Santa Barbara: Friend or Foe?

My Instagram friends decided my next I Heart column in the Santa Barbara Sentinel should be about the lack of friendliness in California.


I even ran a poll to see if others felt the same way as I do. Turns out, the majority of them do.


The piece you’ll read below will be published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel on Friday, December 6th. But y’all get first dibs.

woman silhouette pink heart says I Heart

Santa Barbara: Friend or Foe?

“The people here are a little strange. Not very friendly,” the customer said at the shop I was working in at the time. I was three months into living in California, and I didn’t understand what she meant.

Everyone has been pretty nice to me, I said. I enjoy being here.

She smiled sympathetically, then shook her head. “One day, you’ll see what I mean.”

I tried not to see what she meant. I tried really hard, actually. But it wasn’t until she brought it to my attention that I started to notice.

It began with the man who let the post office door swing into my face.

Next, with the woman who stared at me like I was an alien when I said hello while in passing on the street.

Again, with the man who looked like I insulted his mother when I asked about his day.

Unfortunately, these experiences happened more often than not.

Was it true? Were people in Santa Barbara just not that friendly? I pushed it out of my mind. Maybe it was just a few bad apples. I had faith in the rest of the bunch.

When Jason and I began dating, he mentioned he wouldn’t move back “because of the people.” Pretty harsh, I thought. He’s a third-generation Santa Barbarian, after all. Maybe he just needed to get out of town.

So I did a little digging and asked my California friends if they noticed this as much as I do. It turned out to be eighty-twenty, the majority wondering the same as me.

One of my dear friends, who is a native Californian, thinks it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder in reverse: instead of becoming depressed due to lack of sunshine, people are actually too distracted by the beauty to acknowledge each other.

Sounds convincing, but then I remembered Hawaii – a truly idyllic place – is famous for the “aloha spirit.”

I’ve often wondered if manners were dropped during the Gold Rush. That somewhere around the Rockies, as people were struggling to stay alive, they threw polite society into the wind as an act of rebellion from our British forefathers. It became about gold, only in it for themselves. And that attitude seeped into the soil and into the food we eat.

The word “kindness” is the new buzzword. Mugs and hats with the word emblazoned on it are seen in social media posts on the regular.

We sit around dinner tables and discuss the world’s problems, boiling down to a solution to just be kind to one another. But the concern seems to linger among the empty dinner plates and wine-stained tablecloths.

When we’re actually faced with social interaction – on a hiking trail, at the grocery store, at the local coffee shop – where does the kindness go? Whatever happened to saying “hi” or simply responding back?

Ok, yes. I’m from the South, where manners are as important to a child’s upbringing as learning to brush their teeth. Yes, ma’ams and sirs slip through our lips as easily as the air we breathe.

But get this: manners are just kindness in a nicer outfit.

Manners equals being kind.

It’s a “black tie” version of communicating with others.

I’m not saying we need a round of finishing school, though I’d happily indulge because I’m old-school that way.

I just loathe believing that Santa Barbarans are too self-absorbed to connect with one another.

Though T-shirts and spiritual teachings remind us to be kind, what does it actually mean? Is it reserved for only work or family gatherings, holding back what you truly feel by biting your tongue?

I don’t want this to come off as a slam because I love Santa Barbara. She’s been very good to me.

I’ve wondered if I should even share this with you for fear of offending.

The thing is, with all that’s going on in the world and all the resources and privileges we have in our community, it confuses me that we lack the fundamental quality we need as a human race to survive side-by-side.

Since our unofficial motto in Santa Barbara has become, “We live in paradise,” we can be nice in paradise, too.

You’re wonderful, and so is your smile. Just nod, wave, or greet a stranger on the street.

And if that person fails to do the same, let’s keep spreading our light rather than let it bring us down.

Our mamas taught us better than that.


What do you think? Do you live in Santa Barbara, have visited, or had a similar experience in your own town? Let us know in the comments below! No judgment; we’re all friends here. 🙂

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  1. Meanwhile I swim at west beach each day about 11-12 w/o wetsuit. It produces energy & hope.

  2. Happy for your reply and to introduce you to Bridget. You both have Airstream affection. Let’s meet.

  3. It is and would make an excellent story/book. Peter Fonda’s (former owner) daughter Bridget has a home in Santa Barbara. I want the boat available for good causes, events. Tour sometime,
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