in eat, pray, love, there’s a part in the italy section (the best section of the three, no question) where elizabeth gilbert talks about every city having a word:
“every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there. if you could read people’s thoughts as they were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them are thinking of the same thought. whatever the majority thought might be — that is the word of the city. and if your personal word does not match the word of the city, then you don’t really belong there.” (p. 103)
and then she and her italian friend discuss the words of various cities. LA’s word, she says, is SUCCEED — similar to yet vastly different from new york’s word, ACHIEVE — a distinction with which i agree.
i disagree, however, on her choice of word. LA’s word, i think, is ENTITLEMENT.
this thought struck me one day as i was backing out of a parking spot at ucla. as i inched out of my spot, i glanced up at my rearview mirror to find a middle-aged, slightly paunchy man in a polo shirt walking right behind my car. he stared directly ahead, offering no acknowledgement of me or the fact that my car was mere inches away from him, and getting closer.
only in los angeles.
in most places, people see you backing out and stop. in the midwest, they’ll give you 20 feet and sweep their arms in front of their children. but here, this completely average man — not a young punk trying to give me or the world the finger — felt that he had the right to walk where he wanted to walk, regardless of the activity around him. the burden of changing course was everyone’s but his. the sense of entitlement conveyed by this simple action astounded me.
you see this kind of attitude all over the city. it’s on the highways, where drivers feel entitled to go as fast as they can, and where a turn signal for a lane change will only provoke them to accelerate so as to prevent your entry. it’s in the industry, where people seek to be discovered (note the passivity of the verb) and receive the fame and fortune they deserve. it extends to the valley and orange county, where people live in ignorant, materialistic bliss, because they are entitled to comfort and luxury, just as they are to perfect weather all year round.
LA’s word is not my word. part of it is the detroit in me — detroit, the gum on the bottom of america’s shoe, with its blue-collar, working-class values and its “swallow-hard-and-deal-with-it” attitude. detroit doesn’t expect anyone to hand it anything; look how washington threw money at the banks without penalty or question but made the auto industry provide an account of every cent it would receive. part of it is the asian in me, with its premium on taking care of yourself and not imposing on anyone else. part of it is the immigrant parents who raised me, who knew nothing would be handed to them in the states, that they were going to have to work for every cent, and who instilled similar values in their children.
there’s a lot about LA that irritates — the smog, the traffic, and on and on — but the thing that grates on me the most is the entitlement.