Phrase used to insult small towns, based on a misunderstanding of the context of its origin. People quote Gertrude Stein and assume that the American expatriate was comparing Oakland to Paris and suggesting the town lacked sophistication and substance. Actually, she was comparing the experience of visiting Oakland as an adult to the memory of living there as a child.

Stein lived in Oakland, California from the age of five (1879) until her father died in 1891. When Stein returned to California on her lecture tour to the United States in the 1930s, she wanted to visit her childhood home in Oakland. She could not find the house, and wrote this:

What was the use of me having come from Oakland, it was not natural for me to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there.

Source: Everybody's Biography, by Gertrude Stein.