Every American city attracts a certain type of person. Activity in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in the 1960s forever branded the city as a hippie haven. Los Angeles is purported to be full of tan, slender wannabe actors and musicians waiting for that big break. New Yorkers are notoriously loud, rude and fazed by nothing.
Seattle’s people don’t come with as many stereotypes—at least, none that I was aware of before I got here. I associated Seattle with companies and objects rather than specific types of people: Microsoft, Starbucks, the Space Needle. It’s only been a week, but after talking to a wide variety of people in neighborhoods all over the city, I’ve already begun to understand what defines the typical Seattleite.
Intelligent. I already knew that Seattle was the most educated city in the U.S., but I didn’t see the evidence until I started working at the Times. Even my totally banal first clip got a tidal wave of constructive criticism in the form of e-mails, voicemails and online comments. Perfect strangers weren’t afraid to tell me what I left out of the article, listing the unanswered questions that remained. For the first time, I actually understood the journalism adage, “Your readers are your editors.” Never have I seen such deep, logical thought come from online commenters.
Cliquey. Before I drove up here, my friend Rachel warned me that Seattle residents, while initially very warm and welcoming, wouldn’t truly open up to you as quickly as most West Coasters. Locals will put you through what’s called the “Seattle freeze” (no, it’s not a reference to the weather or the name of a yummy drink), where they’ll be a little standoffish toward you until you’ve proven that you belong in their group. Another friend who’s lived here a little less than a year said she didn’t make friends until she found friends in her coworkers at a gym. Suddenly, she had a huge handful of friends, and friends of friends, and so on—a whole network she never could have wormed her way into without her job. I see evidence of cliquey behavior everywhere. When I go into a coffee shop in Greenwood, I’ll get a curt greeting while someone who obviously comes in regularly walks in and gets a warm welcome, an inquiry into his work and the health of his family and a nice chat about the horrible weather we’ve had lately.
Quirky. A friend who lives near Green Lake is off-and-on dating a man who is in an open, long-term relationship with someone else, and it doesn’t bother her in the least. This weekend, as the festivities of Pride Week concluded with a parade of cross dressers and half-naked women marching through Capitol Hill, a car show on the other side of town attracted families in minivans and men driving F-150s with “NO-BAMA” bumper stickers. (I remember because the narrow residential streets of Greenwood were suddenly very hard to navigate with all these huge pickups crowding the sides of the roads.) That’s a testament to the wide variety of people living here, and it shows that no city does things the way Seattle does things.
Picky. The sheer number of coffee shops in this city should have tipped me off. Seattleites look for a specific combination of things in a cafe. The coffee has to be exceptional. The décor should be a little eclectic, lending a comfortable, not-too-polished bohemian vibe. Free Wi-fi is a must. And it’s best located on the corner of the block, where it’s easier for outdoor patrons to people-watch from their tables. You won’t see more than a couple of people hanging out at any café that doesn’t boast all these selling points. Clearly, Seattleites aren’t easy to please—but you wouldn’t be either if you had as many options to choose from as they do.
I’ve still got a lot to learn about Seattle, but I feel like I’m really starting to get a grasp on the people here. Now I just have to figure out how to earn their friendship.