Are people in Seattle getting nicer?
My friends are all aware of my reaction to poor manners in general or ignoring common courtesies when they are presented. And that’s a good word for what we do with common courtesies…opening doors for strangers, making eye contact and smiling, giving someone else your seat on the bus; these are presents we give to each other as humans. Stranger or friend should not matter, it’s just what good people do.
But after a decade in Seattle, my friends are pretty aware of my open condemnation of Seattle people as a whole, failing at these small gifts to one another.
People walk down the street three wide and they don’t even seem aware of the fact that you are practically walking in traffic to allow them to proceed by unimpeded. I try to offer them an “Excuse me” to raise their awareness. Not like the old Steve Martin “Well, excuuuuuuuuse me!” type of excuse me, just an audible for them to ponder.
Walking around on your phone – I do it, don’t get me wrong – but whatever is on their phone is so much more interesting than mine, because I keep looking up, monitoring their progress to make sure I don’t collide with them…they tend to keep their eyes glued to the screen. They do surprisingly well, considering. They are, however, walking a to and fro line down the center of the sidewalk to avoid any low hanging branches, street posts or other objects they wouldn’t notice being in their way to avoid being struck, thereby messing up their typing. That’s annoying.
Proceeding through a door that’s been held open for you by a stranger and you walk by like that person is a doorman, no “thank you”? Hell, even a smile and nod would be better than gliding through on your wave of self-entitlement…I’m not expecting a tip.
People driving and either merging too soon because they see a space and have to go all Christopher Columbus on it by cutting across solid lines to get to what they have decided is theirs. Or, conversely, refusing to let someone who tries to merge correctly – zipper in, people, zipper in – when it is their turn to merge.
We’re selfish animals, we humans.
I know I am. I’m a fucking Rodney King knock-off. Life has kicked the hell out of me and I, selfishly, just want us all to get along.
What I’ve noticed recently in Seattle is possibly an end to the Seattle Freeze, a phenomenon which many Seattlites will deny even exists…I openly call them part of the problem, I’m certain they are guilty of it. I do this in conversations whenever someone denies the Freeze is real.
There’s a smaller group of people who don’t believe it exists…they are the optimistic new arrivals. Bless their hearts.
Is it tourist season and we are overrun with nice people from the Heartland? Or Europe? Oh, god…are Parisians making Seattle feel like a nicer place?!?
Is Global Warming – also not a thing, depending on who you ask…the ones that deny it are basically of the same ilk as the people denying the good ol’ Seattle Freeze – getting so bad that the freeze has begun to thaw?
Hell, is it just all the nice, sunny weather? Maybe we should have all been taking vitamin D supplements. Actually, I do.
Part of me believes there’s just a veneer of happiness in Seattle. The people wearing that veneer need to suss out and destroy genuine happiness in order to protect their illusion. But that would be a lot of bitter people performing as a team. I’d rather keep the bitterness on my own shoulders versus project it outward. I’ll stick to pointing out observations of bad behavior and not try to analyze the root cause.
Is it the influx of outsiders overwhelming the social habits of the long-time residents?
Perhaps…just perhaps that last question has some merit. “Please take a number, the next available Seattlite will be with you to make you feel disenfranchised shortly.”
With all the growth in tech in Seattle proper, it wouldn’t be completely implausible. Amazon has basically sublet all of the South Lake Union neighborhood from Paul Allen. Companies that had campuses in Seattle suburbs are actually moving their campuses into town -I think Expedia is a recent notable refugee from the Eastside. That’s a lot of fresh blood being recruited to the Seattle proper area from other parts of the country as these companies continue to grow and bring in fresh blood. So, yeah, perhaps all these newbs are having an impact.
Then again…Amazon just got taken to task on their culture by – who, the New York Times? Wall Street Journal? I dunno, some big news paper – and Jeff Bezos boldly and in typical Seattle passive-aggressive accountability responded that it wasn’t the culture at Amazon that was the problem. Rather, it was the people crying that had the real problem. Yeah, I’d say moving across country for a promising career opportunity only to be treated like livestock by a company and subsequently driven out of that opportunity by its oppressive culture – likely depriving the individual of an income – would be a problem. Poor behemoth companies…falling like Goliath to these whiny David-type employees. But Bezos is wrong to blame the complainants, and I think given the right public shaming for his behavior, might come to realize it. Standing by on that one.
I dunno. Maybe it is the sheer volume of nice people moving in gradually raising the social temperature.
I’d kind of like to believe – faith is hard! – that Seattle overall has just started to mature out of it. I know so many nice acquaintances here in Seattle. Over time, I lost my enthusiasm for making friends here because these nice acquaintances were just unable to give anything deeper than that “nice co-worker” or “cool person in a bar” that I met.
They were so busy!
All the damned time.
Admittedly, I got tired of even trying.
It felt so one-sided.
Was that me being part of the problem?
I don’t think so, really. I chose my opportunities, I wasn’t completely without hope. And sure enough, after a decade here, I had four whole people I considered close friends.
But maybe my experience wasn’t unique.
My experience may not have been unique, but my solution sure seemed to be…at the time, anyway.
People wanted to be social.
Become friends on facebook.
Make plans together.
I’m all for all of that, but if they don’t treat me like I think friends should treat each other, then I would tell them where they fell short of my expectations. Allowing for appropriate mortification on their part, I was tactful, but still stood up for myself. My friend, the Silver Fox, has famously, and probably regrettably, told me that I am too hard on people.
I countered that people aren’t hard enough on themselves.
Here’s the thing…there wasn’t appropriate mortification by most people. Just a shrug. People get indignant that you would question the efforts they afford you. “Yeah, I flaked…but at least I deigned to make plans with you!” For ten years, the finger of blame was pointed at me, I was the problem. I was not getting along with them and they were not having that. Well, neither was I. I reminded people that friendships are two-way streets…we both had to give a little to get a little.
Did I mention I left Seattle with four close friends?
I’ve become gratifyingly amused over the last six months that I’ve been away to discover some of my acquaintances really coming to the fore with behaviors that I expect and appreciate in my friends…I am gratified that they are investing that effort with me. I’m happy to see them when I am in town!
So, what’s going on, Seattle? Why you making me like you all the sudden?
Can I be completely un-humble and wonder if maybe more people just got tired of accepting the freeze and started to do something about it? With 50% of Washington’s population living in the Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue area – 3.5 million people – maybe enough of them just questioned whether they should be sitting at home alone, possibly with a furry companion, versus being out and living life. Maybe the changes of behavior that I’ve noticed are just small changes a few unhappy people have made to bring some joy back into their life.
The correct answer isn’t always challenging poor behaviors. Maybe sometimes it’s a better thing to meet those bad behaviors with an equal and opposite force: common courtesy.
Maybe. But look at what’s happening next time you are out and about. See if it’s just me.
And for the love of Pete…when someone holds a door for you, say “Thank you”!