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Three Customs of the West Coast Friend

TYEE LIST #10: How to protect our famously aloof relationship style.

By Jesse Donaldson 14 Apr 2012 |

Jesse Donaldson is a journalist, photographer, playwright, and one of the founding editors of The Dependent magazine.

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Coastal subjects. Photo by DJ Huber from Your BC: The Tyee's Photo Pool.

Laid-back, aloof, unreliable: for decades, cultural anthropologists have identified these characteristics while observing the social rituals of West Coast friendship.  

However, in recent years, researchers have been startled to observe a counter-trend of productivity, accountability and unprecedented punctuality, threatening to tear the West Coast social fabric apart like a cheap Gore-Tex knock-off left flapping in the freezing gale of a B.C. spring day.  

Reasons for this change are not fully understood. Perhaps driven by alterations in habitat or snarky magazine cliches about the "West Coast Mindset," it remains one of the most puzzling developments in the region's culture (save perhaps for Lululemon pants.)

As if to preserve under glass for future generations the unique and delicate social ecosystem of West Coasters, The Tyee provides here a guide to the customs of this curious culture. Please feel free to add your own as comments at the end of this research paper.  

1. Treat all plans as suggestions

Extensive relaxation is a crucial component of West Coast living, and nothing harshes a mellow faster than having to do something for others. Most friendships come with an extensive and tiresome list of demands: answering phone calls, acknowledging birthdays or other milestones, remembering time-consuming personal details (such as occupation, interests or names), and occasionally, actual social interaction. This is inefficient and unnecessary, occupying valuable headspace reserved for "chilling," shopping for organic produce or increasing one's social value through the liberal application of obscure indie-rock. 

In order to preserve the West Coast's cultural ethos, it is imperative that one remain elusive. As the old show business adage says: "Always leave them wanting more," and nothing leaves people wanting more than total nonappearance. Like the mysterious narwhal, the West Coast North American remains elusive, surfacing only for brief, tantalizing moments (where it is important that one be en route to something vastly more interesting) before once again slipping beneath the waves.  

In today's cynical world, simple nonappearance is no longer enough -- this is an amateur move, certain to arouse contempt in the heart of other West Coasters. Rather, plans must be made, confirmed, and then swiftly followed by a total disappearance without explanation (a plan made even more effective when combined with the occasional voicemail message or Facebook wall-post griping about how you never see one another anymore). Use the phrase "we'll play it by ear" as often as possible. And remember: in lieu of your actual presence, a text-message excuse is always a valid replacement. 

2. Sell yourself

Another primary characteristic of West Coast culture is the practice of self-care (as evidenced by the proliferation of Life Coaches, phrases such as "personal effectiveness," and books by Anthony Robbins), and nothing allows you to optimize your personal power better than by talking about yourself as often as possible. A recent UCLA study revealed that approximately 93 per cent of communication takes place through nonverbal channels, therefore listening to others is not only inefficient, but decidedly unscientific.

Social status in the west can also be increased in conversation by the use of phrases such as "carbon footprint" or "sustainability" (demonstrating commitment to the environment); sentences no one dares argue with for fear of sounding stupid (ie: "Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury was such an engaging read -- it's an American classic"); or by bamboozling others with extensive knowledge of underground events nobody's heard of (extra points awarded for discussions on free-range meat, contempt for the suburbs, or ownership of a bicycle).  

Most importantly, unquestioned West Coast status will instantly be bestowed upon anyone who, regardless of the conversation's context, references a love of the outdoors -- in particular the ocean and the mountains. (Note: Most West Coast peoples live on the West Coast for their view of, proximity to, and ability to remark on the ocean and the mountains.) 

3. Be appealingly unapproachable 

It is imperative to the continued proliferation of the region's culture that public places only be frequented with sufficient protection -- sunglasses (to avoid meeting the gaze of others), headphones (to keep from hearing speech or natural sounds), or best of all an automobile (to put the maximum amount of metal, plastic and disaffected indie-rock between you and other West Coast inhabitants). If, despite all of this preparation someone has the gall to speak to you on the street, regard them with fear and suspicion. In the unenviable position of being forced onto public transit, a book or iPhone are essential tools -- less as instruments of entertainment and more as a set of social blinders designed to minimize interaction with anyone else. 

Finally and most importantly, when in a public place (streets, shopping malls, or overpriced Outdoor Equipment stores) never initiate an unprovoked conversation with anyone else. This runs contrary to West Coast social ethos, and will arouse nothing in those around you but contempt and concerns that you may be a crazy person. Worst of all, it may lead to that most unfortunate of possible results: an actual friendship. This must be avoided at all costs. 

The unique culture of West Coast peoples is at a crossroads. With increasing reports of post-yoga socialization, unprovoked conversation in public, and an alarming spike in after-work microbrewery visits, researchers fear that the region is now only a few generations away from going the way of the Australian Broad-Faced Potoroo, vanishing forever from the face of the planet.  [Tyee]

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