whither whatever

February 24, 2004 — 154 Comments

I received no fewer than four less-than-savory emails from indignant southern Californians responding to my last post, which of course was the perfect inspiration for this post.


When I was a kid, one of my favorite toys was a wooden puzzle of the United States. Each piece, painted in a single bright color, corresponded to one of our 50 states. I’d generally go from east to west, placing Maine first–a ritual which I think imbued me with a fascination for that state, then Florida–because that’s where my grandparents lived at the time, then fill in the rest piece by piece. I often wonder if that puzzle still exists in my parents’ basement; it’s the kind of toy I’d love to give to my children someday.

It’s no secret that Americans suffer from complete ignorance regarding the topic of where-things-are-in-the-world. There are many causes for this; for starters, our media tends to ignore anything happening outside the States. Also, quite frankly, most Americans couldn’t care less about the rest of the world. A red-blooded American (a phrase I’ve never understood, unless in the context of Star Trek) will proudly proclaim that America is “the greatest country on earth”, so why bother looking past its borders?

Despite my public complaints, California is a wonderful place. Its topography is among the most varied in the country, the weather in most of California is by most folks’ standards absolutely perfect, and it’s the birthplace of many global cultural and economic trends, a fact which may not make the state wonderful but does certainly make it both dynamic and important. So, despite my protestations about living here, I wholeheartedly admit that as places on the planet go, California ain’t so bad.

The people though, fall victim to a kind of provincial snobbery unsurpassed by pretty much everyone except the French. When I tell people in California I’m from Chicago, they look at me with pity. When I tell my Californian students to travel around the U.S. after they graduate, they look at me as if I’m insane. I once was complaining about how poorly many Californians drive in the snow and my soon-to-be father-in-law responded “why on earth would anyone want to live in a place where you have to learn to drive in the snow”. This from a man who spent most of his life on the volcanic, lava-spewing island of Hawaii and from a man who currently lives only a few dozen miles from the San Andreas fault. All this to say that most people who call California home–red blooded Californians, or perhaps more precisely, almond-soy-triple-foam chai latte Californians–suffer from a more localized version of geographic ignorance than most Americans.

Apparently the U.S. puzzle I played with as a child was never marketed in California. When I talk to Californians about my many road trips, I’m always totally amazed by the comments and questions I get just in response to my comments about geography. I’ve compiled these reactions and synthesized a map of the United States which corresponds to the twisted geographic perception most Californians possess.

A few prefatory words. Maps are fundamentally about shapes. I assume that Californians are aware of the basic shape of the U.S. I also assume that Californians know that there are 50 states and that Alaska and Hawaii are generally not considered part of the continental United States.



  1. California. Unsurprisingly, California remains intact.
  2. This is the state of Reno, which is easy to spot because it’s just outside the “Tahoe Region”.
  3. The state of Vegas.
  4. All Californians know that their neighbor to the north is Oregon. They know this because Oregon is where Chai was invented.
  5. This is the state of Seattle unless you’re really wealthy, in which case it’s the state of Puget Sound. This is where Starbucks comes from. You’ll note that both Oregon and Seattle span the space between the west coastline and the I-5 corridor.
  6. This is Death Valley. It’s hot here. Except in the winter, when it’s cold.
  7. This is the state of Aspen. From the state of Aspen, you can ski straight into state #9
  8. This state has two names for Californians. If you’re from Northern California, it’s known as “That Bastard of a President’s Ranch”. If you’re from Southern California, it’s called “The Alamo”.
  9. The Midwest. It’s a huge state, as you can see, and for Californians, Midwest inhabitants on both sides of the Mississippi live on a strict diet of iceberg lettuce and Budweiser, which is why they have such big hair.
  10. The blue vertical line is the Mississippi River. Californians don’t actually know where it is, they just know it’s in the middle of the country and that it runs “up and down”.
  11. 11 points to the state of Chicago, which is a convenient home to the city of Chicago. [I can’t begin to tell you how many Californians think Chicago is a state].
  12. This is Florida. It’s home to Disney World (which is just like Disneyland) and a lot of Cubans, like that Ricky Martin.
  13. This is Back East, colloquially known as New England. It contains most of the 50 states because the Pilgrims thought small. That’s why they’re so rude Back East, you know. They don’t have room enough to spread out their yoga mats and become one with the universe.
  14. New York, where the official state animal is the bagel.

In closing, I’d like to remind Californians of the phrase ”tongue in cheek”. C’mon, Californians! Learn to laugh at yourselves, and you’ll find that everyone else is laughing with you, not at you. Because we all take the governor of California very seriously.

154 responses to whither whatever

  1. growing up an Fullerton, Orange County brat, now living in Cleveland, the common consensus knows no difference from Iowa, Idaho, and Ohio.  I tell people where I live now and they ask where that is>

  2. I think 13 should be called “Back East.” Californians think New England is a state in Back East.

  3. New England isn’t a state Back East?  Snap!

  4. Isn’t 13 DC, where California governors go when they retire? 

    A test is to ask them, “Why do they have interstate highways in Hawaii?” Five to ten percent will see irony to the question; at best.  Also, ask, “Which city is is Spain, Rome or Romania?” Two-thirds or more will say it’s Romania, because they know Rome is in Italy, not in Spain.  Then let them in on the truth, Romania is actually the suburb of Rome, where the Pope lives.  After all, you can’t let them stay ignorant, can you?

  5. anything north of florida is a crap shoot.

    reno is not a state, silly. it’s a bank where you can drink at all hours.

    I think they make corn in state 9. or maybe plywood.

  6. I would also add that most asshats still believe that Alaska is an island about the same size as Hawaii, and right off the coast of Mexico.

  7. As a Midwesterner that now lives in California, everything you say is true and depressing.  But I happen to know from experience that anyone from the northeast (New Yorkers are the worst offenders, of course) would have an even worse map, which includes nothing more than New York, Upstate, Boston, DC, Florida, California, Texas, and the “unimportant states in the middle.” I was once told by someone from Newport, Rhode Island that the states in the Midwest don’t matter, so why should she bother to remember them or where they are?  Newport, Rhode Island!

    “Also, quite frankly, most Americans could care less about the rest of the world.”

    While we’re pointing out people’s ignorance, I’d like to point out that you must mean “couldn’t care less.” You’ve implied that Americans care about the rest of the world.  Oops.

  8. Oops indeed. Duly changed, and I fully own up to my ignorant tendencies regarding colloquial and idiomatic expressions.

    I think the most egregious examples of geographic ignorance in relation to the U.S. almost always involve the midwest. I met someone not too long ago that thought Iowa was a city in Wisconsin (or was it the other way around?). Being from Illinois, I’d be the first to admit there’s a lot not to like about the Midwest (though I’ve made peace with much of the unsavory bits as I get older), but please–when Californians make fun of the midwest for odd cultural rituals, I really do want to smack somebody.

    But hey, I live in Santa Cruz now, where everything is mad basting and hella dope. Dude.

    Peace out. It’s all good.

  9. Christian Newton February 25, 2004 at 3:06 pm

    I think people anywhere “suffer” from regional bias. California is not particularly exceptional. Take a look at Saul Steinberg’s New York.

  10. Worse than getting other places wrong is getting the place you’re from wrong. I knew a girl from Brooklyn who thought Long Island was some other city, not the island that Brooklyn sat on. She wouldn’t believe me even when confronted with a map. Or, more locally, how about those nice Orange County folk who refer to everything North of Long Beach as “Hollyweird”? You know, that decadent place that has all those wacky nightclubs and restaurants where people dress in black and eat that “Thai” food.

  11. HAHA! I live in Death Valley, Oregon.

    Priceless map. Thanks for the laugh!

  12. aw, i had the same wooden map when i was a kid, as well as a puzzle.  I grew up in CA (spent 23 years there)

    Must be a generation thing, because most of my friends itched to leave the state, and we knew our states and capitals (even Bismarck, SD.. yessiree) but younger Californians i meet don’t have this skill.. mostly. 

    very cute, though

  13. Well, I think the stigma toward the midwest is well earned… when I was 10 years old visiting my grandmother in Kansas, having travelled from Alaska, I was introduced to several of her neighbors.  They all welcomed me with, “Welcome to the United States!”

  14. As a native Californian, I have to admit this is freaking hilarious.

    Heh…”Back East.”

  15. #10 is my favorite.  You mean it’s not straight like that?

    And it’s pretty much like you lay it out.  I think most Southern Californians would be hard pressed to name a city in Northern California other than San Francisco.

    Arnold from California

  16. I’m a Seattleite, and I’m ashamed to say that my view of the US is sadly similar to this. Except for I know about The South. And The Other Seattle State: Vancouver, BC. (I am guilty of saying “She’s from one of those midwest states that starts with an M.” I hang my head in shame.)

  17. Oh, you hit a vein this time Originally from St. Louis, I’ve lived all over the US and the UK and wound up in Boston for a number of years. I had the head of wire transfers at the 7th largest bank in the US ask me where Finland was and what currency they use. Now that I live in Finland, I routinely get responses from people in the US like ‘Finland? What state is that in?’ or ‘Finland? Isn’t that a city in Russia?’ or ‘Does FedEx deliver there?’. The appalling lack of geographic clue is not confined to California, though having seen ‘Jaywalking’ on the Tonight Show on a few profoundly painful occasions is proof enough that there are a lot of folks over there in California that are, for lack of a better word, stupid.

    Read Global Goofs for a bit more dismay. 11% of kids can’t even find the US on a political map of the world. Now that’s sad.

  18. Very funny!  I grew up on Long Island, “The Island”, and had the same experience as Dan.  I was at a party in “The City”, (New York), and this girl kept insisting that Brooklyn and Queens were geographically separate from “The Island” which started at the border in Nassau County. There’s “The City” ,THEN, there’s “The Island” and no part of NYC is on “The Island”!  “YA GOTTA BE KIDDIN’ ME”!

  19. I’d love to see a follow-up to this post, extending to the rest of the world.

  20. I, myself, was born and raised in Southern Illinois. This story is excellent as I now live in Orange County, CA where I have experienced everything you mention and it’s killing me.

    I moved to Chicago after college and it’s a similar scenario.  Illinois is about 390 miles from North to South.  Everyone in Chicago thinks that everything south of Joliet (110 miles from the north border) is “Southern Illinois”.

    After moving to California, I get the same stare of “what the hell were you thinking” when I told people that I moved from Chicago.  I have experienced too often, when it rains in Orange County, everyone drives way too slow.  I understand that the roads are much slicker because of the oil buildup but COME ON! 40 mph on the interstate?  I’m doin 75 mph. I’m sick of the Health Mex food.  Gimme some deep-fried, fatty, high cholesterol, heart-attack-in-a-sack food! 

    I admit.  I love california weather and terrain.  But when it rains, News stations act like it’s the end of the world!  “Storm watch 2004 with Live Doppler 7000 plus!”, even though its only raining a few inches.  Their Doppler radar here, being the most expensive system in the nation or so it seems, is barely being used to its full potential.  “We are LIVE here in Orange County where it IS raining.  Yep.  It’s raining alright.” Reporters making it sound like it’s time to pack your bags.  Good grief.

    ok, enough already….

  21. I thought you’d be happy to hear that sometimes native Californians do occasionally look past “Death Valley”. I was born and raised in SoCal, migrated to Berkeley, and then finally moved to Chicago. I haven’t regretted the move.

    Driving on snow is fun and I would trade an earthquake or Santa Ana induced firestorm for 2 feet of snow and -10 F any time.

  22. i loved this.  thank you!

  23. I agree with Josh’s comments that anything south of Joliet is considered “Southern Illinois”.  Though I’ve always heard it put that anything south of Kankakee is S. Illinois.

    The State of Chicago is right on though.  Most people believe that Chicago is the state and Dan Quayle is quoted as saying it’s great to be in the state of Chicago.  I must say though, they’ve got it right boths ways on number 9.

  24. That’s hilarious.  My cousin from La Jolla once said she thought Chicago was a state – that was in 1982.

  25. RE: The State of Chicago:

    I would have thought most California folk would get Chicago, IL due to the incessant re-watching of the Blues Brothers… We also know there’s a Cook County in Chicago who’s tax assessor sounds just like Fozzie Bear.

  26. I lived in Los Angeles for 8 years and the Bay Area for 3. These days, I live in Wisconsin. Your remark about the “provincial snobbery” of Californians is a stereotype, but a mostly correct one. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been asked how I can stand to live in “Flyover Land” by some Bay Aryan who’s convinced that all of the inhabitants of the Midwest wear flannel shirts, Elmer Fudd hunting caps, and talk like a character out of “Fargo”.

  27. I want to mention that when my brother lived in Los Angeles for a brief stint (1988 – 1991), he had no idea the Berlin Wall had come down.  This I discovered upon asking him what he thought about it nearly a month after it happened.  Thankfully, he caught up with the rest of the world after moving back to “New England” (known in this area as North Carolina).

  28. Hmmmm…Funny. But if the people you know in California are that ignorant, you might wanna stop hanging out at the Starbucks.

    I’m glad you find humor in the California Snob. But the “goofy caricature” Chicagoan type of humor which clumsily attributes ignorance to people really just belongs in Chicago (and perhaps Illinois as a whole), where it generally holds true–not out here in the Real World.

  29. As someone from the Midwest that has lived in Texas for over a decade (and love it by the way) the regional bias of which you speak is alive and well here.  In fact, my wife and I mentioned to a native Texan once that we were heading north for Christmas and she replied with ‘oh, what are you going to be doing in Dallas?’ As to Chicago, I would hazard a guess that a lot of Texans think of it as a waypoint on a trip to somewhere else. Chicago = O’hare Airport.

  30. “Between New York, where half of us come from, and California, where most of the rest of us come from, there’s three thousand miles of Ohio.”

    — speaker at my first college antiwar rally, 1966, at a small Ohio liberal arts college.

    I was a bit puzzled, since I come from the South, which was not on his map.  I notice it is not on your map either.  N.B.—none of the Land Formerly Known as Northern Mexico is part of the South.

  31. Having grown up in New Jersey, gone to college in Oregon, lived in California and now Boston, I always found that people out west had a worse handle on geography. Kids who grow up in New Jersey (or Pennsylvania, or Maryland, etc), even if they love it like I did, dream of visiting California, or Colorado, or Oregon, or New Mexico, etc.

    I haven’t met a native westerner who dreamed of visiting New Jersey…

  32. Oh, and Peter, the border of Long Island does start at Nassau county

  33. and we knew our states and capitals (even Bismarck, SD.. yessiree) but younger Californians i meet don’t have this skill..

    I know this is a joke.  I think this is a joke.  Please tell me this is a joke.

  34. I’m guilty of the provincial snobbery you mention, for all the reasons you’ve so conveniently outlined in your third paragraph. My knowledge of geography was terrible until I was forced to travel a bit, probably because I wasn’t taught any geography until I was a senior in high school. No wonder California schools rank so low.

    As others have pointed out, we’re not the only ones. A women I know was talking recently to a cousin in Alabama who said she planned to move “out west.” To Tenneessee.

  35. I lived in Santa Cruz for a year. I told somebody where I was from and he said “oh. So is New Hampshire it’s own state?”

    Of course at that point, I wasn’t too sure myself, you know, what with all the drugs and all.

  36. I love this map. The funny thing is, I live in the state of Seattle, and a map made from a northwest perspective wouldn’t look much different.

    What really gets me about Americans in general is the ‘midwest’ nomenclature.

    That always confused me as a kid, too. Whaddya mean, “midwest”? All those states are way back east, I would think.

    But here’s how to look at it: the U.S. was settled east to west, and for a long time the cultural center of gravity sat solidly on the mid-northern Atlantic coast. (People who live on the mid-northern Atlantic coast tend to think it still does. They’re wrong; there are now two centres of gravity, one on each coast, and everything in between orbits chaotically between them.) “Midwest” is an east coaster’s term; it distinguishes the territory settled during the early 1800s, between the Appalachians and the Mississippi, from the “wild west” across the Mississippi and on to California. In modern usage the “midwest” tends to refer more generally to the northern Mississippi river basin. It doesn’t include the southern part because that’s already “the South”, clearly defined by the old boundaries of the civil war Confederacy.

  37. Great.  Though you did indeed miss “back east”, but it’s kind of a supercategory.  I’ve heard many Californians refer to *Utah* as “back east”.

    When my family moved from the midwest to Santa Cruz, several of my younger brother’s classmates asked him if they spoke English in Chicago.

    On the other hand, when I went back to college in Michigan, people constantly assumed I must know the other kid in the dorm from California.  (He was from San Diego, about as far from Santa Cruz as St. Louis is from Lansing.)

  38. Christian, aka the puzzled European:

    To understand the term “midwest” is to understand how the US was settled.  Explorers started on the east coast and worked their way westward (for the most part, there were also a bunch of explorers who sailed around South America but let’s just say that’s not how the country was *settled*.) So, as the country expanded west, what was the furthest west kept on getting redefined.  Eventually, places like Kansas and Oklahoma became the Mid-West, because it was midway TO the west.

    At least, that’ my hunch, as an Easterner who lives in the REAL upstate NY, not Westchester County. :^)

  39. You need to add the Deep South in that map, where all the Bible thumpers and the inbred hicks and the Confederate flag wavers live.  Oh, and they make Jack Daniels there, too.

  40. I also had a map of the 50 states – my pride and joy as a 10-yr.-old. I spent months learning the shapes of the states and the state capitals. I was born in Omaha and my folks kept moving west, so we lived in Sioux City, Iowa, Billings and Great Falls, Montana and Spokane, Washington. When I moved to California, it was a shock to meet people who were so unaware of the rest of the country, both as geography and as other people inhabiting the same universe. It seemed to me (this is when I lived in L.A.) that no one I knew paid any attention to any issue outside of California. Now that I live in Northern California, many more people seem to be aware of the rest of the country and the world.

  41. I’ve lived in at least five different states and moved a total of 12 times (not counting same-city moves), and I learned early on that there is no Utopia.  Ignorance resides everywhere.

    That being said, I am amazed by the degree of self-complacency and hubris I’ve observed almost daily in many SoCals (I moved to San Diego two years ago).  Having lived mainly in the Southern US, I’ve fielded serious questions such as “Isn’t everyone there in the KKK?  All the police, I mean?” and “What’s it like living with all those hicks?” in the same conversation.  Also, unbeknownst to me, the South “is a hole.”

    I was horrified to walk into a San Diego woman’s bathroom to find the decor consisted entirely of piccaninnie dolls.  I gently confronted her, only to behold confusion.  “What are piccaninnies?” After a very lengthy explanation, I met with, “Well, that’s not what it means out here.” Incredibly, I have received this response from nearly every SoCalite I’ve since spoken with on this topic (and that is quite a few), most of whom have never heard of piccaninnies or mammy jars or sambos either.  By the way, Mimi’s Cafe features a wall decorated with a sambo jazz band, and it’s not Americana.

    I have also heard far more than a handful of times, “Well, you know how it is when they move into a neighborhood” regarding Asians, a phrase I seldom heard back in the South, and then only from true “hicks”, a small and unsavory southern minority.  More astounding is the statement concerning poverty, “But that kind of thing doesn’t really happen anymore, at least not in the United States.”

    New Yorkers may be snobs, and Chicagoans may be snobs, and in fact, there are snobs all over.  But nowhere else, perhaps, is snobbery and willful ignorance such a pervasive hobby, but don’t you dare try to call it that.  You’re wrong.  You just haven’t lived here long enough.

    A last quote, heard when in conversation with a young Roxy chick: “Pakistan?  Aren’t we at war with them?”

  42. I’m surprised to hear California has this reputation, since in my experience the same is true of anywhere you go, not just the Golden State. I’ve met people from New England to Texas, the Northwest to Key West, etc., who demonstrated surprising geographical ignorance of anyplace more than a couple hundred miles from their front doors. Not to sweat too much defending my home state, but I’ll give two examples: 1) I’ve had a Brooklynite ask me what state San Francisco was in. 2) Similarly, my brother, upon using his driver’s license to check into a Toronto hotel, was greeted with, “California—That’s in L.A., right?” Both enjoyable anecdotal examples, but I would never point to them and claim that New Yorkers or Torontans are worse-than-average offenders. Anyhow, think your map reflects pretty accurately (and humorously) a stereotypically California bias, just as Steinberg’s famous illustration does for New York.

  43. That’s cool! I’m originaly from East Europe and could say with posibility of 80% where all 50 states are. And I think that people from outside of US know much more about states in US than americans itself But maybe I’m wrong.

  44. Having spent 30 of my 32 years in the bay area, I’d just like to be the third person to agree that it’s not New England, and definitely “Back East”. Please consider this an official petition for you to modify the map to better reflect our oh-so-enlightened reality. (The rest of the map is hilariously accurate.)

    By the way, did you notice that you knew where the bay area was, even though I never mentioned S.F. or the silicon valley? National media coverage (especially print & online) also feels comfortable using the term without further clarification. Considering how many idiots get their info from the media, can ya really blame us for thinking the sun orbits around California? (Cause it does, man. Totally.)

    (By the way, ever since the economic downturn, I considered moving Back East somewhere—but since there aren’t any tech companies outside of Cali, everyone must be unemployed there too, huh? Not much point, then.)

  45. Oh yeah – everyone from back east is totally snobbish, too. I hate when they move here and act as though they’re more culturally superior.

  46. more than we are, that is. (heh.)

  47. You’ve made my day.  Fortunately I haven’t run across too much of this, I guess because I associate with a strangely clueful bunch of people in the SF bay area (many of them non-native Californians).

    I am from Illinois.  Mostly what annoys me isn’t geographic cluelessness, but cultural cluelessness.  For example, all the people here (and on the east coast, from what I understand), which think that the midwest is some sort of complete wasteland of nothing but pickup trucks, Walmart, and racists.

  48. Everybody, everybody February 26, 2004 at 5:58 pm

    Geographic bias permeates the media and the political system. “Back East” dominates the news media and of course the political and financial elites. California with its entertainment and tech industries, and good schools, and Chicago to a lesser extent, are the other centers of rule.

    The rest of the country is treated like serfs by the power-media elites, who do not understand this resentment of their contempt.

  49. Great map.  I live in Minnesota and I can’t tell you the number of times i’ve heard someone tell me that I don’t talk like I’m from MN. I have to tell them that Fargo was just a movie and most Minnesotans don’t have any sort of accent.  It also surprises me how often the midwest in general is overlooked or refered to “fly-over” country in the media and talkshows. Another bad rap is that MN is the siberia of the US, couldn’t be further from the truth, it is just perpetuated by those who haven’t been here.  It does get cold, but come’on it only drops below 0 a few days out of 365.

  50. I have yet to meet very many Californians who know Oregon is their neighbor to the North.

    They tend to think that Oregon is a city on Washington, maybe somewhere around Seattle…

  51. Let’s straighten up a few things.  First, the guy in Finland probably is from Nokia, the capital.  Also, there are a bunch of people abusing the concept of the Gisland.  As in, “I’m from Lon Gisland.” They all say that.  And South Dakota, everyone know its capital is Sturgis.  In Orwell’s words, “Four wheels good, two wheels better.” It’s the state motto.  Look it up.  Finally, Dan in Minnesota, how’s the ice fishing, and have you entered the duck stamp design contest?

  52. I am a Jersey Girl living in Northern California and I have to admit that people here are pretty insulated.  And am I the only one that thinks you shouldn’t be allowed to use “Back East” if you have never been there in the first place?

    In Northern California, people say “down South”…..I thought they meant places like Alabama…no, they mean LA.  Its a small world after all….

  53. As a sometime Californian temporarily living in state #11, I must applaud your masterful reexamining of Californiacentric geography. Brilliant! (And for the record, I have yet to even find a Wal Mart here; shopping is done at Target and Costco, just as it was back in Cali.)

  54. As a Southern Californian now living in Atlanta, I have to contest the state of Back East.  Growing up in LA, I was taught that there was a big difference between the South and the North…when I told my friends I was moving to Georgia, they thought I was going somewhere run by a bunch of neo-Confederate Klansmen.  The same is true for AL, MS, and TN, but only those states.  (The state of Carolina doesn’t have nearly the reputation for racism, probably because of Duke and UNC.) Some of them really thought black people couldn’t walk around without getting assaulted by skinheads.  There’s even a difference in vocabulary—Southern California is called the “Southland” for a reason.

  55. I love #9.  I was reading a murder mystery, where the protagonist has moved to Mn. from

    Ca., and bemoans the local produce section.

    “ And when I looked over the fresh vegetable

    section, I just about cried…four kinds of

    lettuce if you count iceberg.”

    Me, I’m from the Mid-Atlantic are, which is on

    the Eastern seaboard, NOT east coast.

  56. this map is great, but hawaii is missing as a pelgrimage for surfers.

    here’s another thought: if americans would actually care about the rest of the world they would be able to sell ‘m some more stuff too …… >> jobs.

  57. Well dutch, it is a map of the continental US… =P

  58. California needs a pointer to The City.

  59. Well, that second map is still more complicated than the one to which Oregonians might refer – that would actually be best rendered as an orthographic perspective illustration, not unlike that really old New Yorker cover (the title of which I forget).

    It’s not that they don’t notice; it’s that they don’t care.

    P.S. inquiry to the author – what dd you use for your basemap?

  60. I think the phrase ‘a red-blooded <class of person>’ might have two possible origins, depending on which meaning it would take on.  It could refer to a person actually able to feel emotions, warm-blooded as opposed to ice for blood or something, or it could be used as the opposite of ‘blue blood’, that is, an ordinary person.

  61. You crazy Californians! Oh, wait, I am a native Californian who decided it was time to leave SoCal.

    I now live in the Great State of Back East. We love crossing the street on a red light or whenever. We’re a tough species: Level Oranges, snippers, anthrax –we can take it. I’m proud of my new state.

    Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said: “If you shook the country all the loose pieces would fall to California.” I’m proud to be a product of my old state.

  62. Having recently moved to Chicago from the Portland, Oregon area, I can’t help but think back on a lot of the dumbass stuff Oregonians had to say about the midwest. One person actually thought Kansas, Ohio, and Minnesota bordered eachother. 

  63. This is great!  The comments are as good as the map!

    Jamie:  Thanks for your response to my comment.  Below is a link to a “Long Island Map”.  Provided by the MTA.



  64. It cuts both ways: I did a stint as a legal reform advisor in Kazakhstan a few years ago.  My USAID liaison once introduced me to a group of local judges as “Sort of like an American.  He’s from California.”

    But I got the last laugh. Owing to the popularity of that soap opera on Russian TV, the Kazakh judges asked me, “Are you from Santa Barbara?”

  65. ?  I grew up in southern Illinois, now live in Chicagoland (have been here for a decade), and also lived a few years in the Bay Area.  I’ve never met a Chicagoan refer to that area south of Joliet as “Southern Illinois”, though of course, it’s “downstate”.

  66. A few things that as a Californian I feel compelled to add…

    I think that California should be divided into two states, Southern California (mexico to Santa Barbara) and Northern California (the Bay Area) with nothing between oregon and Napa/Sonoma as well as another blank between San Jose and Santa Barbara. I am from the blank above the Bay Area and I don’t know how many times I’ve shocked Californians, even those in the Bay Area with the fact that there is still several hundred miles of state before you get to Oregon.

    I agree with previous posts that “the south” should be a state also. You know, where people talk funny.

    JerseyGirl: Why is it shocking to you when someone says they are going down south to mean LA? After all, isn’t LA south of you? And wouldn’t going to the “South” be going Southeast?

    And yes, I too had that map. Loved it.

  67. The second one looks fine. What’t the beef?

  68. I was working at our local daily here in Milwaukee 15-ish years ago. The year MN Twins made the World Series one of the years I was working in the newsroom. As soon as it looked even remotely possible that the Twins would be in it, we had reporters from both coasts calling our newsroom to see if we had any recommendations for good hotels they should stay at while they were in town for the Series.

    Sure. Take your pick. Mind you, the game’s gonna be a 5-6 hour drive from any of them…

    These people seriously all thought Milwaukee was the other one of the Twin Cities.

  69. as a native missourian, and a 6-year californian (the people’s socialist republic of san luis obispo), i have to say that i quite enjoyed your summary of californian geography. in missouri, i wasn’t aware of any such history courses as “missouri history”, but at every community college in california there is a popular “californian history” class.. somehow i think missouri’s history might be more interesting? longer, anyway..

    ahwell. two cents i suppose.

  70. also, tinamonster, i disagree with you. i live in that “blank” between san jose and santa barbara; san luis obispo, paso robles, cambria, arroyo grande, pismo beach–that’s all in there.

    so poo

  71. It’s interesting to me that anyone might think of “the south” as needing a separate designator.  Being, as I am, a third generation bay area boy, I can relate that the Midwest is basically just the south but hotter…

    Or it means LA…

    Someone mentioned two California states.  I wonder where people might think it starts.  From LA, SoCal tends to be “South of Bakersfield”.  From SF, SoCal starts just north of Fresno.  (for people who are not aware of California Geography: Fresno is north of Bakersfield.  Both are called ‘the armpit of California’)…

    Also, #13 is “out east”, not “new England”.  New England is #14…

  72. dude, can i print this out and put copies of it in place it in the mailboxes of all your students?

  73. I find that Californians have a much larger hatred towards Texans.  I live in houston and when i was in high school this girl from LA moved next door.  She actually thought we rode horses to school!!

  74. Interestingly, we here in New Mexico suffer from a sort of inversion of this effect whenever we communicate with the outside world: it is amazing how many stories there are of people thinking that we are a foreign country. More than once, while working phone tech support for a national ISP, have I been told that I “speak remarkably good english” for being here. A friend of mine got pulled over once in Oklahoma because he had “out of country plates”. He wound up having to go back to the state trooper’s office and show him a map of the US in order to avoid a ticket. For those of you who are geographically challenged, I would like to point out that Oklahoma is very close to New Mexico.

  75. Lots of Southern Illinoisans posting in the comments, very interesting.  I come from all the way down at the bottom of the state.  I think it’s awesome when a candidate running for statewide office puts in a political ad, which runs in Southern Illinois, all the things they’re going to do for “downstate.” We’re like, what’s that? 

    Now I’m in Chicago for school.  People ask me where I’m from, I tell them Southern Illinois, and they tell me they have family in Peoria/Champaign/Quincy/you name it.  I explain to them that I live 3 or 4 hours south of those cities, and it blows their minds.

  76. sa, that’s interesting. i went to knox college which is in galesburg, close to peoria. i thought champaign was pretty south just because it was a few hours south east from galesburg, but i suppose illinois does span fairly low down.

    to all of you that are hating on the midwesterners, you need to at least acknowlege that the cities do not match up wtih your “like the south” and redneck ideals; i grew up in st.louis and i have to say most people there are more refined and more respectful than people in california, where i’m living now.

    californians are also much more state elitist than any other place i’ve ever been.

  77. Most Californians, along with the rest of the nation, think that Oregon extends down to just north of the San Francisco.  People ask “Where are you from?”, I tell them “I’m from Northern California”, they reply “Oh, you mean San Francisco”, (San Franciscans ask, “Marin or Santa Rosa?).  I explain that “No, I’m about 250 miles north of there, most people pause for a moment, then ask, “Don’t you mean Oregon?”

    I try to explain that “Oregon is still over 100 miles north of me, …”.  Then I see the look in their eyes that tell me they have gone on, to some place where there is no geography, and thinking, much less conversing, is purely optional.

    So I head back home to the real NORTHERN California, tucked behind the ‘Redwood Curtian’, to a plce called the ‘Humboldt Nation’, content in our security, claoked by the ‘safety of ignorance’.

  78. So true. I grew up in Phoenix, and moved to San Diego for college. Kept getting asked “Where’s Phoenix?” I learned to just say “east”.  The students from the Bay Area who knew where Phoenix was said “wow, why did you come so far away for college” unable to comprehend that Phx-SD is a lot shorter drive than SF-SD.

  79. When I lived in Seattle, people couldn’t quite grasp that I was from Ohio.  They would introduce me to people and say I was from Idaho (which you would think they would be familiar with as it borders WA), and if I started to correct them, they would say, “Oh, right, Iowa.” Apparently the syllables and vowels were sufficiently similar.

    Having lived in WA, CA, CO, RI, CT, FL, and OH, and travelled extensively throughout most of the country, I think people in the Midwest probably have the best (although not impressive) understanding of U.S. geography, if only because they are more likely to want to see other places.

    And when I say “The Midwest,” I am not including anything that rightly belongs in The South (everything South of, and including, West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky) or Up North (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota).

  80. People are stupid.  That certainly isn’t news. This whole “Americans are idiots who don’t know geography” topic always makes me laugh. Give Europeans a geography test…or the Chinese. We don’t have a monopoly on ignorance (although that seems to be the prevailing myth).  Well, I take it back – the 10 identical snow-cone white guys that live in Sweden know everything.  But I digress… Californians are the snobbiest people on Earth. I was born in NYC, grew up in the Midwest, and live in the Southwest.  It boils down to this:

    East Coast = people are a pain in the ass and rude, but they are generally honest, direct, and friendly.

    Midwest = people are polite but have ice in their veins—most unfriendly people on Earth. Anyone who says “oh, people in the Midwest are so friendly!” obviously don’t actually live there.  They mean to say “polite,” NOT friendly.

    Oh yeah, people from the Midwest (esp. MN) have an inferiority complex when it comes to the rest of the country (except maybe the South, because what isn’t superior to that?)

    California = stuck-up, plastic, snobby, fake, superficial, self-important…did i miss one?

  81. I grew up in California so I had the same view of the other states.  When at 70 I moved to Missouri, I had to make a conscious effort to learn to spell the name of the state..I couldn’t figure how how MO made Missouri.  And when I drove to Kansas City…it was located in TWO DIFFERENT states…. imagine that.  I lived in one state and went to a different one to shop.  Egad.

  82. “And when I say “The Midwest,” I am not including anything that rightly belongs… Up North (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota).”

    Huuuuh?  I have heard many different definitions of what makes up The Midwest, but never have I heard one that doesn’t include these three states.  In fact they’re kind of the epidome of the Midwest.

    I’m from Wisconsin, and to me The Midwest is: MN, WI, MI, IA, IL, IN, and OH.

    (Lots of people include MO, but I always considered it part of The South, but would grudgingly admit to it belonging if pressed.)

    ND, SD, NE, and KS are also not part of of The Midwest.  They’re Plains States.

  83. Oh I forgot…

    “Oh yeah, people from the Midwest (esp. MN) have an inferiority complex when it comes to the rest of the country”

    I bet constantly being the butt of jokes and being told “You don’t matter” gets to a person, eh?

    (Get that?  That was a joke.)

  84. I, too, had that wooden puzzle! And, coincidentally, I grew up in California!  This was funny…and the folks who mention that New Yorkers are worse (or at least even) are right. I lived in NYC for 4 years and most New Yorkers know there are cities and states outside of NYC—but they just don’t care about them. I am guilty of same when living there.

    Funny anecdote that reinforces why Californians are clueless growing up here: We had to make a topography map of California in 5th grade—with dough molded into the shape of the mountain ranges, etc.—and several people painted the entire board on which it sat BLUE for ocean.  As though CA was really an island. hee.

  85. Most Chicagoans think Chicago is a state…..

  86. I had that same map, although on mine Ri and Delaware were too small to get their own pieces and were annexed by their sister states (whatever those are). Here in Maine, the state is looking into paving our first road.

  87. “I bet constantly being the butt of jokes and being told “You don’t matter” gets to a person, eh?”

    That just means they don’t matter and need to grow some skin.

    Face it, people say the Midwest “doesn’t matter” because it generally doesn’t. Not politically, not culturally, not economically.  So you have two choices:  1) escape, or 2) tell us about the important economic and cultural Mecca that is Madison, Wisconsin (in indignant tones).  I lived in the Midwest for 20 years, and nothing was more annoying than the desperate comparisons to places like NY and California—and the pathetic “this will finally put us on the map” attitude.  All of this doesn’t mean places like NY or LA are “better” than the Midwest—they just have a different set of faults.

  88. 87 now 88 comments…amazing R!  Where did all these people come from!?  Back east?!  Midwest?!  You mean there are etherfarm readers outside the state of California and Chicago?!


  89. For those of you visiting this page directly from another site, I’ve posted a followup to the comments on this post.

  90. I had a plastic puzzle.

    I grew up in Socal, and while I was there, Northern California was everything north of…San Luis Obispo.

    I have been in Northern California for quite a long time, and depending on my mood or “ whatever” Northern California starts at Santa Cruz or San Francisco.

    I especially liked the Oregon state, but I think it’s also known as very rainy and where Powell’s books is.

    This was hilarious. Thanks, from the “ wine country” or “ redwood corridor” or “emerald triangle”…

  91. Sadly, it gets worse when you leave the country. When I told someone from England that I was from Kansas, they asked when we’d won our independence from Nebraska. Puh-leaze. As if those cornshuckers could oppress the Wheaties boys.

  92. I lived in Chicago for eight years before moving to Lubbock, TX.  In my experience, everything north of Evanston, south of Beverly, and west of Oak Park was “downstate Illinois.” As for West Texas, folks here have a dim grasp of the concepts of “Oklahoma” and “New Mexico”, but that’s as far as it goes.  I mean, if you live in West Texas, why on earth would you want to go somewhere else?

    Even someplace nicer.  Like Detroit.  Or Tikrit.

  93. Now that I think about it, Chicago neighborhoods were pretty provincial, too.  I knew folks who thought of everything south of Fullerton as the South Side.  Of course, I called everything north of 35th the North Side, so it cuts both ways.

  94. I grew up in Southern California, and I would only suggest one change. We know Death Valley is in California, even if we don’t know quite where in California. Take #6 and divide it in half. The northern half is now “By Colorado” and the southern half is “By Arizona.”

    “Back East” is exactly right. And New England has to be a state, because they have a football team. Duh.

  95. Hamilton Lovecraft March 1, 2004 at 5:13 pm

    California = stuck-up, plastic, snobby, fake, superficial, self-important-did i miss one?

    Yeah but that’s just SOUTHERN California. Not The City.

  96. Dead on.  I’ve been migrating since I left high school (Chicagoland), ending up in PA, Boston, and now the Bay Area, and everything about your map is 100% true.  To be fair, people here really don’t have much cause to leave.  The state has nature, weather, big cities, country, farmland, and most other things you might be interested in.  People from NorCal go to SoCal for college and vice-versa.  And why shouldn’t they; they’re some of the best colleges in the country.

    To be fair, east coasters are equally ignorant about the distances involved on the west coast.  I told my (college educated) friend I was going to the Bay Area, and he said that was good because he might end up in Portland, OR.  He was surprised when I pointed out that that was farther from here than Pittsburgh, PA was from Boston, MA.

  97. Ryan

    I have heard many different definitions of what makes up The Midwest, but never have I heard one that doesn’t include these three states. In fact they’re kind of the epidome of the Midwest.

    That’s definitely an ‘Ohio thing’… Due to the football rivalry, Michigan is “the state Up North”… and everything else west til Montana just blends in!

  98. First, I must amend Hamilton…include NORTHERN California too.  SoCal is like a foreign land compared to NorCal.

    Now, anecdotes:

    Schooled in CA and HI with a great sense of both US and world geography (blame or reward Hawaii), but then I read voraciously and have an innate curiousity about almost anything.

    I’ve met people who simply blow a gasket when they find out it ACTUALLY snows in California (I was raised in Tahoe…the big mountain lake shared by both CA and NV).  We used to laugh at the Midwest, State of Chicago and Back East residents who couldn’t do much of anything once they had accumulated 2 inches of snow.

    A friend who did an exchange to Australia in high school explained that their perception of CA was beach, SF and LA.  Again, incredulous that it actually snows here.

    Finally, I will totally (oh my gawd!) cop to being a snob about the rest of the country; HOWEVER, I’ve actually travelled to significant parts of the country, and I’ve earned that right (sorry, had to make some over-generalized statement on this thread). 

    Nah, cool country in general.  It’s the idiots everywhere you have to worry about.

  99. My son has one of those wooden puzzles; I don’t remember where we got it.  Even Californians usually can’t tell Irvine (where I am, in Orange County) from Davis (that other UC town near Sacramento).

    click, unless you are trying to be sarcastic, you are demonstrating the same geographical ignorance about points within the state.  SLO, Paso Robles, Cambria, Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach are all concentrated in a very small part of the area between San Jose and Santa Barbara.  You’re forgetting Monterey, Santa Maria, Lompoc, Coalinga, Visalia, King City, Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Fresno, Bakersfield, and no doubt many others (not even including nonentities like Buttonwillow that are more familiar to LA-SF auto travelers).

  100. That was absolutely fabulous!

  101. As a Californian (born in Oakland, grew up in hell – er, Fresno; now living in Santa Cruz), you’re dead on about most of this.  But it should be pointed out that for most intents and purposes, California is really two different states, North and South.  As far as geography goes, people in Fresno are very fond of calling our part of the Valley “Central California”, even though that;s an amalgam of the Central Valley and the Central Coast, not one entity.  And a friend of mine and I once argued at length over whether Santa Barbara is part of SoCal or not.  I still can’t get over people saying “the” in front of Highway numbers – that’s hella wierd

    ps. as far as geographic ignorance goes, try telling someone from Vancouver they live in the “Pacific Northwest” – oops!

  102. Chris Vosburg March 1, 2004 at 7:04 pm

    From Los Angeles, went to college in Beloit, Wisconsin, which was referred to as “Back East” by friends in California, and “Out West” by friends of those students from, uh, New England.

    Naturally, everyone not from California assumed I surfed, and I tried to be a good sport and play the part, telling them, when asked how I liked all the snow, “Whoa, it’s totally gnarly, dude, it keeps getting in my flip-flops and bumming me out to the max.”

    Nevertheless, there I built my first snowman at age eighteen, soon moving on to advanced free-standing bathroom fixtures. Fondest memories of the girl who taught me to make snow angels one lustrous night in the dead of winter, and I quickly earned a reputation as “that idiot kid from California who actually likes snow.”

  103. Kris Hasson-Jones March 1, 2004 at 8:34 pm

    In the interests of clarity, what you have there is a map of the *contiguous* United States.  The continental US includes Alaska (which is, after all, on the same continent).

  104. Chicago SHOULD be it’s own state.  Once you’re past Joliet you might as well be in Missouri – rednecks drinking “sodee” and putting it in a “sack”. Inbreeding and Klan meetings.  Exceptions for the college towns…..

  105. As a native New Mexican, I have to echo the comments from up thread: at least everyone knows that your states are part of the US.  After telling people that I’m from New Mexico, I’ve been told that I don’t look Hispanic (uh, that’s ‘cause I’m not), that my English is very good, asked whether we have paved roads, how long I’ve been in the country, what do I think of the States, and on, and on, and on.  Even people from California and Texas are often confused about my citizenship.

    I now live in DC, and I have to say, for all its faults and provincialism, DC political professionals know their geography.  When your livelihood depends on a strong understanding of what the rest of the country is up to, you learn to pay close attention to all those states you never managed to memorize in high school.

  106. Four corrections from this native Californian:

    The state of Back East borders the state of Chicago.  You left off the state of the South, which is somewhere northwest and inland of Florida and doesn’t actually touch ocean; that’s where all the KKK members and guys who put their pickups up on blocks live.  The Midwest (also known to pre-airline-deregulation Californians as the Flyover Zone, which is not really a state but more like an East Coast-West Coast DMZ) is accordingly much smaller than it’s depicted on your map.  And Northern California (which starts at the northern border of Sonoma County, a border running along a southwest axis between Morgan Hill and Monterey, and an eastern border of… oh, somewhere over the hill) and Southern California (south of Santa Barbara, going east to… well, nowhere anyone I know would ever go) are in fact two separate states.

    See?  We’re not *all* geographically ignorant.  Duh.

  107. I don’t suppose this comment is really necessary, try getting anyone to have a clue about what and where things are in Australia…I mean for starters…we’re all supposed to have pet kangaroos that we ride around.

    Strewth maate!

  108. Dude, who cares where all the other states are?  I live in *California.*

  109. I have lived in TX, NM, MN, Il, OH, CA, WY, CA, MN, CA for 3rd time. In Ohio in third grade we were learning about the Pilgrims and the Iriduois Nation. I moved to la CA and it was all about Cortez, Pizzaro, and Cabrillo,

    The most insular people have to be native San Diegans. They have been to DisneyLand, but not central LA or Hollywood. If they are 50+ old, perhaps San Francisco. ( It is not called “The City” down here.) If they are surfers they have been to Cabo and Hawaii. Actually most have been to Hawaii. Vegas. The River. If they landed on the east side of The River, then they’ve been to ZonerLand. Tijuana, and if all traveled and stuff, then San Felipe. If they are Mormons, then Salt Lake City, once.

    That’s it.

  110. Yaah, but as someone actually born in Los Angeles, can’t figure how you get all these comments from californians cuz I hardly ever run into anyone originally from california. Is it just me but many of my friends, born in california, now live in Washington and Colorado.

  111. I’m a California native, now living in the state of Seattle. When I was very small, my family lived within a few miles of the Oregon border in a town that used to get heavy snow for months, and now gets maybe a few inches for a week. I’ve grew up mostly around LA county, and worked in the Bay Area for a couple years during the last boom.

    The map is substantially correct, but I’ll put in yet another vote to add The South as a state, and possibly New England.

    Travel makes wonderful geographers out of people. I went to New Hampshire for a campaign recently, and it was odd to me how many states you could drive through in such a short amount of time. There are counties out west bigger than some of those states. CA is huge, diverse, the 5th largest economy in the world, and is featured in many of the movies and TV shows made right there at home which get wall-to-wall exposure in CA. It’s expensive to travel out of state from the main population centers, and practically unecessary for the majority of people.

    But it’s it’s a microcosm of the gap between the US and Europe. Europe is geographically compact, travel is quick, simple, and cheap, as well as connected by land routes to Asia and Africa. A European could travel as easily through Europe as a Californian could travel through their state, or as a New Englander could travel through that area. I’d submit that the relative costs are comparable in terms of effort and difficulty. (Though EU folks probably get off cheaper in terms of cash outlay, and travel farther with less effort due to the rail system there.)

    So you step from countries, to states, to state, the inhabitants of each getting progressively less information about areas outside, while it becomes progressively harder to get past the boundaries of easy travelling.

    And there are a lot of snobby Californians, but where can you go and not find snobs? At least you don’t hear it said that people from the west coast won’t vote for a ticket that isn’t balanced with a westerner on it, as though no one else in the world could get a handle on our issues.

  112. I grew up in St. Louis, and now in Detroit—from my perspective I moved from the south to the north. (I used to think I lived in the midwest, but now I know that it was the south. And I’ve never thought of Michigan as midwest—it’s always been east.)

    One nice thing about Detroit is that Canada is *south*.

    My mom went to NYC, and the concierge asked her for her passport, since obviously someone from St. Louis must be from Bermuda or the Bahamas….

  113. Interestingly non-random distribution here. I’m in the “from Chicago” category too. The state tourism department used to run ads “Just outside Chicago there’s a place called Illinois” but most people seemed to think they meant Kankakee. When my wee wifey was doing statewide political work many years ago, she got a call from the representative from Geneseo. She thinks he changed his vote because she knew the name of the town’s excellent barbacue restaurant (the Cellar).

  114. All true – but the reason is that CA is pretty every state except Manhatten (pretty much what we consider NY).

    We got casual snow (Big Bear, Tahoe) and we got deep snow (Mammoth), we got desert, a giant granite park (Yosemite) and the highest peak in the continental US. We got the redwoods. We got the ocean from cold waters (quaint fishing villages in Northern CA) to Baywatch Beaches. We’re France (Wine Country) and if if like rain, everything north of Mendicino is rainy. We got the midwest in central ca – s**tkickers, lots of farms, hot and windy. We got hippie gov’t in Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Santa Monica. We got abject poverty and places where the AVERAGE House is $1 million+ (Atherton, San Marino).

    We got the original Disneyland and most of the original g’s. We got most of the movie stars, the Golden Gate Bridge and we have a governor that has killed cyborgs from the future.

    Other than the very north, it’s pretty warm to hot all year round so that pretty much eliminates the need to go to anything below I-80 AND we have virtually no humidity – well, maybe 3 days a year.

    Flights across the state costs $39 (thank you Southwest!)

    I can’t imagine there isn’t someone from every country in the world in CA and probably a few that left and that country is gone now … and they’ve all opened restaurants so we have the best food in the world.

    As for Chicago – nice town but when the BEARS or the CUBS are doing well, there all show up at the same bars and pubs in my neighborhood – there are more people from Chicago in CA than there are people in Chicago!

    Other than Manhatten being center of media, easy to walk around, Broadway shows and clubs – we have EVERYTHING else.

    Sure, there’s not much history but we’re also not carrying grudges from 1880.

    CALIFORNIA is the U.S. or perhaps the Greatest Hits of the U.S.

  115. I guess I am provincial, but when I think of California, I think of the Manson family, plastic surgery, traffic, and Bob Dornan.  What’s Bob doing these days?  Think he’s ever read a book?

  116. …there are more people from Chicago in CA than there are people in Chicago!

    So true.  Almost everyone I meet here in California is from someplace else.  It may appear that the Californian’s perspective isn’t truly Californian afterall.

    A very funny map & legend nonetheless.

  117. Texas should have been known as the place where Californians fled during the Boom. Over half the inquiries to the Austin Chamber of Commerce during those years came from California, and like Oregon and Washington, we suffered an influx of Californians. I used to joke with friends that we should stopped illegal immigration by setting up a roadblock on I-10 at El Paso and turn back the Californians. I imagine they’ve thinned out some now, since I moved roughly at the same time the Bust began.

  118. I’m from South Florida and I can tell you that the Florida you speak of doesn’t extend that far North. Infact, I don’t even know if we count as being part of the U.S. at all

  119. I’m a fifth generation Southern Californian.  And I don’t get the joke.  This is *exactly* how I understand the world to be.

  120. Speaking as a European, whenever an American asks me why Europeans get so ticked off with Americans and allege the stupidity of Americans from time to time , I reckon I’ll point them to this thread.

    How the hell can someone think Chicago is a state, or not know where Phoenix is? And this is your own country!!!

    And as for that concierge….Jesus H. Christ.

    The thing that really gets me though, is that a country capable of sending men to the moon can produce such complete ignorance about their own country.

  121. As an immigrant to California who’s finally started to see the summer hills as “golden” and not “brown”, I’ve got to point out that one thing missing: California is not one state, it’s three.

    1. (the one true) California starts just north of Hearst Castle and extends up along the coast, stretching inland at about Redding.

    2. SoCal is the part we’d really like to lop off and give back to Mexico or let sink. It’s that region where there are no waiters, only actors waiting for their big break (and, it needs to be noted, can’t act like waiters) and the cab drivers all have screenplays they’d love to sell you. And all the the directors and agents who will happily call a corked bottle of vinegar “wine” if you make ‘em pay $200 for it.

    3. If it wasn’t for the Sierra we’d consider the Central Valley part of Nevada. Except when all the pollution floating in from SoCal causes asthma in the children and gets our liberal hackles up because we can blame that on the Republicans pushing for more lax air standards.

  122. I, as well, grew up in SoCal. I live in NH now. The only correction to your map would be to the state of Chicago. I’ll admit it seems to be a state, but most Californians probably wouldn’t be able to place it on a map. “Somewhere in the midwest” would probably be as close as they come. Maybe near the top of the line of the Mississippi…

    My favorite question is from the locals here, though. They ask me why I left California. This certainly contributes to California snobbery.

  123. As hilarious as I find this entry (and most of the follow-up comments) because I live in California, I’d like to point out that a huge number of self-titled Californians are actually from somewhere else. In fact, the ones who move here after having grown up “back East” tend to REALLY go native with the yoga, Hollywood name-dropping, and cosmetic surgery. So, poking fun at our ignorance and blaming it on the California school system is rather ironic, given that us dummies probably got our educations from the same place as those poking the fun.

    Oh, and those people on “Jaywalking” are tourists. The Tonight Show tends to find them at theme parks and other tourist traps that most Californians avoid at all costs, except when they have to entertain out-of-town guests. People love to come visit when you live here. Go figure.

  124. I lived in Chicago for eight years before moving to Lubbock, TX. In my experience, everything north of Evanston, south of Beverly, and west of Oak Park was ‘downstate Illinois.’

    This would be eight years during… the 1950s?  Even during my ‘80s childhood, suburbia reached far beyond those boundaries.  All those quintessentially suburban teenage movies John Hughes (fellow Glenbrook North grad) did were set north of Evanston.  Today, it extends nearly to the Wisconsin border to the north, Elgin to the west, and Joliet to the southwest.

    But anything south of I-80 is still “downstate”, and considered hicksville. 

    (I’ve spent the last 8 years in San Diego, and about half of everyone I’ve met hails from the state of Chicago.)

  125. One could reduce this map to two states: California and “Other.”

    Other seems to be the state that people leave when given the chance.  Other has most of those curious beasts who actually want a dirty-sock puppet with button eyes for a president. Other has really, really fat people.  Other gets too cold and too hot.

    California has people with yoga mats, healthy diets, kind smiles, and libido that doesn’t rely on pharmaceuticals.  California has Other well represented within its borders, including all of those curious beasts who actually want a cybernetic death machine for governor.

    Here and there in Other are nice pockets of California.  There you’ll find yoga mats, healthy diets…

  126. I see some people saying we europeans have the same dismal knowledge of geography that is topical of USA people.

    Well, of course I just can talk about my near environment, but I can tell you we are REQUIRED in school (about age 10 years) to have quite good knowledge of physical, political (/historical), economical, even climate geography of our country (I’m spanish). Later, with a bit less of detail, the whole continent … and finally the whole PLANET, though with coarser detail. From the Yang-Tze to the Rocky Mountains.

    Furthermore, not long ago I met someone from Czech Republic (also in Europe). She told me that they studied the WHOLE Europe with the finest detail; in fact she knew Spain better than me!. When she realized my puzzlement, she explained that perhaps they were required to study that way because, when she was young, Czech Republic was still an URSS ally that had to be prepared to fight western Europe… (scary! ).

    Back to the subject of USA people and geography knowledge: when on 1992 Spain hosted the Olympics, it was quite funny (or should I say worrisome) seeing USA people on the TV trying to explain where Spain was. The smartest ones were hardly capable of finding Europe!! Lots of people here just didn’t believe such ignorance was possible… “They’re joking, man!”.

    Finally… about a year ago I heard some statistics saying that some IMPORTANT (>10%?) percentage of USA people didn’t believe that the world is spherical………….. Again, I thought that was impossible. But now I’m not that sure!

  127. I’ve lately heard that the trendy way to reference to the mid-west states is as “the fly-over zone”

    also, remember to have the Calfornian province of Burning Man somewhere in the state of Death Valley.


    (born in upstate new york, i.e. far enough north that the only train into manhattan is amtrak, but not far enough to stop the baleful glares from the folks in Plattsburgh. Now living in Boston. Really glad that I developed a love of maps at the age of 4, when the whole family drove to the west coast, hitting many national parks along the way.)

  128. Current Californian here who was born in Connecticut, raised in Cleveland, educated in Washington, DC.  I also lived in Brussels, Philadelphia and Hawaii before I moved here.

    The provincialism you accuse California of is, sadly, no different than what you find in many places.

    In Philly, when I lived there, people were surprised that I opted to travel farther than the Jersey Shore.

    Folks in Cleveland?  a big trip is to Chicago.

    So, not really a California-alone issue. Sorry.

  129. This was awesome!  You should’ve taken Lake Michigan out of the state of Chicago.  Most people don’t even know that Chicago happens to be on the lakefront.  Whenever I comment to people about how I went sailing on the lake, to the beach, swimming, etc.—they swear I went out of the state.

  130. I have not read all of your comments yet so forgive me of this was covered already.. but form a Californians point of view, there is no “South”? That’s crazy.  The “south” is so defined and different that the north east…

    Great article, I enjoyed it very very much.

  131. Actual conversation:

    Girl in Florida: What college do you go to?

    Me: University of Delaware.

    Girl in Florida: Where’s that?

    Me: It’s in Newark, just south of Wilmington.

    Girl in Florida: No, I mean what state is that in?

  132. OK, native Northern Californian weighing in. That map is hysterical. Actually, to be honest, also rather true. Except for two major flaws. Everyone knows Death Valley is in CA. That’s where all the desert raves are. Also, we know Nevada exists as a state. I don’t know why, we just do. But maybe that’s just us here in Nor Cal. Oh, also one more vote for “Back East.”

    Oh, and in our defence, everyone else in the country thinks the entire state is like Malibu. You should’ve seen my cousins from Minnesota shivering their butts off here in San Francisco because they didn’t believe me when I said, “No, really, I live on the ocean and it gets REALLY FOGGY during the summer. Bring a sweater.” They laughed at me and asked if the surfers all wear sweaters too. They don’t. They wear full body wetsuits. And my cousins borrowed all my sweaters while they were here.

  133. Tee Hee! So funny… I think Rhode Islanders have a great sense of geography, because the rest of the country has farms bigger than our state. If you get lost driving (and that happened to me a lot when I first got my licence) you end up in Connecticut if you’re trying to get somewhere nice or in Massachusetts if you’re trying to get to a mall or something. Also, people don’t believe R.I. is a state, they decide you’re from some weird part of New York. Or, that all of Rhode Island is an island.

    Californians are nicer about this than N.Y.C. people though, people I met in L.A. were very friendly if spacy, and said nice things re: “Back East”, while some assy New Yorker I met at a party looked me up and down as if lobsters might come creeping out from my clothes and said “What does one do in Rhode Island?” as if he thought I was going to say “mend nets in the winter and quahogg all summer.” Also, I lived in Finland (Tampere, next to Nokia!) for a while, and most of the people I met could name every state and capital in the U.S.

    Random thing: Apparently Bill Gates makes people at his dinner parties draw maps of the U.S. from memory and the person who makes the most detailed and accurate one “wins”. Bill Ballmer is supposed to rock at this game.

  134. that’s awesome. i grew up in IA and went to school “back east.” so true.

  135. This is great.  Being a geographer and having been born and raised in California, I enjoyed this very much, thank you.  You should check out the same thing that was done for the Texan’s view of the United States.  There is a Texocentric joke for virtually every state in the union, as there is less aggregation.  Even the borders of the states are modified to reflect the perceptions of proud and/or ignorant Texans.  I’ve seen this map on postcards, but most recently in the Richard Francaviglia book The Shape of Texas: Maps as Metaphors.  It’s classic.

  136. That map is pretty funny, as someone who hails from the state of Chicago as well I think that you may want to decrease the size of the Great Lakes on the map as it seems everyone I’ve met from CA is convinced that lake Michigan is about 500 feet across and can’t imagine that people actually boat, swim, and yes, even attempt to surf in it (but then again those surfers are often the mad sorts that surf in December in wetsuits dodging chunks of ice, so they aren’t quite sane).  Also you might want to put us a bit close to the Arctic circle judging by some of the questions I’ve had about this mysterious season known as winter I’ve gotten (honestly folks). That being said, regionalism does exist pretty much everywhere, because as you know they just got indoor plumbing south of Joliet last year … and don’t even get me started on Wisconsin

  137. Having lived in Orange County for approximately a quarter of a century, I do find this map to be quite accurate. However, California should not stay together as a whole state; there is that “909” area that should be considered a different state, or considered to be a part of the Mid West. This Inland Empire, the “IE”, contains cities such as Riverside, Corona, Lake Elsinore, and others that carry the stereotype of being white trash. It is simply a large patch of boring dirt, crack houses, or mobile homes, and Wal-Marts that must be driven through on the way to the state of Vegas. Hmmm…. Yeah.

  138. As a native (8th Generation, mind you) Californian who is well-versed in national & international geography, I must say that I appreciated your map.  It is so true.  I have to say, though, that we have reason to be snobbish when it comes to our state.  We have the best of all worlds – otherwise, why would so many people pay so much to move here?  I advocate making our own country; after all, we are the 6th largest economy in the world!!!  And after we secede from the union, we’ll impose strict immigration laws, so you can all stay at home in the flyover zone (or Manhattan) and complain about how snobbish we are!!!

  139. Res Ipsa Crap July 27, 2004 at 2:17 am

    That was a great map! I’m an international JD student over in Pennsylvania (which, interestingly, isn’t on the map), so it’s fun to see that my conception of the U.S. geography is superior compared to Americans’ own conception. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.

    But honestly, I can personally attest to the absolute dearth of world geographical knowledge of the Americans, be they from west or east. If u ever attempt an international map from the typical American’s standpoint, it’d be divided thus:



    France (that annoying country we hate)

    Iraq (that annoying country with oil)


  140. Am I the only person who sees irony in a mob of people accusing Californians of being snobby and provincial, who do nothing but get plastic surgery, surf, and practice Yoga?  Mmm broad generalizations.  Hello Pot. Meet my friend Mr. Kettle.

    News break.  People are idiots *everywhere*.  Hope you were sitting down for that one.

  141. Oh!  Are Pot and Kettle visiting?  Someone should have told me.  As one who’s lived in both Northern and Southern California and moved to the Northeast U.S., I say that Californians are obsessed with themselves.  Gadgets, cars, houses, stock market options, Abercrombie, hair gel, platform shoes… descend upon the world, the wave of the future, right out of college!  There’s nothing to force them to grow up, so why should they?  Children in big bodies who then become fixated on finding the perfect significant other who’ll do those weird sex tricks in bed mentioned in the city periodicals. Goodness gracious.  No. Cal doesn’t have the same ditziness that So. Cal has, but they suffer from a similarly conformist affliction in their thinking.  Sitting around with those triple-foam chai lattes talking about what an @$$ the president is doesn’t teach anyone anything, you know. Complaining why the rest of the country hasn’t caught up with California doesn’t fix job markets, change climates, nor teach reading and writing. Why? ‘Cause the people complaining never step out of “paradise”!  Go fix Detroit.  I have a lot more respect for people who are tough enough to live elsewhere, no matter what their politics.

  142. Great map, but I hate to pick only on Californians.  I’m from Southern Illinois, and everything north of Springfield is Chicago.  This is not ignorance, though, just laziness.  I also tend to call myself a St. Louisan, especially when I’m in other parts of the country.  However, maybe I should just say “midwest.” Apparently, most people wouldn’t know the difference….

  143. CA_Kiss_My_@$$ August 9, 2005 at 4:42 pm

    ’Grew up in Mass., ‘been in SoCal since college, and ‘visited nearly half the puzzle

    pieces.  19 years ago I embaaked on a daring, wicked adventaa, faa away at the University of Spoiled Children.  My first dorm breakfast with a SoCal girl: “Cape Cod!  Isn’t that where they launch the shuttle from?” At least she didn’t ask if I knew the Kennedys.  But it wasn’t too bad: I lost my accent, but didn’t have to keep up with the rich kids because there were thousands of normal students from around the world to learn from.

    Living in SoCal – specifically, in Ventura County, half-way between America’s Toilet Bowl and Santa Barbara – would prove another story, especially once I became disabled and unemployed, and had to seek friends outside those one makes by default at work. 

    I belatedly realized that what’s seldom called “the Southland” except by news bobbleheads is definitely the snobbiest, unfriendliest area in the country if not the globe.  That’s repeatedly confirmed by natives and migrants themselves, especially when just back from travel.  That folks in Chicago, Seattle, or Atlanta actually say “hi” on the street, let alone waste precious minutes chit-chatting for no personal gain, shocks them, and with good reason.  Perhaps nine of ten passers-by here deliberately avoid eye-contact; at least

    half won’t answer “hello” back (9/12/01 being an exception).  If a stranger does approach, either they want your money, they’re gay and desparate, or as is usually and ironically the case, they’re out to save your soul.  But help you in the breakdown lane?  Forget it – everyone remembers the Good Samaritan who stopped for someone in L.A. and got blown away.

    Some blame unspecified “distractions” for this paranoid insularity.  Most of the worthwhile distractions, however, are less available as the stressed-out aliens waste more time in traffic or working like a dog at one or two jobs to pay off a $300,000 condo and a Lexus. 

    IMO, California’s diversity is more weakness than strength, and FBOW, the ground doesn’t

    shake or burn enough to bond people like tornados or blizzards.  I’ve lived in the same

    studio apartment for 12 years, and never once have been able to get to know a neighbor whom I could repeatedly drop in on.  Californians are indeed tolerant in an ignorant way; they are born or come here with their little hopes and dreams, and generally ignore anyone who’s not crucial to them. 

    The statement by another contributor about Midwesterners having ice in their veins struck me odd, for I’ve found Midwesterners on any trip not merely polite but plenty helpful.  (Perhaps he was Indian or black – ‘says something for there being “no utopia.”) From my Protestant church singles group – definitely a group of “out-theres” if there ever was one – two of my four new best friends are from the Midwest; one from Georgia, the other from here.  None apparently feel “paradise” is worth the price it now commands anyway: three have left the Golden state with the forth soon to follow.  Last year in fact was the first in decades that more people left California than entered, and I hope to join the former soon.

  144. This is great!  Born and raised in Milwaukee, WI along the coast of one of the largest bodies of fresh water on the planet.  When I visit other states, spefically NY (never been to CA and don’t know how geographically ignorent the people actually are, just that we loose most of our beautiful women to S. Cal) my conversations usually go a little something like this.  this is an actual conversation I had.

    “Where are you from?”


    “Where is that?”

    “It’s in southeastern Wisconsin You’re drinking a Miller lite, it was brewed in Milwaukee.”

    “I’ve heard of Wisconsin, you guys like eating cheese, right?”

    “Umm, yes, don’t you?”

    “Don’t you guys, like, go cow-tipping and stuff?”

    “I live in a metropolitan area of over a million people.  Why would I drive an hour out of my way to find a cow to tip over?”

    “There a million people in Wisconsin?”

    “Yeah, specifically in the greater Milwaukee area, and 8 million just to the south.”

    “What’s just to the south.”


    “Oh, Chicago.  I know where that is!  That’s by THE Great LAKE, right?”

    “Yes, THE Great Lake.  Have you ever been west of the city”

    “No, why would I want to?”

    “Let me buy you another beer…”

  145. State Of Jefferson January 19, 2006 at 3:10 pm

    As a Californian living in Chicago, please let me say: No, I do NOT know any goddamned movie stars! Midwestern people stand to close together in the grocery store checkout, and the word is soda, not “pop”.

    And we don’t take Governer Ahnold seroisly, either.

  146. Well, you’all, I’m from Beautiful British Columbia (bc to us Canadians) that would be the western province of Canada. I moved to the USA in 1987 right after 1986 World Expo happend in Vancouver. I moved to San Diego California and I loved every Sunny moment of it then we were transfered to the marshy/sandy land of Amelia Island, Florida (didn’t see Disney World or Land keep getting em mixed up till I was there for a couple years. And im sorry America but I think Florida Rocks big time. Then we moved to the very picturesque state of Virginia 2 years later I find myself back in Canada and I’m still missing the homeland of the United States of America. I now live in NewFoundland and its way different then Vancouver BC. God bless you all.  Love always Louise Adams

  147. Well – I am surprised that one comment about where the pope lives being called Romania – and I always thought the place to be called Vatican City.

    Not withstanding I think geographically Americans are challenged, no matter where you go, and ask one to read a map – and they cannot do it. Is it the Air? The drugs from down under – here in Florida – I balme it on the snow which falls from the sky all year around. (I think some people say there is a columbian jet stream it manages to get mixed in with.)

  148. Well, I’m sure the person named “State of Jefferson” knows the story, but I am from that blob north of San Francisco and south of Oregon.  If you include part of southern Oregon and almost all of Northern California , then you are in the State of Jefferson–or would be if the secession efforts in 1941 weren’t put on indefinite hold by World War II.

    My question is why do people call San Francisco and Sacramento “Northern California?  The way I see it:  Ventura, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino Counties and further south are Southern California.  Santa Barbara/Kern Counties north to Marin/Sacramento counties (and whatever’s east of there–a bunch of our smaller counties like Placer and El Dorado) form up Central California, and everything from Sonoma – Del Norte and eastward to the Nevada border are Northern California.  (I have found by making this comment I am quite the “western” Californcentric person.  I can think of towns and resorts in eastern California, but I really don’t know the counties.)

    By the way, I didn’t have the puzzle, but my sister and I had a bulletin board with all the states and capitals.  [Bismarck is the capital of North Dakota, whereas Pierre is the capital of South Dakota.) Our dad would quiz us on them every week from the age of 7-9.  No way I can forget that the capital of New York is Albany and not New York City.  I think the only things I was slightly confused on until I turned 8 was thinking that Canada and it’s provinces were part of the United States.  While I never studied geography in elementary, junior high, or senior high school, I truly enjoy studying it on my own.  I also watch the BBC News so I can see what’s going on in the world, not just the weatherman complaining because we have “June Gloom” in May.

  149. When you say “continental US, do you intend to include Alaska?  Alaska IS on the continent, but we aren’t CONTIGUOUS with the “Lower 48”.

    Many people confuse the two terms.  Check a thesaurus if you aren’t sure what these words mean, and look at an atlas where you will find Alaska connected to the continent of North America!

  150. I believe the problem of people confusing Alaska as part of the “continental US” comes from the airline industry who uses it regularly (or at least used to).

    I grew up in one of those midwestern states (Colorado) and on a map quiz in US history as a kid I could name everything west of Texas, but to the east where the state boundries are more sporadic I got a lot of them wrong.

  151. I laughed so hard, I damn near peed myself.  Oh by the way, that’s a bad east coast habit.  I’m from Jersey.  You’d be surprised, or probably not, at how many people think New Jersey is a city in New York.  I think the sun has melted most people’s brains.

  152. Jeez, I’m 19 and I know all my states and capitals, as well as most of Europe and Asia, even some places in Africa. I guess spending 12 years in the very liberal state of Colorado will educate you somewhat decently.

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    etherblog’s Map of the US as seen by Californians (via The Rage Diaries). God, it’s funny because it’s true. Wendy…

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