Nine interesting facts I discovered about San Francisco

Random funny things learned in 9 days spent in this wonderful city

Intro: I live in Italy and I travel quite a lot, both for business and personal reasons but mostly in Europe. I have been in San Francisco 3 times, but only in my last trip I really had the chance to live the city, meet people and have fun. It was an amazing experience, I liked it so much, so I decided to write this post with a few things that I discovered. Don’t take it too seriously, if you live in SF and you don’t agree, please leave a comment, I’d like to read your opinion.

So here’s the list:

1. People hug

In Italy and Europe we do hand shaking and/or cheek kissing to greet or say goodbye to friends. The modality slightly changes depending on the country, but usually females to females, and male to females do double cheek kissing + hand shaking; men with men usually just hand shaking. But I discovered that is SF people hug. The first time I had to say goodbye to some nice people met in a pub it was a surprise. First it was the turn of the girls: they just ignored my hand and they hugged me. Ok, no problem. Then it was the turn of the guys and I was really undecided: will it be high five? or maybe fist bump? One of these guys was a sort of Vin Diesel, so I though: “ok maybe he will punch me and destroy my left arm just to say bye”. Instead he just hugged me, and the other guy did the same. LOL!

Welcome to San Francisco!

2. Bus drivers can actually talk

In Italy you can’t speak to bus drivers. You can also see warnings just next to them that say: “it is forbidden to speak to the driver”.

Not sure if you can still find those warnings, but people still don’t speak to the drivers

But in SF when people get on the bus you can hear them saying: “Hi man, how are you doing?” At the beginning I didn’t get it, then I realized they were speaking to the driver. Wow! When people get off, they say “Thanks, see you”, and the driver most probably replies with “Have a good day!”. But it’s not just that: you may also hear the driver telling some funny jokes while announcing the next stop. Impressive! Apparently SF drivers can talk without generating terrible accidents.

3. Public transportation between SF and Silicon Valley just sucks

Speaking about buses, you know SF is the most advanced city in the world and Silicon valley is the most technologically evolved area in the world. So you expect they are connected by high-speed magnetic levitation train, flying shuttles or a Star Trek-like teleportation system, right?

Google Maps knows how difficult is going to Google

But the reality is, if you are in SF and you need to go, let’s say, to the Google HQ in Mountain View, you simply cannot use public transportation: it takes 2 hour, a train plus 2 buses to get there. So I discovered that people simply drive (“That’s why we invented Uber”, a friend told me). Google provides company shuttles to employees, but in any case, as you can expect, Route 101 from SF to Silicon valley is often blocked by traffic. That’s not cool at all.

4. Everybody is a founder

Of course not everybody, but when you meet some new people, the probability you encounter a founder/business owner is high. I met at least 5 founders in SF, with companies at different stages (one was just starting, another one with an active website, another one with already some employees etc). And I did not meet them in tech meetups, it would have been easy: instead one was my Airbnb housemate, two were people met in a restaurant, another one in a pub.

I guess you have read it, right?

It also worth mentioning the Russian Uber driver that took me home from the Googleplex (see #3). During the trip he tried to explain his business idea, with a lot of references to the Steve Jobs book. When we arrived he told me: “My friend, I’m going to be famous”. Good luck boy!

5. You don’t wanna eat at the table, better eat at the bar

I learned from a friend met in SF this important secret: you can eat at the table, or you can do what cool people do: eat at the bar. So when you enter a pub/tavern/restaurant you just sit at the bar, and you order your dish. Actually I didn’t know it was an option: in Italy we have restaurants with bar inside, but you go there if you just want a coffe, not to eat.

Amazing food in one of my favorite places: Tacolicious (yes, you can also eat at the bar there)

But in SF, if you go and sit at the bar, you will most certainly start chatting with the person on your left, or the one on your right, or both. This is how I met one of the founders (see #4) but also other funny people. Maybe the fact that I am Italian helped, I don’t know, or it’s just that people in SF are very social. Either way, I never had lunch alone. Powerful secret!

6. Locals are not really locals

One of my first question to people was always: “Are you from San Francisco?” And usually the answer was “Yes!”. So my next one was: “How long have you been living here?”. Commons answers include: “One month”, or “I moved here last October” or “1 year” or “I arrived yesterday” etc. In SF I met people from Germany, France, Norway, India, Korea, Iran, Mexico, Japan and for sure other countries I can’t remember. I also met several Americans but they were from Ohio, Colorado, Texas, New Jersey, Washington and other states.

I was making fun of my housemate (arrived in SF just some months ago) because I was already knowing The Mission and Valencia Street better than her. At last I met one guy that has been living in SF for 40 years, a true local. For sure there are many more, but my impression is they are an endangered species.

7. Google employees must be very thirsty

Seriously. You know the ponds you can find in the public gardens, maybe with a small fountain, sometimes with fishes? Have you ever though of drinking that water? I haven’t. Not even in a remote corner of my mind. Apparently Googlers may consider it, because Google had to put warnings in all the campus ponds (see picture). Maybe it’s just me, but I found them really hilarious.

The pond in front of building 46 at Googleplex

Do not drink! No Beber!

8. Speaking to Apple guys is not fun

I met a very nice guy one day. I didn’t know he was working at Apple, so we were not talking about tech things. When he revealed he was an Apple guy I started asking: “Wow, and what do you do at Apple?” but the answer was: “I can’t really tell you, sorry”. But I insisted: “Ok but.. on iOS, or maybe on the Apple website, or some Mac software or..?”. Cryptic answer: “Hmmm.. let’s say server side stuff”. I was like: “Wow cool, so you work on iCloud?”. Again: “I can’t really tell you”. I tried to change strategy: “Hmm ok, so.. which programming language are you using?” but, as I expected: “I can’t really tell you, sorry”.

I stopped asking, but we are now connected on Linkedin, so who knows, maybe one day he will tell me everything (just joking Marcos, it was great to meet you!)

9. Bughouse chess is a very funny game

To be honest I don’t think this has anything to do with San Francisco. But I didn’t know this chess variant and I played it for the fist time in this city, so that’s why bughouse is in this list. I’m not a big fan of chess, but this way is really fun. For people not familiar with it, you play with 4 players and 2 chessboards. When one player captures one piece, he gives the piece to his partner. This new piece can be added to the chessboard when needed.

This creates some sort of chaotic and impredictable matches: at some point you think you are f**d, but then you receive a bishop or a knight to help you. Or maybe you are already tasting victory, but your opponent receives an unexpected queen. You can imagine the imprecations! So much fun!

Other short facts

  • People always complain about the weather, but it’s not so bad after all, just a bit windy (or maybe I was just lucky)
  • People always complain about the traffic, but the traffic in the city is not bad at all (Route 101 is another story, see #3)
  • Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge by bike is awesome, but take the ferry to come back! (I though I was going to die, coming back is terrible)
  • I met Jason Momoa (I guess he lives in SF because he was in a shop and everybody was just ignoring him). Cool eh?