Friday, April 28, 2006

Seattle stories: the native

Because nothing really interesting is going on with me right now, I thought I'd write about my hometown, which in a way is writing about me because I spent most of my life there.

In Seattle there's a certain cachet to being a native. I don't know if I associate this attitude with the '80s because that's when I have my first clear memories, or that's when so many Californians started moving to Seattle that we who were born there, or had lived there a long time, reassured our fellow natives that we were true-blue Seattle-ites and everything that started to make The Most Liveable City in the Nation less liveable--traffic, aggressive drivers in traffic, skyrocketing housing prices, the increased prevalence of the word "dude" (which infiltrated my vocabulary)--were someone else's fault. Seattle was the Garden of Eden, a hidden jewel (the Emerald City!), paradise lost.

This and my own relentless self-consciousness, once I hit college and started meeting people from other parts of the country, made me emphasize the aspects of my personality that I thought Seattle created: superficial things, such as my fondness for caffeinated beverages, practical shoes, and large bodies of water, and more innate qualities, such as my mild and reserved personality (well, I'm shy, but I like to call it being reserved), a streak of quirkiness, and a carefully cultivated sense of superiority, because Seattle is just that cool. (Hell, I'm not really even from Seattle, technically; I was born within the city limits, but grew up in a suburb a few miles out of town. Trips to downtown Seattle were infrequent adventures when I was young.) My belief that I was from Seattle, and therefore different, probably annoyed people, and for all I know still does.

Everyone is from somewhere, after all, and I can't blame anyone from the most lethargic town in Oklahoma for thinking it's the best place on earth because they know it so well, and familiarity breeds affection as much as contempt. So it's no wonder I love Seattle--most people who've been there do, even after a short visit, and I spent 26 years there.

But it's something else, too. When I moved to Virginia, everyone told me I was moving to the South, and it was like a foreign country, and people had weird accents there, etc. Whatever. If this is true, it's not noticeable in Charlottesville, because most people who live here are from somewhere else (and there's a bit of a native complex going on here, too; Charlottesville's growing fast, it has a crazy housing market...this all sounds so familiar...). And yet...sometimes I wonder, how did I end up here? Isn't it a little weird? And what do people think of me when they hear I'm from Seattle? What do they think of the west coast? I've had more than one conversation that went like this:

Easterner: Where did you go to college?
Juliet: The University of Washington.
Easterner: Oh, Washington University in St. Louis?
Juliet: No, the University of Washington in Seattle.

At this point my interlocutor will often become very confused, thinking: Why is there a University of Washington? Is Washington a state? They actually have books there? How is there room in Seattle for a university with all the grunge rockers and computer programmers and WTO protesters dressed up as turtles and dead homeless people who voted for the governor? Weeeiiird.

And I'm thinking: the country does not end at the Mississippi, dang it! I went to one of the best public universities in the country! Why haven't you heard of it?

There is also the Washington-is-an-extension-of-California misconception (God knows where Oregon is in this system), which I realized after living in Berkeley is a more egregious version of the Northern-California-is-quite-similar-to-L.A. misconception. Okay, okay, Valley-speak made its insidious way northward, and we're laid back, and we wear sunglasses a lot (because the sun hurts our eyes!), and....yeah. BUT IT'S NOT CALIFORNIA! I went to California for the first time when I was 21. It's really far away. And we don't even like Californians!

I assume whenever someone finds out I'm from Seattle, there are six things they think about me, related to coffee, computers, rain, grunge, airplanes, and the WTO. But the more I think about it, the more I realize I don't know what people associate with me as a Seattle native. Perhaps, God forbid, nobody thinks anything. That would disappoint me utterly. I don't know why. Did Seattle make me that way? But there I go again!

1 comment:

Deanna said...

This reminds me of when my brother met his sister-in-law for the first time... Marybeth asked Jonathan if they had cars in Washington state. Mandy was mortified. Jonathan told Marybeth that Lewis and Clark were still the governors of Washington.

And then when Elizabeth went to visit Jonathan in Alabama, JessAnn (Mandy's grandmother's adopted daughter, who was 11 at the time) asked her "Is this your first time in America?"

Even those of us who are red dots in a blue state have a good deal of local pride. We may be Republicans, but at least we know how to order coffee! ;)