“Where are you from? I’m from LA.” (The perceptions we make based on such simple statements)

by Brian Carroll on May 30, 2012

When traveling one of the first questions that obviously comes up pretty early in any conversation is, "Where are you from?"  While this can sometimes be discerned by a combination of accent, fashion, haircuts and other physical features, there are times when it is slightly more difficult. When I get asked the question, my response is usually "Los Angeles."  Now I know that is a slight misnomer as I've lived in the Southbay for the last 6 years and don't associate with many parts of LA (and before that, grew up in San Diego), but for the general traveler I find this the easiest response to give. What I get in return from that response is often a combination of intrigue + either excitement or disgust.  Intrigue because as you travel abroad, you see firsthand just how pervasive American culture and the concept of LA is to people across the rest of the world.  Then based on if the person has traveled to LA or not, there is usually a feeling of excitement if they really liked the area or a feeling of unmet expectations, if they found the experience not to live up to their tv/movie vision. Often what I find for those travelers that visited LA for only a short time is a sense of underwhelmment- they go to Hollywood and see its not what they envisioned and then find the traffic to be crazy - quite understandable.  But as with a city of LA's size there are pockets worth visiting and those worth bypassing so being properly informed is really the most important thing. I've equally run into similar issues when traveling to big, well-known cities abroad only to find them underwhelming, especially compared with the less touristy neighborhoods nearby that I often stumble upon in wandering. The one other thing from such a discussion I find funny is how much of a role what we see in the media shapes our perceptions of a place.  Just as we in America may hear about a sensational murder/bombing/etc.. in some faraway land and deem the place unsuitable for travel, so others often look on parts of America in the same way. As one of my traveling friends from Holland told me, "When I think of LA, I think of the glitz of Hollywood and the danger of gangs."  While both exist, they are not part of the everyday lives of majority of people who live there.  This is something I hope to keep in mind whenever I make assumptions about a place based solely on what the news (which makes its money by being sensational) or other publications selectively tell me.  The best solution is quite simple - find out for yourself.  There will be good (and there might be bad), but the enlightenment it will give you to "think and see for yourself" and realize how this applies to other parts of your life (not even necessarily travel related) will be the most valuable lesson in the end.

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