance itself more culturally, well believe it or not it has. While it may not be an auditorium, it is a start. About 4 or 5 years ago the Los Banos Arts Council purchased the former St. Joseph's church in which you had your graduation, has now become a performance hall/art gallery for local artists, and musicians as well as those starting their careers and are on tour. Now, i know you're comparing Los Banos to places like Berkeley and Paris, France, but you may have forgotten that Los Banos is a town, and in regards to population is still considered a town. Therefore, the town receives funding as such from the county which is funded by the state. So after all that money trickles down to Los Banos, what are you really left with? Enough to just slowly grow. Municipal taxes do not exist in this town, or county for that matter. It all is distributed by the state.

So I advise this, if you want to criticize the way kids are being taught, and the way our town should develop, it's actually a state political issue which can be resolved by voting not based on the party of which you belong, but for the person that fits the job and has a similar agenda.

With that said, it's time for me to get back on the tractor and go head into town, to pick up my mail from the Pony Express station.

Caroline Jou Armitage said...

I'm happy to hear that the Los Banos Arts Council has been hard at work. Good. And I'll continue exercising my right to vote so we can get the right people in our state government.

I myself would rather not discuss politics as I have never enjoyed it nor am I good at it.

Sorry if I've offended my family regarding the cars. It was no personal assault -- just an observation in the neighborhood. If you stand at one particular intersection for 10 minutes, I'll bet you that at least 80% of those cars are SUVs or suburbans.

Wow, once I let the comments fly, they flew! Thanks for letting me know when you like and despise my writing. Guess that's what writers have to put up with. This will get me used to all the rejection letters when I start trying to publish anything of value from this blog.

Caroline Jou Armitage said...

In my previous comments I have not let on exactly how much pain some of your comments have caused me. People who know me know I do not look down at other people. I've always embraced all people. I have never been called a snob, until now. Maybe I should have chosen my wording more carefully when making my observations, but you have definitely injected a tone with which I did not write. It's concern, not criticism, when I talk about adults who don't know world geography. It's surprise, not criticism, when I talk about the big cars in the neighborhood. It's embarrassment, not fashion snobbery, when I talk about my clothes not fitting in. It's surprise, not snobbery, when I talk about some people not wanting to leave the Central Valley. It's concern, not criticism, when I talk about the lack of decent bookstore and library. Sorry, little bro, if we don't talk enough, because you don't seem to know me very well. I may be naive and live in my own world of ideals, but I don't expect anyone else to live in that same world and feel comfortable in it.

I'm sure some other people find my blog annoying or offending for other reasons. They may see me as a spoiled brat, living a life of leisure in a city of many pleasures. I've been blessed/lucky and I'm ever so grateful, but I hope people don't hold it against me. Others may see me as a complainer or a criticizer, but my "complaints" or "criticisms" are usually observations (or my being surprised or thrown off guard) and not judgments. Please don't rush to make judgments on me or any other people.

The world is just a big melting pot, and the Central Valley is definitely a part of it. said...

I agree, we don't know each other very well anymore. But I advise you to reread your own blog from outside the box, and realize how critical and offensive it can be to those living here. While I realize I intentionally used a harsh, sarcastic tone, you have to understand how offensive your blog really reads from my perspective. I apologize for causing you pain. Here, I'll even break it down for you. This is my last official comment, so if you don't think your "concern" is actually offensive and or demeaning then read no further, because at this point I really don't know you at all. Thus, I'll just analyze your offensive material as I've quoted in a prior comment.

"No one walks to get from point A to point B. They'll walk for exercise, but not for travel. Everyone was driving SUVs or suburbans. Huge things! I don't know how people get by with their monster vehicles and the price of gas these days."

Here is a quote from your most recent comment: "It's surprise, not criticism, when I talk about the big cars in the neighborhood." Maybe you should've mentioned that you were making an observation in the neighborhood rather than "Everyone."

"My clothes were out of place, too. My Paris black just didn't cut it. The moms at the park were wearing jogging suits and sneakers. I don't know if I can learn how to dress super-casual again. I'd feel naked. Or, I might as well go out in my pyjamas."

Your sarcastic use of feeling naked and "might as well go out in my pyjamas" can be taken as the mother's might as well be naked or wearing pajamas.

"A young man I met at the local Walmart selling a newspaper subscription to my mom thought Paris was in Italy. Geez, I'm afraid these Central Valley people don't get out much."

Again, I can directly quote the offensive wording and the talking down here "Geez, I'm afraid these Central Valley people don't get out much." While you mention one young man, you refer to this instance as reflecting Central Valley People.

"It just surprises me that some people never want to leave this small town of Walmarts and fast food restaurants. No desire to see beautiful, coastal Monterey? No desire to enjoy the good food and culture of San Francisco? It's too bad, though. There's a much bigger, more interesting world available to explore."

I think I don't need to analyze this one. It pretty much speaks for itself. This I deem talking down to people. People from other cultures can come in and see our beautiful wildlife, go windsurfing, go backpacking, go fishing, enjoy the relaxing small town country life, visit cheese factories, visit vineyards... need I go on. All these things which people love to travel here to do, yet you seem to think the world is so much bigger and more interesting. Well guess what makes up a small portion of that bigger, more interesting world. Yup you guessed it, the Central Valley and might I mention I was only talking about the things in the immediate vicinity of Los Banos, the Central Valley has a whole lot to offer and provide tourists. So again, if you think people "need" and "desire" to get out of town, that's a very awful thing to say.

"And still no decent bookstore. No fine arts auditorium. Very limited public library hours. According to some, the biggest thing that happened to the city was when they got a Starbucks."

Here is a really big insult, while you may have heard this as a joke from someone who is new to the area, maybe you should've investigated it before making "Starbucks" Los Banos' big attraction. At this point, I'm just flat out ashamed that you would write such a thing. The biggest thing that happened to this town, is it's explosion in population and the arrival of more diverse cultures. We have not just fast food joints as you mention earlier, but we have Portuguese, Peruvian, Basque, Oriental, Mexican, and Southern cooking all available to us. Fast food is mostly for weary travelers and locals needing a break or are hungry for something familiar.

All in all, I hope you see how different this particular blog has been in comparison to all your previous and future blogs. It may be an observation and concern to you, but from reading this blog, concern and criticism are one in the same. You don't have to worry about offending me anymore, because I will no longer comment and read any further. I should've realized that if I continued reading your blog, some discourse would arise. I honestly don't think you're a snob, but when I say you sound like one, I mean it. It's an observation, and a criticism all in one. Well if you've read this far, I hope I've gotten some gears turning in your head and maybe one day you can look at what you write from the outside of the box. Surprisingly this has turned out to be a blog all in itself. I guess you're not the only one that can write controversial material, but you sure can start it. One more thing about me that you probably haven't figured out yet, is that I stick up for the little [person].

I really do love you sis, but this is where I branch off and focus on my own life both inside and out of the box.

lil bro... out (static from a two-way radio ensues)

P.S. Did I mention anything criticizing city folks aka liberal elites in any of my posts? Damn, I don't think I did Meg.

Caroline Jou Armitage said...

You can be as sensitive and offended as you want to be. I'm sorry I can't make everyone happy. It's plain to see you may never understand me. How can I reiterate that I'm not trying to put anyone down? My blog is a little piece of entertainment for people -- I don't expect people to take it as seriously as you do. I was being sarcastic when I said the biggest thing that happened to the town was Starbucks. That remark was only triggered by my conversation with a newer resident, a young single, who had heard that that was the only place to meet people. Go ahead and stop commenting. It would have been more tactful if the both of us just e-mailed our concerns, but maybe this hashing out of issues may be beneficial to someone out there.

Did I ever say I hated the Central Valley? No. Of course I am fully aware of the activities there. I very much enjoyed the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, which I was going to blog on, and I like all the other natural areas like the foothills, Dinosaur Point, etc. Why can't I make a suggestion that there is a world outside of the Central Valley? You get insulted whenever I state my own opinion. Why don't you just let people say what they want to say, instead of twisting their words so they look like idiots?

Did I ever say I despised the people in it? No. Central Valley people are some of the friendliest people I know. Maybe I should've said that to balance things out, but no -- that wasn't shocking to me. Do you remember the title of my entry? I was undergoing culture shock, which you refuse to understand and want to misconstrue into some attack on the less fortunate.

And stop getting on poor Meg's case. I've never heard of the term "liberal elites" but I know what she's talking about. When you are criticizing me, you are criticizing those like me who would fall into the that category. We are liberal, we want the world to be a better, safer place for everyone, and since we may be more financially and educationally fortunate than others, we should be doing our best to incite change to make more effective communities. You are somehow offended by our way of thinking -- someone who doesn't want to be told what way is better. Fine, everyone has their own definition of better, but can't we all have a voice? I could have deleted your comments, but you deserve to be heard, too.

I'm glad to see you so passionate about something, little bro. Maybe you've learned something about yourself and want to pursue public office someday or become some sort of activist?

Anonymous said...

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