A Transplant's Guide to Los Angeles

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Advice columnist Michael Kostroff, a native New Yorker who has lived in Los Angeles, goes toe-to-toe with fellow columnist Jackie Apodaca, an Angeleno who has lived in New York, on some of the stranger cultural quirks of each town. For Apodaca's perspective, see the Welcome to New York spotlight.

Okay, New Yorkers, shut the door, pull up a chair, and let's talk. So you've decided to move to L.A., huh? Okay. I get it. It could be a good career move. And sure, there are lots of great things to be said for the lifestyle (at the moment, I'm back in town with "Les Misérables," and we're loving it). But speaking as a native New Yorker who lived in L.A. for 20 years, I think it's only fair to warn you: L.A. is weird, especially to New Yorkers.

As I write, sitting here at a beautiful open-air bistro, the guy at the table next to me is singing to his dog, Pablo. How do I know the dog is named Pablo? Because the man (wearing a cozy knit cap in July) keeps changing the song lyrics so they're about Pablo's little canine life. What's more, no one at the restaurant seems to find any of this strange.

Yes, things are different here—the social customs, the pace, the way things operate. Even words—normal English words—have different meanings. It's enough to drive a New York transplant nuts.

Flakiness Abounds

When you first arrive, you'll probably want to know what you can do right away to get started. After all, we New Yorkers are efficient people. We don't like to waste time. We're into getting things done—now, or as soon as possible. By the time people reach the front of the Starbucks line, we expect them to have their money out and know what they want. Or get the hell out of our frickin' way. This quality has often been mistakenly perceived as rudeness or pushiness. We're not rude. We're just not particularly patient and, frankly, not all that tolerant of stupid. Wanna make something out of it?

Well, prepare to be aggravated. Chances are the L.A. contact you call the minute you're off the plane will say something like, "Oh, yeah. Totally. Call me next month or something. Let's see where we're at." And then, a month later, "I'm totally blanking. How do I know you?" That's just the way things are. It's a cliché, but it's also mind-meltingly true: In L.A., flakiness abounds.

After numerous unreturned phone calls to an L.A. friend, I ran into her at a play. "Michael Kostroff!" she gushed. "I've called you a thousand times in my mind!" And to her, that was an adequate explanation for why I hadn't heard from her. I have other colleagues who, every time I see them, say, "Call me. We should get together and do something." That's L.A.-ese for "Hi, how are you?" It's just small talk. If I actually contacted them to try to make those plans happen, things could get awkward.

In New York, we have this funny habit: We do exactly what we say we're going to do. If we say we're going to have a 10 a.m. rehearsal, we arrive at 9:45, because a 10 a.m. rehearsal starts at 10 a.m. We say we're going to be a certain place at a certain time, and lo and behold, there we are. Or we cancel. I know; it's so literal of us. But that's our quaint, quirky little way.

When you move to L.A., it's important to understand that here, all plans are theoretical. And holding people to their word is considered kind of…picky. When people say they'll "definitely" meet you at noon at the Farmers Market, they don't mean "definitely" the way we mean "definitely." "Definitely" is just something people say to sound enthusiastic: "See you tomorrow, then?" "Definitely!" There is always the unspoken, commonly understood disclaimer: "I might show up eventually…unless I forget, or oversleep, or something better comes up, or I just don't feel like going out."

You'll never believe this, but it's a fairly common complaint among L.A. agents that their clients forget to show up for auditions. Forget to show up. Can you imagine such a thing, New Yorkers? Here they "pencil things in," a euphemism for making plans that neither party intends to keep. And rather than keeping track of their own schedules, they'll expect reminder calls about everything: doctor appointments, overdue bills, even dates. Only in L.A. could a guy ask you out, then tell you to call him and remind him. In fact, even if you schedule something for an hour from now, you should probably call back to confirm. Really, it's a wonder anything gets done at all.

By the way, when people flake, whatever you do, don't mention it. It's considered vulgar to call attention to discrepancies between word and deed. Instead, when someone makes plans with you, just nod and smile—and plan on doing something else that day.

Creative Driving

Now let's talk about driving. Ah, the freedom. No more crowded subway cars. Instead, you'll have the crowds on the outside of your vehicle, everyone in a vehicle of his or her own, crowding the freeways. And in L.A.—where individuality trumps all—even rules of the road are a matter of personal interpretation. Locals drive however they feel like driving that day, etiquette be damned, and woe to those who get in the way. New York drivers may honk and give you the finger if you do something stupid while driving. L.A. drivers will honk and give you the finger if they do something stupid while driving.

Despite the mobility that cars provide, your L.A. friends, while perfectly willing to drive to the corner for nonfat hemp milk, will prefer to stay in their own neighborhoods rather than face the rigors of walking to the garage, starting the car, and driving to yours. So be prepared to make the trip if you ever want to see anyone. Otherwise, just "pencil it in" (see above) and stay home.

I'm telling you, it's weird. Be prepared for the fact that "regular" coffee means black; that liquor stores sell magazines, snacks, and sometimes even produce; that they stand "in line," not "on line" that you can't get decent Chinese food or a bagel; and that you can actually get ticketed for jaywalking (known in New York as "crossing the street when it's safe").

And be prepared to discuss your "look" (that means your appearance and the way you dress). Here, a marketable "look" can sometimes be more valuable to an actor than talent or training. It might even get your calls returned.

Now, don't send angry emails. I bash L.A. with great affection. After all, it was my home for 20 years, and it was great for my career. Here's hoping it's great for yours too. I may even move back in the next few years. If I do, we should definitely hang out.