Bernadette Fox, the central character in Maria Semple’s hilarious Where’d You Go, Bernadette, sulks in her house, becoming more and more reclusive, rather than facing reality. Bernadette’s hate for her adopted city is so great, that she hires an online personal assistant so she doesn’t have to leave her house.
And this city she hates? Seattle. And Seattle happens to be my city too. I went to the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), and have lived in and around Seattle my whole life. Now, you might think that I’d rush to defend my fair town, but you know what? There’s a lot that Bernadette’ got right about old Sea-Town.
Greetings from sunny Seattle, where women are ‘gals,’ people are ‘folks,’ a little bit is a ‘skosh,’ if you’re tired you’re ‘logy,’ if something is slightly off it’s ‘hinky,’ you can’t sit Indian-style but you can sit ‘crisscross applesauce,’ when the sun comes out it’s never called ‘sun’ but always ‘sunshine,’ boyfriends and girlfriends are ‘partners,’ nobody swears but someone occasionally might ‘drop the f-bomb,’ you’re allowed to cough but only into your elbow, and any request, reasonable or unreasonable, is met with ‘no worries.’ Have I mentioned how much I hate it here?”
I don’t know about skosh or logy, but teachers really do instruct kids to sit “crisscross applesauce” and my wife and I tell our daughters to cough into their elbows. I don’t want them sneezing into their palms and spreading their germs everywhere! It’s just common sense.
. . . this dreary upper lefthand corner or the Lower Forty-eight.”
I prefer “Lower Alaska” myself. Unlike the East Coast, in which major cities are a short train ride away, the closest big cities to Seattle are Vancouver, B.C. and Portland, OR—a three- or four-hour car ride away. Try driving down to San Francisco and it’ll take a good 12 hours. But I kind of like this. It means that it takes a special kind of person to commit to living here. We Seattleites tell people the weather here is terrible in order to dissuade them from moving (though this doesn’t seem to be working).
Everything else is Craftsman. Turn-of-the-century Craftsman, beautifully restored Craftsman, reinterpretation of Craftsman, needs-some-love Craftsman, modern take on Craftsman. Its like a hypnotist put everyone from Seattle into a collective trance. You are getting sleepy, when you wake up you will want to live only in a Craftsman house, the year won’t matter to you, all that will matter is that the walls will be thick, the windows tiny, the rooms dark, the ceilings low, and it will be poorly situated on the lot.”
Head to Queen Anne, where Bernadette lives, or anywhere north of Lake Union, and it’s true that you’ll see row after row of craftsman bungalows, mostly built in the 1920s (one of our team members admits hers was built in 1926). But Bernadette hasn’t left her house in years, let alone her neighborhood. If she had, she might notice that there’s actually a lot of other cool architecture going on. So I guess you can say I “kinda” agree on this one.
Why does every beggar have a pit bull?”
Bernadette rants about the number of homeless people who own dogs in Seattle. It might seem like something made up as a metaphor for the state of something or other, but no. It’s 100% true. I used to work in downtown Seattle right by Westlake Center, and I have seen countless homeless people with dogs. Seattle is crazy about dogs. We have dog sitters, dog walkers, dog bakeries, and dog shampoo specialists. About once a year someone tries to ban pit bulls from the city, but that will never happen. The dog lovers (who are pretty much everyone) will never stand for it.
I’ve created logos, websites, and other design work for a lot of private schools in and around Seattle. The way Semple satirizes their grading system and mentality, trying to encourage children rather than challenge them, is spot-on. And at the end of that long slog towards high-school graduation? Ivy league. Only the best for our unique little snowflakes! (Though UW is a pretty good choice, if I do say so myself).
Take five-way intersections. The first time Bernadette commented on the abundance of of five-way intersections in Seattle, it seemed perfectly relevant. I hadn’t noticed it myself, but indeed there were many intersections with an extra street jutting out, and which required you to wait through an extra traffic light cycle.”
Not only are five-way intersections (of which Seattle has many) annoying, but if you’re easily distracted like me, they’re dangerous. Once when I was about 18-years old, I got into an accident on one near the University of Washington campus. I decline to say just what distracted me, but you can probably guess (hint: it rhymes with whirls).
Blessing, and help yourself to some chard.”
Rain for nine months out of the year, and drier than Tucson the other three, PNW gardeners face a challenge. But measly problems such as weather or latitude don’t seem to stop anyone. What grows particularly well—in abundance, in fact—are leafy greens. So much so that nobody knows what to do with all of it, and they have to push it off on others. But hey, at least its organic. And to a true Seattleite, that’s all that matters.
I needed to talk to Bernadette about her blackberry bushes, which are growing down her hill, under my fence, and invading my garden. I was forced to hire a specialist who said Bernadette’s blackberries are going to destroy the foundation of my house.”
Added to the extreme weather patterns, gardeners face another challenge: blackberries. These beasts are prickly, fast-growing, tangled webs of destruction. Like zombies, they are next to impossible to kill, and they just come back. If you’re into urban foraging, they’re pretty tasty come September though!
People are born here, they grow up here, they go to the University of Washington, they work here. Nobody has any desire to leave. You ask them ‘What is it again that you love so much about Seattle?’ and they answer, ‘We have everything. The mountains and the water.’ This is their explanation, the mountains and the water.”
Bernadette gets sick of people saying that Seattle doesn’t need anything more than what it already has: mountains and water. But it’s true! Seattle is perfect because it is beautiful. Once again, it takes a special kind of person to live here.
Honestly, these were just a few of the things that Bernadette gets right. The list could go on and on, including Subarus, gray hair, Microsoft acronyms, bicycles, parking downtown, the coconut pie from Lola, Dale Chihuly, the Seattle Freeze, North Face, Cliff Mass, and more. But I’ll leave you to discover those gems on your own. I’m off to go spend some time outdoors. Because that’s what we do here.
Find more to love and hate about Seattle in Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette