Being from California is special. Any time a Dane or another study-abroader asks me where in the United States I’m from, California gets a different reaction compared to every other state. A few Americans have reacted by saying “ooooh, Cali” with a knowing smile signifying that they are in on some scandalous secret. I don’t know what secret they believe they’re in on, but you can always spot a non-Californian by the way they refer to the state; I have no idea what a “cali” is. Please zip up your pants and put that away.
There have been a few instances with non-Americans with regard to California that especially stand out:
One day while riding the train into downtown Copenhagen, I was completely decked out in a dress shirt, tie, pants, dress shoes, everything. I had an internship interview that day and I wanted to leave no clothing stone left unturned. If this meant spending half an hour YouTube-ing how to actually tie a tie, so be it. Anyway, while in the train a Danish man in his late 20s started chatting up the American girl I live with and I about what we were doing in Copenhagen and where in the U.S. we were from.
She revealed her homestate to be Illinois, a place devoid of any interesting or redeeming qualities for this Dane. He made the polite, cursory reaction you can imagine someone making after hearing a person is from Illinois and moved on to me. When I told him I was from California, he flashed a validated smile, relieved that I was from somewhere actually relevant. He gestured towards what I was wearing and said “Yeah, I could tell,” as if all Californians like strolling around town in nice clothing for no reason.
That doesn’t mean all Danes see California as the land of glitz and glam. One Danish friend I have, on the first day of meeting each other, peppered me with questions about what it’s like to live in a state filled with gangs. This was confusing to me, as I never realized California was even portrayed as a state infested with gang crime. Sure, gangs were always something people knew about —there was always that group of kids in middle school on the lower half of the IQ spectrum that ran around during lunch flashing the Bloods gang sign at each other–but nothing beyond that.
Finally, there’s the instance where I watched as the quality and ranking of my state was described to me by two very intoxicated Swedish guys. There’s a fabulous place in Copenhagen called Christiania that just so happens to not have any laws against marijuana, which I think does a good job of explaining the state of mind of the two gentlemen. Two friends and I ran into the two Swedes and they asked the obligatory question of where we were from in the U.S.
One friend said he was from Boston, which garnered an “eh, pretty cool.” The other friend said Connecticut, which literally resulted in mocking laughter. Connecticut is apparently very uncool by Swedish standards. And I said California, which stopped the laughter and brought on the smiles and words of approval. Then came the rankings. “Number one! Obviously California. Two, Boston… eh, it’s okay. And three, oh God. Connecticut! I’m so sorry.” That’s right, someone from ice-cold Scandinavia was actually apologizing to my friend for her misfortune of living in Connecticut. They then proceeded to rip on the state some more while praising California in thickly accented English in between bouts of stoned, hysterical laughter.
So there you have it; being from California makes you a geographical celebrity not only in Europe, but with other Americans as well. And if you’re not from California, we can just pretend you are—as long as you pronounce it in all of its four-syllable grandeur.