It’s been five months, now, since we uprooted and moved to Seattle. Long enough I feel qualified to answer “how do you like it” with some certainty. And while we spend most of our time on Capitol Hill and Downtown, our stomping grounds and social circles have expanded enough that I’m ready to generalize.
The “Asian-Nordic” character of Seattleites replaces the false friendliness of so many American cities with a polite but stoic tolerance of others. Behind this is a fundamental distinction from St. Louis; human interaction lacks an undercurrent of fear. It’s more than live-and-let-live; there’s a genuine respect for others as fellow people, even between drivers and pedestrians, customers and clerks.
The vibe of the city is a delightful blend of no-nonsense professionalism without any unnecessary rush or panic. It’s difficult to compare to other cities, but is something like a cross between Chicago and New Orleans. My own driving (which is rare, now) has shifted from hurried to relaxed and defensive to comfortable as I unconsciously adapt to the pervasive attitude around me.
Most importantly, I feel at home in ways I never could in the town where I grew up.
Previously I had to explain my diet as “vegetarian plus fish,” here being pescetarian (or vegetarian) is quite mainstream. As are cycling, hiking, and any other activity that promotes health or a lifestyle in touch with the outdoors. The aforementioned fearlessness towards fellow citizens extends to the natural world. Gardens are much more popular than lawns, because it would be silly to use municipal water to keep grasses unnaturally green through summer, and embarrassing to spend energy and time running a lawnmower. It’s easy to maintain a reverence for nature when large bodies of water and mountain peaks are typical features of the horizon.
We’ve also lost our minority status in an environment of progressive politics, driven by libertarian social norms balanced with a collectivism approach to problems of the commons. It’s not cool to make others breathe your secondhand smoke, but if you’re going to smoke privately, no one cares what’s in that cigarette. Public debate, even on anonymous blog comment threads, tends to be open-minded and thoughtful. (I’ll leave it to the reader to determine whether the dearth of McCain-Palin supporters is a cause or effect of reasoned dialog.)
King County and even the State of Washington may not subscribe to the Seattle attitude wholesale, but they tolerate it and do not hesitate to invest in the infrastructure of their economic engine, using mostly sensible consumption taxes in lieu of income taxes.
It really is better out here.