As I sit down and look out the window of yet another rainy gray afternoon, I keep pondering what IS Seattle culture? Having lived here for six years now, one would think I should be an expert of this city, but, in retrospect, I think I have yet to grasp the real culture.
Sure, we’re known for our first Starbucks, the Space Needle, Boeing, Amazon, Microsoft, and now Macklemore, but what do we have when we take these big names away? Are we but a mere city of popular brand names?
Seattle is a commuter city. I grew up in metropolitan cities like New York, Mexico City, Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo; so my extended family don’t believe me when I say I take the bus everywhere, and walk in the city. Public transportation in Seattle isn’t as reliable as it is say in Japan (you’ll never have to wait for a bus that’s late, or a bus that never came), but the buses, ferries, and water taxis are safe and reasonably priced. It’s amazing to me to see most of my friends, especially the guys, get apprehensive when I mention I came on the bus and will be going home on the bus. Sure, there are sketchy people at times, but if you keep to yourself, you should be fine. I challenge you to explore riding the bus; get lost and find your way.
Seattle in itself is quite small, especially downtown. Walking from Belltown to the International District is only a half an hour walk. Totally doable, even in heels!
When walking in Seattle on a rainy day (which is about ¾ of the year), you may notice that hardly anyone uses an umbrella. The reason? Seattle rain comes down diagonally, and the wind destroys umbrellas. It’s quite fascinating to see how the shape of an umbrella has transformed these years. Many of the styles I see around Seattle are now dome shaped.
One thing I can say about Seattle is that it is ever changing; nothing is constant. We have numerous restaurants opening throughout the year, and lots of new developments being built along the waterfront; but our natural scenery is always changing. Seattle is definitely a city that astonishes your vision. The sunrise, sunset, and clear sky are never the same. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to the glass blowing culture Seattle has. Glass blowing is an art form that no one can replicate, as each breath, each touch, each feel will shape the outcome of the glass. Chihuly is one of our well known local glass sculptor. His work can be spotted everywhere throughout Washington (and you’ll know it’s his work at one glance!). The newly built Chihuly Garden and Glass museum right below the Space Needle is a joy to visit.
This is just my take, but Seattle is a city that grows on you. You make Seattle evolve . Seattle, I think is humble, doesn’t try to show off and is comfortable in its own skin. The city has lots to offer, but until you make the first step of exploration, you won’t see the warm smiles that lights up this city.
Let me share some pointers in how to meet the locals.
- Be in the know! Pick up the free local newspapers The Stranger and the Seattle Weekly out fresh every Wednesday to read up on the current trends; politics, top restaurants, upcoming live events, shows, you name it. You’ll find something that’ll spark your interest, I promise.
- Socialize! Seattle may be known for the famous coffee shops like Starbucks or Tully’s, but don’t be afraid to explore the local coffee shops we have around the city. If you frequent the café during your stay, they might remember you by name and talk to you like a local. Bring up the fact that you heard about the local shop in magazines and/or tv shows. Anybody watch Chopped? They love hearing about that. Speaking of food—my all time favorite local shops both handle ice creams and/or gelato. Who can say no to ice cream!? Gelatiamo has 16 rotating flavors made daily using Washington (non) dairy and produce. Molly Moon is also a local favorite, always coming up with seasonal flavors with local ingredients. One thing I’ve noticed with Washingtonians is we love sharing stories, so feel free to ask where the product came from and you’re bound to learn the deep history beneath the surface.
- Create Real Change. Whether you’re walking along Pike Place Market, Belltown, or the International District, you’ll see a flood of homeless people in the city of Seattle. According to the One Night Count, there were about 8,830 people that were homeless last year. Real Change news is a newspaper sold by homeless street vendors. It provides an opportunity and a voice for low-income and homeless people to interact with society, closing the gaps and fears of misconceptions. Vendors pay 60 cents for each Real Change newspaper and resell the paper on the street for $2 plus tips. Don’t be afraid to approach them. In fact, visit FareStart for a great meal as they celebrate their 20th anniversary of transforming lives. FareStart provides culinary training for the less fortunate. The restaurant serves lunch and hosts Guest Chef Night–which is a night where FareStart students prepare a three course meal with one of Seattle’s premier chef.
- Seattle Works provides great one time volunteering that fits into your schedule. Not only will you be able to meet locals but make new friends while doing something for the Seattle community.
- Embrace being a tourist. Learning about new culture in a new city is all in perspective. Sometimes, I learn more as a tourist than a local. Doing touristy activities sheds light on what messages we are sending about our own city. Besides, you can always ask what the locals think of this newfound information. (More likely than not, it could be news for them!) For the foodies, participate in Restaurant Week or tour around the neighborhood exploring history through food. Line up for the food trucks while striking a conversation with the person in front of you. Enjoy festivals ranging from international beers, Northwest Folklife, and cultural events held at the Seattle Center. For the adventurists: take a trip up Mount Rainier, go hiking, go skiing, go kayaking, or snowshoeing! For the artsy folks: enjoy the First Thursday Art Walks, or attend your first Comicon or PAX. Take a peek at Meetup to find numerous groups that fits your interests.
Help us Anti-Freeze Seattle, one interaction at a time. If anything, I’d be happy to suggest/recommend activities to do in Seattle. After all, I’m still a foreigner exploring Seattle culture.