The first rule of unspoken rules is to not speak about them … right?
Seattle Times readers were recently asked what the down-and-dirty unspoken rules of Seattle are, and despite calling them “unspoken,” over 2,000 responses flooded in — proving Seattleites are delightfully fussy (and this ain’t Fight Club!).
Break any of these rules, and you’re at risk of looking like a tourist, being branded as a transplant or losing your local card — the horror!
Here are a few of our favorites, edited for length and clarity.
It’s this, not that
Let’s get the basics out of the way first — if you live in Seattle, you ought to know the names of our local highways, businesses and neighborhoods.
You might think this one isn’t so much an unspoken rule if everyone seems to know it exists, but it’s I-5, not The 5, as hundreds of readers explained.
“Neither Puget Sound, nor Hood Canal, nor any numbered highway, are prepended with the word ‘the,'” reader Liz Fallin echoed.
As for our local businesses, drop the possessive “S.” It’s Nordstrom, not Nordstrom’s, although a few readers correctly noted it was Nordstrom’s at one point, and “this one will get you in an argument with people who claim to remember the store pre-1955,” Alex Vitale said.
Another reader proclaimed “the only person who can get away with that is someone who still carries an original Nordstrom’s Best credit card in their wallet.”
You should also drop that pesky possessive “S” off the end of Fred Meyer, Boeing and, of course, Pike Place Market, too.
Most readers insist it’s Capitol Hill, not Cap Hill — Eugene Carlson said they “don’t know how that abomination found its way into the civic vocabulary, but it deserves unanimous censure” (although that’s debatable, according to some lifelong Seattleites). It will always be Cap’l’lil to Seattle Times enterprise coordinator Laura Gordon, but if you’re confused, just remember “Barack Obama lived on Capitol Hill, not Capital Hill,” Jay Templeton said.
While we’re at it, it’s Washington, not Warshington. Templeton also provided the eloquent explanation that “we wash our car, not warsh our car.”
So, drop the “R,” drop the “S” … and if you live in West Seattle, you might as well continue down the alphabet and drop the “T,” which doesn’t count if you live there, according to Bonnie Elgin.
“West Seattle is one word when spoken,” concurred commenter Little_Lord_Fauntleroy.
As for other parts of Seattle, Ryan Lemke said it’s Lower Queen Anne, not Uptown because “one theater name does not a neighborhood make.”
And lastly, Rose Marie Murphy said the rules that apply to islands are the same for neighborhoods on a hill, like Crown Hill and Queen Anne Hill — “one lives ON Sunset Hill in Ballard, not IN Sunset Hill! This also goes for Magnolia Bluff!”
Real Seattleites don’t use umbrellas … or do they?
Over 600 people liked the simple comment “NO UMBRELLAS” from user christopherjclarkie on Instagram — and this isn’t counting the hundreds of mentions of umbrellas from other readers.
Most readers passionately expressed their preference for a hooded jacket or Gore-Tex over the use of an umbrella.
It’s best not to use an umbrella unless it’s torrential rain, Sydney M. Pertl said, “and probably not even then.” Otherwise, you’ll stick out like a tourist or a tech bro, “and you will absolutely be looked upon with derision.”
But other readers, some born and raised here decades ago, believe the apparent ban on bumbershoots is “BS,” a myth only pushed as a “quirky truth.”
One reader named Heather said the myth “started in the 80s to mess with all the Cali transplants.” Real locals, Heather continued, know umbrellas are situational, and the key is knowing when to use it in different types of rain — “you just have to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em,” Nancy Grayum concurred.
“It’s an overly macho myth that we avoid them,” one reader named Joe said. “Sure, they’re not always ideal for our misty or drizzly days, but during a downpour, there’s no shame in using the best tool for the job.”
“Maybe the saying should be, ‘People with straight hair in Seattle never use umbrellas,'” Tisha Hoffman said, who has “wavy hair that frizzes if I walk past a water fountain, so there’s no way I’m letting it get wet.”
And, putting on a hood other Seattleites swear by?
“No thank you,” said Sue Pierce, another reader with hair on their mind. “Why would you want to smash down what I just worked so hard to lift up?”
Don’t you ever jaywalk. No honking either!
Here in Seattle, getting your car broken into or your bike stolen is a rite of passage, readers declared.
Someone, somewhere long ago also decided — perhaps as a form of good karma to deter the theft of one’s method of transportation — one will never jaywalk, “no exceptions, even if you’re freezing and completely soaked.”
“Just stand there and patiently wait for the walk signal … in the pouring rain … without an umbrella (so you can hold your coffee),” Jill Pagano said, “even if it’s 3 a.m. and there isn’t another person or car in sight,” Laura B. echoed.
If you witness someone jaywalk, “say nothing but give them the judgmental side eye and text your friends about it,” Katy Sharp said. “Same rule for cutting in line, or otherwise: say nothing to them directly and text your friends.” (How Seattle!)
Don’t honk your horn unless a collision is imminent, life and limb are in immediate danger, safety is an issue or “it’s a really huge big deal,” several readers said.
“‘We don’t honk in Seattle’ is a lesson shared with me the first time I honked after getting my license 25 years ago,” said one reader named Kate. “Someone rolled down his window to tell me, and now I tell others.”
Here are some other transportation rules (some of which you, uh, probably shouldn’t follow) …
- If you want to turn left at one of those dinky roundabouts in a residential area, you look around real quick to make sure no one is coming and just go around the wrong way. — Steve
- When driving down a narrow street, the car with the closest space available should pull over to allow an oncoming car to pass. The driver in the car allowed to pass should wave their thanks for this courtesy. We know you’re not from here if you don’t wave. — Cathy Wickwire
- At a four-way intersection, regardless of whether it’s your turn or not, you should wave the other drivers on. — Heather G. (Should you start moving forward at the same time as another person, slam on your brakes, then inch forward again, then slam on your brakes again, then wait some more. And repeat, said Seattle Times editor Zachariah Bryan.)
- Zipper merge in traffic — it is OK and we should all be doing it! When hiking in a local park or up in the mountains, pull over on the trail and allow the faster hikers behind you to pass — say hello as they go by. — Sarah McFarlane
- When waiting to get on or off the ferry, don’t start your car until the last moment. Turn off your car alarm! We don’t need a midcrossing announcement that your car is crying! — Florence Garetson
- And remember, as several readers pointed out, “if you’re in traffic, you are traffic — sage advice from KEXP DJ John Richards,” Theo Roe said.
Seattle: The city of socials!
So, you’ve been invited to a social gathering in Seattle (first off, congratulations). Don’t panic, here’s what to do:
- No need to stress about what to wear. On Facebook, Jeremy Biggs kindly provided the Three Commandments of Seattle Clothing: “Thou shalt not dress too well, or well at all. Thou shalt not wear flower prints or pastel colors unless in a retro-funky way. Thou shalt try extremely hard to be weird and unusual, even if that makes you a cliché.”
- If in doubt, Columbia Sportswear, Fiona Preedy said, is acceptable for all levels of attire. “It’s common to walk into a fine dining establishment and see polo shirts and khakis as far as the eye can see, and then they top off with their nicest waterproof shell.”
- Either way, whatever you wear is fine. Just “don’t EVER wear an OKC jersey,” Peter Callero said.
- Confirm your plans at least a day in advance. If there will be more than four people, “expect one to flake, and you can’t shame them for it,” Caroline Zelonka said.
- Do not arrive on time if your plans are at a private residence. Instead, arrive 10 to 20 minutes late — and “if necessary, wait outside or in your car until the appointed hour plus 10 before knocking,” Marylee Webbeking said.
- If you’re engaging in the art of conversation, either at a social gathering or, well anywhere, Phil Katz said if a Seattleite says something to you a second time — “possibly with a slight increase in volume or any motion of the eyebrows” — that’s equivalent to someone in Chicago, Milwaukee or Philadelphia saying “WTF are you crazy; how could you even think such a thing?”
And for some readers, the art of conversation is more like the art of what not to do.
Strangers? Don’t engage. “They’ll ignore you, and then you feel stupid,” Mary Adner said on Facebook.
Oh, and think you finally made a new friend in Seattle? Think again. “If I was talking to you yesterday [that] does not mean I know you today,” Ghazal Rizvi said.
The lowdown on the chow down
Here in Seattle, we think Taco Time is “damn-fine Mexican food,” one reader said.
If you’re not feelin’ Mexican food, it’s always a good choice to opt for Dick’s! Dick’s is better than In-N-Out burgers, Henry H. Lo said, and “regardless of how objectively false this statement is, every Seattleite must defend it with their dying breath.” Just don’t order a “Dick’s Deluxe,” or everyone will know you’re not from here, Noel Sherrard added.
A true local will also reveal themselves at the Ivar’s order counter.
Every Seattleite knows there’s really no line — “you just yell when they ask,” Jackie Toombs said.
If you visit Ivar’s on a busy day, “you can see first-timers feel disrespected and cutoff and worry they won’t get everything,” Leo Griffin said.
Speaking of fish, if you buy salmon, “the seller should know what type of salmon it is, if it was caught wild, the name of the boat it was caught on and what river it was from,” Johnny McBallard said.
Thirsty? Scott Milzer said “you must always ask the bartender if he has something ‘a little less hoppy.'” As for coffee, Starbucks isn’t good, said one reader named Keith — “you gotta go deeper.”
Once you’re done with your grub, you must recycle and/or compost Kirsti Rochons said — and “don’t you dare throw that pizza box in the regular garbage can.”
The good, the bad and everything else
These rules did not fit into any one category — but they’re just too good not to share.
- Do not wear heels in REI or ask at PCC if they have Diet Coke. Never mind how I know this. — Seattle Times arts critic Moira Macdonald
- Beware of the grates. Seattle grates have a tendency of being wet and slippery, I’ve succumbed to their evil ways and have witnessed many a tourist and residents fall victim to the same fate. — Rogelio Reynoso
- When advertising, recommending or just talking about some place/restaurant/attraction, don’t give any clues where it is. None! No addresses, no hints except maybe a reference to someplace only Seattle lifers know that’s not on a map. We newbies can just go gnash our teeth. — Brenda Reiss
- Don’t complain about the “Seattle Freeze” in one breath and in the next, claim you’ve never met a native Seattleite before … if that were the case, you interlopers brought the “Freeze” with you. — Alison Koop
- If you purchased a house in Seattle 20 years ago, keep your thoughts on the housing market to yourself. And if you work at Amazon, say you work at Amazon. No one likes the coy, “Oh, I work at a tech company” line.— Seattle Times staff reporter Paige Cornwell
- If it is a clear day, one must honor Mount Rainier by saying, “Wow, did you see … the mountain’s out today.” — Susan Rouleau
- If you want to insult someone in Seattle, never call them a “hippie.” That is a term of endearment. — Mark Taylor-Canfield
Rain, rain, don’t go away!
Weather whining, particularly about the rain, is not permitted until at least March, Ann Bergstrom said.
“If you say ‘I’m sick of this rain’ in November, the locals give you an acid glare and say ‘WE like it this way.’ If you say the same thing in March, you get a desperate glance and a ‘I’m with you, buddy, I’m going to Cabo next week!'”
Here in the Pacific Northwest, if something is “worth doin’, it’s worth doin’ in the rain,” Charlie B said. “All Seattleites know not to put things off for a sunny day. If you want to get something done, just throw on your coat and do it!”
So, canceling plans due to rain is unacceptable — but remember, “canceling plans due to social anxiety is perfectly understandable,” one reader added.
Once spring really rolls around with “those first sunny days after the extended winter grays, a lot of people are going to call in sick to work. Let it go. They are repairing their mental health after many months of dark gray depression,” said one reader named Heather.
It isn’t just humans who become energized in the spring. Crows will be “absolutely feral” in the springtime. “You must accept, nay, appreciate it. If you get divebombed, it’s basically good luck!” Josie Hollingsworth said.
Summer? Don’t count on it until July 5 — “it’s a roll of the dice before then” Rob Grant said.
And, to wrap us up: Readers agreed if an out-of-towner asks, “Does it really rain all the time?” you say, “Yes, all the time!”
“Of course, it always rains in Seattle,” said a reader named Jeff. “All day, every day, every single day of the year. This might just be our best kept secret!”
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.