Seattle: The Myths & Reality of the Emerald City

Snapper S. Ploen

 

Rising like vertical lines of steel against a backdrop of evergreen mountains and dark water, Seattle has a popular reputation for being a high-tech city with some very granola roots. Hosting the headquarters of a number of powerful, global corporations such as Starbuck’s and Amazon.com, Seattle and its vast metropolitan area – which runs mostly along the edges of Puget Sound and Lake Washington – is the largest urban center in the Pacific Northwest and it single-handedly sways the politics of the entire region.

 

While most people think of grungy hipsters, delicious coffee or overcast skies when the name ‘Seattle’ is mentioned, one may wonder: How much of this is accurate and how much is exaggeration? I’ll do my best as an 11 year resident to give my genuine perspective. Please note that this article is merely the opinion of one writer and as such, the lens through which I’ve experienced this city is colored by events and people which have come across my path in my decade plus of living here.

 

Myth: Seattle is full of left-wing hippies.

Fact: MOSTLY TRUE

Like many West Coast cities, Seattle is generally a liberal political hotbed. However, it is more of a “live and let live” representation of the Left Wing than the aggressive San Francisco brand. There are also very strong Libertarian streaks in this blue city, so California this is not. It is wise not to equate this cooler approach with apathy, however, as it is a quiet giant when it comes to the voting both; Seattle’s King county alone has delivered the (sometimes) razor-thin victories to many Democratic Senate and gubernatorial candidates in recent years. However, its presence as a heavy weight on the left-leaning political scale has fostered some resentment from the rest of the more rural areas of the state which are largely conservative. Still, with a large voter turnout in many elections, Seattle has maintained a strong hold on many powerful public positions in Washington state.

 

With major initiatives on the November 2012 ballot, such as legalizing gay marriage or the sale of small amounts of marijuana to people over 21, we will see if Seattle’s political gravity is strong enough to make Washington one of the first states to approve both controversial policies by a public vote.

 

There is an extreme openness to alternative lifestyles and a propensity for large-scale protesting. I don’t think a month has gone by in my living here where there wasn’t a mass protest about something or another in downtown Seattle. You can call them “laidback” but there is a fiery dedication here to the First Amendment.

 

 

Myth: Seattle people are cold, unfriendly hipsters.

Fact: 50-50 TRUTH

 

To be frank, this rainy city is well-known for a social phenomenon called “the Seattle Freeze.” It’s a theory that suggests Seattle residents are somewhat cold and unfeeling in their interactions. While I have certainly experienced this (probably more than I would care to admit), I would argue that patience, endurance, and hard work are required to form solid relationships. While I will not go so far as to call the people unfriendly – as I do think there is a general level of courteousness and a desire not to offend – there is most definitely a general lack of warmth. A psychologist friend of mine once said, “The people here need a certain amount of social insulation, and they are not quick to adopt others into their tight social circle.” Perhaps it is the dark winters or depravation of direct sunlight, but there does seem to be a consensus that it takes time for people to open up to strangers. This could very well be weather-related as the summertime does seem to bring out the more extroverted nature in people.

 

As far as fitting the Seattle stereotype of a hipster, well, there are plenty of people who do act the part. Most West Coast cities do seem to have an air of casualness that East Coasters often dub “beach bum”, and there is a more relaxed sense of fashion and workplace attitude in Seattle. It is not uncommon to see people going to work in flip-flops and shorts (at least in the summer time). Some employers even allow their workers to bring pets to the workplace. And while I can’t say for sure that the majority of companies have such easy-going policies, there does seem to be a less restrictive mindset than what I experienced working in the Midwest. However, only a small number of people would be caught dead in skinny jeans and gothic eyeliner.

 

 

Myth: It rains like cats and dogs in Seattle.

Fact: MOSTLY FALSE

Most people associate rain with Seattle. Part of that pairing is well-deserved as the “rainy season” here usually lasts from October to May (and more often than not, into June – which is also known here as “the June Gloom”). However, what most people do not realize is that the rainfall in Seattle is generally more of a gentle pecking than a rampant down pour - at least most of the time. This writer grew up in Iowa where a rain shower is an explosive affair which will thoroughly soak your clothing. Whereas in Seattle, I have often walked several blocks without an umbrella only to have some wet hair and raindrop scars on my jeans.

 

In fact, other U.S. cities not known for heavy precipitation routinely see more inches of the wet stuff than Seattle. While this sounds like a relief, we pay for it with incessant gray. Winter in Seattle is like Mordor in “Lord of the Rings”: A land abandoned by hope with an ash-colored sky. Our saving grace is the white-capped mountains which receive the majority of the snowfall in their upper elevations. They sit like frozen bookends on the east and west horizons of the city. And although our deciduous trees shed themselves of leaves in the colder seasons, our evergreens maintain their dark pine color throughout the year.

 

The prize at the end of this depressing race is the Seattle summer. Generally, July 4 is considered the official start of the warm season and can last through September if the fates cooperate. Summer in Seattle is a warm, not-too-humid affair filled with plenty of outdoor festivals, boating and a mass exodus to the mountains for exploration of the numerous hiking trails.

 

 

Myth: Seattle is a great foodie destination

Fact: 100 Percent TRUE

Many of my friends who dabble in the culinary arts have commented that Seattle is a wonderful city for foodies, particularly when it comes to sea food. Places like the Pike Place Market regularly receive an abundance of fresh fish, oysters and crab for home cooking, and the many local farmers’ markets bring organic produce and animal products from the many regional farms outside the city. The large, resident Asian populations infuse the city with a diverse range of restaurant options with authentic Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese establishments. Thai food is particularly delicious and popular in Seattle.

 

Coffee is a near staple of daily life (perhaps to keep ones eyes open during the dark and melancholy winter), and Starbuck’s naturally has hundreds of locations in the metropolitan area – some within a block of each other. There are, however, many other smaller, popular coffee chains in Seattle ready to serve the hot caffeine desired by the masses: Tully’s, Seattle’s Best, and Peet's Coffee & Tea.

 

Beer connoisseurs would also find a happy home in Seattle with a number of breweries present in the city and surrounding communities. The neighborhood of Fremont hosts an annual Oktoberfest which allows locals to sample a pint of gold from all over the map. For the wine lover, some of Washington state’s own vineyards (most from east of the mountains) keep the local supply of red and white fresh and flowing all year long.

 

 

In conclusion, and as with most cities, Seattle is a mix of surprises and the occasional true stereotype. One’s own individual experience is what colors the perception. Look for bad and you’ll probably find the worst, but look for the good and it’s likely you’ll find the best.

 

Author Bio:

Snapper Ploen is a contributing writer and photographer at Highbrow Magazine.

 

Photos: Snapper S. Ploen; Pictonym, Rachel Voorhees (Creative Commons).

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Comments

Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is excellent blog. A fantastic read. I will definitely be back.

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