EVERYONE KNOWS that Californians are different from the rest of us. They were the pioneers of pyramid games, they invented the candlelight dinner and hot Gucci shoes on their roller skates.

Californians are into something new now. It's called "real estate." It isn't who you are or who you know that counts anymore. It's how much you're asking for your house.

I didn't realize how much real estate values mattered in people's lives out there until a very nice lady took me to lunch in the Malibu colony at a $2 million shack which resembled the stockade in "The Bridge on the River Kwai."

The guests were all gathered around the small swimming pool and my hostess introduced me to the people. "This is Ted and Jane, who are asking $950,000 for their villa in Ventura; Bob and Alice, whose English Tudor is now on the market for $1 million five; Don and Phyllis, who turned down $2 million one for their Spanish hacienda in Brentwood; and Mildred, who just split with Sam is showing her $850,000 redwood contemporary by appointment only."

They seemed like really nice people.

The hostess apologized because lunch was late. "We're still waiting on Henry and Roz, who have just listed their Tarzana colonial for $2 million six, and Allen and Marjorie, who won't take less than $1 million seven for their place in Laurel Canyon."

"They're worth waiting for," I said.

Most of the people were in the movie and television business so I expected some hot gossip about the stars to take back East with me. But it was not to be.

The table conversation went like this. "Rhonda left Johnny's fabulous $2 million panoramic hillside retreat with four bathrooms and an indoor Jacuzzi and moved in with Herb in his $600,000 condominium with a wet bar on Wilshire Blvd."

What a fool. Rhonda is always trading down."

"When Rhonda falls in love you can't talk any real estate sense into her at all."

"Someone told me the Saudi Arabians are moving into Culver City."

"I can't believe it. They haven't gobbled up Bel Air yet."

"Do you know the mobile home on the highway near Trancas?"

"You mean the one that was set up after the waves washed away the seven-figure Cape Cod on the dunes?"

"The mobile went for $1 million six."

"I thought it had been condemned by the zoning people."

"It had. That's why it sold so cheap."

I tried to get into the conversation.

"What's Johnny Carson really like?"

"Six million for his home in Beverly Hills and 1 million eight for his house on the beach."

"How about Candice Bergen?" I asked.

There was dead silence at the table. Finally, someone said quietly, "Off the record?"

"It won't leave this patio."

"Candice sublets."