Bezerkeley, California, cultural differences between New York City and Berkeley, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, making friends in Berkeley California, New York City, New York City versus Berkeley, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, the Big Apple, The East Bay California, word press, word, wordpress,

East Coast/West Coast (East Bay) culture shock

Bigger appleBezerkeley

Recently, I made a trip back East to New York City and the experience instantly hit “home!”

A child of the Bronx and Manhattan, my emigration to Fresno, California three decades ago came with a blast of culture shock, but my most recent relocation to the East Bay (Berkeley aka “Bezerkeley”) fleshed out extreme bi-coastal differences in social/interpersonal communications!

For example,

NYC–You make friends on the elevator. When I stayed at my ex-roommate’s apartment on Central Park West, I’d stuffed 27 crinkled post-its
into my pockets with names, addresses and phone numbers. (Three days, 9 rides, 12 floors.)

East Bay–Not a trace of a phone number, unless you OCCUPY the bank, post office, street corner, or complain to the Trader Joe Manager about a Fiji water back order delay!

NYC– The subways are a miraculous social network–Getting lost is the best thing that could happen. People scramble, if not trample each other to assist you. It goes with the territory. You’ll find your pockets bulging with names, addresses and phones.

At my aunt’s funeral, I had a reunion with my Performing Arts High math teacher, and she brought along a friend. No sooner than I offered my arm to the 85-year old, I found an empty pocket for ten business cards with her name, address and phone. (Not three days back in California, I’d received a no-strings invitation to stay at her East Side digs–free food, lodging and a guaranteed schmaltzy hug)

By contrast,

The East Bay: No bed, no breakfast– but one small space for a homeless person in Downtown Berkeley, or an endless ride on the friendless BART.

NYC: The ‘Y’ gym on West 63rd is another great hangout! Free bi-coastal passes–no hitch in snaring a clean towel or snagging directions to the women’s lockers. Getting lost in a maze of workout rooms is another opportunity to make new friends and collect post-its.

The East Bay ‘Y’— An instant death sentence. Once inside the Women’s gym, it’s solitary confinement. No eye contact! Talk under your breath and risk a 5150 to the Alta Bates psych ward.

Heed these posted WARNINGS!

1) NO CELL PHONE USE in this AREA 2) NO FREE PASSES to Albany, Oakland, or any ‘Y’ gyms in the area. Pay up or go back to where you came from! (Good Idea!)


NYC: Getting together with a friend is as easy as pie, i.e. “Meet me at the coffee shop on Amsterdam in twenty minutes.” (a done deal)

East Bay: It’s three years of strategy planning with NO signed guarantee to reconnect in a lifetime. Meeting up any sooner is a “boundary” violation.

My first Berkeley house guest who arrived after 18 months of back and forth text-ing, confessed that her appearance was “ephemeral.”

“Don’t think I’m coming back. That way you won’t be disappointed.” She left a housewarming weed in a BPA-free plastic cup that dried up soon after her departure.

NYC: Your friends will wine and dine you with unswerving generosity: home-cooked delights and an unconditional welcome mat are your birthright.

East Bay: A Berkeley eating companion who turns up 9 months after the planning stage, brings a calculator to evenly divide the tab.

(She forgot that you treated her the last ancient time at the Ethiopian Hut on Durant)

Every other spoonful, she mega-Networks and collates foot massage flyers for you to post around the neighborhood.

“Hey, how about us bartering a big toe rub-down for life-time piano lessons?”

“NO thanks! I’m pre-OCCUPIED!” (Need to practice!)

NYC: Performing opportunities may be sparse in the Big Apple, but no one will ask you to play Chopin into a drone of meaningless, high-decibel banter!

East Bay: Expect to be drowned out!


From Sanity to Insanity

The Last Lap My return to California!

NYC: Going to the airport for my departure comes with good wishes. Elevator friends, the doorman, street cleaner–even the garbage men and fruit cart pushers give me a warm thumbs up! Peace, Goodwill, and God Speed.

East Bay: At SFO arrival. Where’s the baggage area? Super shuttle, anyone?

Icy stares from a skeleton crew of janitors and OCCUPIERS, everywhere!

Rent controllers scream, “I hate landlords!” Landlords rage against the Rent Board. An avalanche of hate! A round of gunfire! Revolution now! Che Guevara!

Geezus! I’m way safer in NYC under Bloomberg.

When’s the next Apple-bound jet? I’ll call the lady who offered me her place on the East Side and firm up my reservation a.s.a.p.

4 thoughts on “East Coast/West Coast (East Bay) culture shock”

  1. Yikes! That was one of the first things I noticed upon coming to Alaska (and the San Diego folk are warmer and friendlier than the Bay Area, generally) – people up here are so comparably open and engaging! It sounds much closer to the east coast than west, by your descriptions. I always hate feeling like I’m disturbing someone or taking up precious time by being friendly and engaging in meaningful and frequent exchanges, which is exactly what the urban west coast areas project (to me).

    At least you know of one open door on-the-fly, should you escape back to New York 😉


  2. Hello Shirley, I’ve read only 20 lines or so but 5000% agreed. That’s why I’d been looking for a piano teacher from NYC or East coast. Sometimes things here(no Ca) reminds me of Chopin in UK.

    “I have been offered the Philharmonic, but don’t want to play there because it would be with the orchestra… the orchestra is rather like their roast beef or their turtle soup; excellent, strong, but nothing more”.


    1. You got it!!!! Kindred spirit and very entertaining…I teach SKYPE so I’m more than bi-coastal, Thank Heavens! I’m trying to post my next blog and running into WordPress dwindling space at 6 KB, which amounts to a postage stamp


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