Friday, June 12, 2009
Six things you cannot say in Seattle
Today on KUOW's "Weekday," we talked about my story, "Six things you cannot say in Seattle," which has been getting tons of hits and response on Crosscut. The calls and emails flooded in to the show, and Steve Scher, Art Thiel, Dave Horsey, Eli Sanders and I had fun talking about the city's taboos. I plan to do a follow-up piece based on listener or reader response. Clearly, the piece struck a nerve. Some of these topics are tackled in a different way in my book "Pugetopolis," like the whole "Seattle nice" myth, but there is clearly much more. Below, I am running the piece so you can read it here:
Newcomers to Seattle quickly find that we’re a cultural minefield of prejudice and political correctness that can blow up in your face if you misstep. So here’s a list of conversation stoppers — things you just can’t say in polite company. Clip and save this column; it may save you from social banishment or worse.
1. “Recycling is a hassle.” Oops. You mustn’t complain about sorting cantaloupe rinds from Kleenex. Anyone who yearns for the good old days when garbage was garbage is rooting for planetary death. Seattle is a city of dedicated recyclers — it’s one of the things that makes us morally superior to everyone else. Sort your trash into 50 different containers and do it with a smile, otherwise you’re as suspect as an SUV owner.
2. “Bellevue’s pretty cool.” People in Seattle might sneak over to Bellevue Square for shopping once in awhile, but you’d never tell anyone. And despite Bellevue’s attempt to become a dense, gay-friendly, smart-growth city, Seattle will never see it as anything but an example of trashy, car-loving sprawl that is causing, yes, planetary death. The Eastside is Orange County with rain, and Bellevue is Anaheim without Disneyland. For true Seattleites, it does not exist save as a dark, eternal “other” (with a great mall).
3. “Would you like to come over for dinner?” I’ve previously written about the “Myth of Seattle Nice.” We’re friendly, but not so friendly as to actually want to get to know each other very much. Recently, a newcomer told me that his new Seattle friends dumped him when he became too “needy” after the death of his partner. Another said that when he moved out here he invited his new neighbors to a get-to-know-you barbecue. Only one person showed up. (I’m surprised anyone came.) We have a word to describe people who invite strangers over: “stalker.” Blame it on our Scandia-Asian roots or the fact that Ted Bundy or D.B. Cooper might be next door, but being too friendly could result in a restraining order.
4. “I like driving better than biking.” What is it with you and planetary death? First, people here consider cars a necessary evil at best. You don’t wash it, trick it out, or show it off. No gals in bikinis lolling on the hood. Cars are colorless (gray, silver, light blue) and practical (’84 Volvo wagon). Even better, you drive your car as little as possible and when you do drive, don’t have fun. Second, cycling is good for you. Your weight loss will take a load off of Mother Earth. If you have a coronary riding up a hill, be reassured that Seattle is the “Best Place to Have a Heart Attack,” according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. This is the town where the bike anarchists beat up a guy who tried to get out of his parking space. So bike it and like it, see?
5. “Your dog just shit on my shoe.” Look, in Seattle, pets are people, too, even Labradoodles. Dogs at the store, in the bar, under the seat, in the next cubicle: You have no right to complain because that would mean you’re being cruel to animals— and possibly even demeaning someone’s disability, if a pet owner has deemed Fido a service dog. Hair, dander, allergies, drool, snarling, defecating: That’s no different than what you experience from people on Metro every day. So be mindful that the pooch under your seat could be a lawsuit just waiting for you to open your mouth.
6. “I’m a Republican.” There is no surer ticket to the Mental Hospital for the Criminally Insane than to make this declaration in Seattle today. Republicans haven’t been a factor here in 40 years. Most people in Seattle have never met a Republican, let alone voted for one. To admit to being a Republican is to declare war on the sensibilities of the recycling, biking, companion-pet-owning, suburban-hating loners you live among. If you are not involuntarily committed, you will be advised to move to Bellevue, where you can speed the way toward planetary death with your own kind.