Drinking at lunchtime, using irony and walking down a pavement (as opposed to driving) are the most reliable ways to raise eyebrows in Los Angeles. But if you want to see people totally flummoxed, try telling them that you plan to honeymoon in Alaska.
I did this recently and jaws hit the floor. No one could understand why a right-thinking man would take his new wife to America's 49th state – especially on a salmon fishing trip, with several mates tagging along (that was my plan; a long story).
To Angelenos, Alaska apparently represents a mosquito-infested hellhole of bears, moose, trees and right-wing weirdos who devote their lives to shooting animals, digging mines and campaigning, Sarah Palin-style, to "drill, baby, drill".
Yet when we went there this month, it was the (literal) polar opposite: charming, sunny and cultured. The locals were a joy, too. Some could even be called liberal: one fishing guide proudly announced that he frequented not one, but two gay bars in downtown Anchorage.
It wasn't what I'd expected, but then Alaska is an isolated place and isolation can breed independence – not to mention a vague leftishness. Indeed, local geography has recently persuaded many locals to embrace a solid, left-wing cause: environmentalism.
For millennia, the State has frozen each winter and thawed out each summer. Lately, however, this has started to change – a development that leaves Alaska's two greatest natural wonders, polar bears and the extraordinary run of salmon that fills its rivers each summer, facing an uncertain future.
As a result, locals are frantically rallying to their planet's defence – installing solar panels, buying small cars and noisily demonstrating in central Anchorage against new mines and oil pipelines. They recently even persuaded Sarah Palin (who seems surprisingly unloved in local circles) to leave office.
All of which stands in stark contrast to LA, where we preach environmentalism but act selfishly. So selfishly, in fact, that our water supply lines are draining thousands of miles of rivers – meaning that fish stocks have collapsed and California's once-bountiful salmon fisheries were this year closed, possibly for ever.
Palin to a T
Despite Sarah Palin's departure, locals are still cashing in on her fame: many shops sell T-shirts quoting her memorable claim to foreign policy expertise: "I can see Russia from my house".
You can tell lots about a place from the contents of the "dangers and annoyances" section of its Lonely Planet book. In Los Angeles, the travel guide warns of gangs, drugs, petty crime and homelessness. Alaska's version, by contrast, cites just one potential hazard: bears.Reuse content