A close friend of mine who goes all the way back with me to our days in New Orleans, pointed out this blog posting from one of his wife’s regular reads, Misadventures in Malawi and Beyond. Here’s a quote:
"Maybe it’s the weather
One of the things that has been strange for us, but particularly hard for Jorge, is how strangers in Seattle aren’t very friendly. We don’t get out a lot, but when we do, we’re always surprised that people can walk straight past us, in our own neighborhood, and act as though they haven’t even noticed our existence.
At first I thought Jorge was just making this phenomena up, but I’ve been testing it out lately. For the last two days, I’ve gone for a walk in a nearby park. I pass dozens of people, and I make a point of looking them in the eye and smiling as they pass by, and only about one in ten will smile back. Sometimes I get a curt nod. Mostly they pretend they haven’t seen me and continue walking."
I think it’s an interesting sentiment, and one that backs up a reputation that Seattleites are "nice and polite, but not friendly." I don’t think we mean to be rude, but as a transplant from the south myself, I have always noticed that Seattle natives will tell you the exact restaurant you should go to, which park is best on Sundays, and what club to hit if you love live music, but they rarely say,"Come with us, we’re going out this weekend." It’s a subtle but important difference between being nice and helpful, and showing real hospitality.
Anyway, the point isn’t to bag on Seattle, but to maybe provide some reasons why this might be the case. Here are the best defenses I can think of.
1) We’re stuck up here in the top left corner of the country, and so the original settlers of Seattle really really really wanted to get away from everyone. In fact, they went as far as they could go to get away. So, I don’t think "social" is a real dominant gene in many of Seattle’s forefathers.
2) This is a pretty nice area, so there are a lot of natives here that simply never leave. This causes a ton of 3rd and 4th generation families, and folks who go to high school and college here, and who build careers off of family connections. They all have established treasured friends and relationships, and it’s hard to come up with a reason to reach out to someone passing through town for a few years.
3) A lot of the social activities up here are done best by yourself, or with a person you are close to. Running, hiking, kayaking, camping, skiing, mountain climbing, etc…It’s hard to meet a neighbor for the first time and say, "I’m going to climb Rainier this weekend, want to come?"
4) We have a ton of technology firms up here. Developers and Programmers are brilliant, but might not exactly be the most socially adept folks.
Of course, to the author’s point, it might just be the weather. 45 and raining is not the time to start up a conversation with a stranger in the park….Anyway, speak up Seattle. Any other reasons that we shun strangers?