Monday, February 13, 2012

Soft Talk

I live in California.

I was born and raised here. So was my father.

I grew up in Southern California. When I was eighteen, I moved up to the San Francisco Bay Area. And aside from a few years in Florida and Louisiana, here I still am.

Other folks in my family came from other parts of the U.S. but all of them have lived all over California. Not just by the coast but in the mountains, deserts, farmlands and small towns of California. California is not just the coast.

(Hey! What's with this "folks" thing? Folks means people. Folks is a country or Southern way of talking about your people, your family. My family - my grandparents, my great-grandparents, and everyone before them - are from the country and many of them are from the South.)

In California, we speak "soft talk."

What is soft talk?

Soft talk means we don't like to tell you "no" directly.

Other parts of the U.S. are good for that. If you go to New York, people will tell you "no." They do not mean this in a bad way. They mean it in a clear way.

But we don't do that here in California.

We like to have and keep good feeling between people. We want you to like us.

This is stronger in Southern California. A little weaker in Northern California.

(By the way, there are lot of New Yorkers in Northern California. Many of them moved to the San Francisco Bay Area for jobs and schools. They like California culture and are drawn to it. They didn't have to come to California. But of course, like everyone, they brought some of their own culture with them. They move and talk faster than native Californians. And they say "no" more quickly and more directly and more easily.)

If you come from a culture that does not like to say "no" directly, you will understand California culture and soft talk and maybe you will not even think about this. You will just jump in and swim in the culture like a fish. Maybe you need the right English words for the indirect "no" but you understand the idea. No problem.

If you come from a culture that says "no" easily and directly, you might feel confused by the soft talk in California. Do they want something or not? Do you have a chance at the job or not? Do they want to be friends or not? And when they ask you something and you don't want it, you say "no." Easy peazy. Just like that. And just like that, without meaning to, you might offend a Californian.

Of course, if you offend a Californian, they will not tell you directly. But inside, they might have some bad feeling for you. They might not want to give you the job or the apartment or invite you to dinner. But they will never tell you this directly.

So how do Californians say "no" if they don't want to say it directly?

They might:

- talk a long time. They will probably talk in a confusing way. It feel like you are going in a circle and in the end you do not know if the answer is yes or no. I can tell you. The answer is no.

- tell you they will get back to you. And maybe they will. First, of course, they need to check their calendar or think about it or call a friendirst or check something on the Internet or... And then they will say "yes." Maybe. Or maybe you will never hear from them again. Or when you do, they will talk about something else. They will never mention the question you asked or the answer they never gave you. This means "No." "No, I don't want to do that. But I don't want to tell you "no" directly."

- say, "That's okay."

Be careful of "okay" in California!

Okay does not always mean yes!

If a Californian says, "that's okay" and kind of shakes their head back and forth, in a "no" kind of shake... that means, "No, that's very nice of you to offer but no, I don't want that."

If a Californian says, "Okay" and nods their head up and down, it means "yes," but it is not an enthusiastic yes. It is more like a "okay... I accept this... but I'm not crazy about."

And if a Californian has anger in their face and their eyes squinch up and they look at you say, "Okay!" it means they are really mad and you need to stop it right now. California teachers do this. They look at the kids and say, "Okay, class... " The kids need to watch out! Teacher is angry!

If you think "okay" is confusing, don't use it!

Say "yes" or "no."

And if you are confused by a California "okay," then say to that person, "I'm not sure what you mean... Yes, you can?... or no, you can't... ?"

It is better to say "can" or "can't" than "will" or "won't" because Californians like to have and give the feeling that they can do anything always want to keep you and everyone happy. They will make you happy, if they can, right?

So if they are not making you happy, they want the feeling to be...

"I will make you happy if I can. I will always do that. I love good feeling. Let's play California beach music and sit by the water and have a cool drink together if we are in Southern California and if we are in the Bay Area, let's sit in a nice little cafe and have a latte together. But maybe, for some reason, I can't help you right now. But you know I would if I could. Because I love being happy. And I love you being happy. And I love when we are happy together."

Kind of like this:

You understand that means "no," right?

Yeah... it's confusing.

I know.

Don't worry.

We'll talk about it more.

For now, just remember:

California culture wants everyone to be happy together.

Or they want you to think that! ;-)

Because of course, not everyone is happy together.

But we like that idea.

Cultures are partly about ideas.

And here's another one:

California is all about feeling good until


Earthquakes, mudslides and fires change everything because California is also about change, especially strong, unexpected change.

Yeah... I know... confusing!!!

That's okay.

(That means... it feels bad but we have to accept it so please try to accept it with me and please try to feel good. I want you to feel good. I want us to be happy together.)

Because... all this means... as every Californian knows:

Everything's gonna be all right.

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