Los Angeles. There’s just something about it I hate. I hate the traffic and the lack of public transportation. I hate the vanity and how everyone is “so Hollywood.” I hate the pollution. I hate the lack of neighborhoods. LA just rubs me the wrong way. But I haven’t spent much time in the city. My opinion has only been formed by a few short visits. I wonder if I really hate LA or just think I do?
We all have preconceived notions and perceptions of different places. We all have our own prejudices and opinions based on what we’ve read and heard over the years. Stories from the news, the Internet, and our friends create an image in our minds. As long as I can remember, I’ve always had preconceived notions about Los Angeles. I thought it would be polluted, a giant traffic-jam-filled city with vain, wannabe celebrities. Los Angeles was a sprawling city with no culture.
When I visit LA, I see all of these negatives. It would be hard not to. But I often wonder if I see those things more because of my already formed notions and feelings about the city. I’ve been to many cities that are run down, dirty, full of pretentious people, and have bad traffic. Los Angeles isn’t the only city in the world like this. Bangkok is no spring chicken, Barcelona needs a good scrubbing, and rush hour in Tokyo is no joke. Yet while I see these things in other cities, they don’t seem to bother me as much as they do in Los Angeles.
There are some legitimate things I dislike about Los Angeles. I don’t like cities that are too big to get around. NYC may be big, but it’s easy to get around. Bangkok has a good transit system, and while Tokyo is gigantic, you can still navigate public transportation fairly easily. Yet everything in LA is spread out and you need to drive to get places. I like cities with good public transit and Los Angeles doesn’t have it. Moreover, LA has no neighborhoods. It just seems to sprawl forever, and it’s filled with too many people trying to make it. Everyone I meet in LA is trying to make it as an actor or screenplay writer.
Yet these things don’t really make LA “hateable.” None of these “issues” are super off-putting, and I’ve had many fun moments in LA with my friends. So why is it that I hate Los Angeles so much? Where does this visceral reaction come from?
I think back to my recent trip to Ottawa. It was a city I knew nothing about, and I was able to form my own opinions about the city right on the spot. I loved Ottawa. It was great. Often when we travel, we see cities not as how they are but how we expect them to be. We take our knowledge with us and use it as a lens to view the city. When we think of Amsterdam, we think of pot and prostitutes, so that’s what we see. We go to Bangkok and see the dirt and pollution because we know it to be a “dirty” city. Often times, we visit places and do things that further our preconceived notions of the city. We go experience romance in Paris or party on the island of Ko Phangan. And cities we know the least about are often the places we love the best. We aren’t looking for things that fit into the mold our mind has made. We simply take the city as it is—no expectations and no disappointments.
Fighting preconceived notions is an important part of traveling. The images and notions in our head can paint a bleaker picture of a place than what’s really there. They can color our thoughts on cities in ways that don’t often reflect reality. Yes, I hate LA, but I suppose if I really thought about it, it’s not that bad a place. I would rather be in many other places in the world, but I can see that there’s something for people in Los Angeles.
Maybe one day I’ll live in Los Angeles and love it. After all, I despised Bangkok at first and now it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. Stepping back from my emotional, knee-jerk reaction to Los Angeles, I see there are some things that make the city worth visiting and worth living in. After all, it’s near the beach, it’s warm throughout the year, there’s a lot to do, it’s got good sushi, and it has an affordable cost of living. Plus, you get to spot celebrities all the time. (OK, maybe that’s just something I would enjoy!)
We all have preconceived notions about places in the world. When we visit a place, we often see it through a prism in our mind, which distorts what that city really is about. Sometimes we just need to step back, breathe, and judge a place on its own merits with unclouded eyes. And so maybe it’s not that I hate LA itself, but the version in my mind and, after nearly 30 years of only picturing that LA, that’s all I can see right now.
People often see what they want to see. I think as travelers we need to be conscious of that. Bill O’Reilly thinks Amsterdam is a cesspool. When I go there, I see canals, beautiful buildings, and friendly people. Is he seeing what he wants to see, just like me and Los Angeles?
Travel is about opening yourself up to new experiences and places. It’s about letting go of biases we have about people and places. Going to places without prejudice and expectation is the only way to really “see” a place. We need to drop our guard and be open to new things. Otherwise, we’ll always end up only seeing the image in our mind.
And then we’ll always just end up hating LA
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