I moved to the Pacific Northwest almost sixteen years ago to the day. Live in a place long enough and you’re bound to notice certain trends and ways of doing things. I’ve written previously about the odd manner in which some human interactions are conducted in Seattle, but nothing sums up local quirks quite like this note I found posted in my apartment earlier today:
The building I live in has 17 separate apartments. Truthfully that’s not very many units, but despite having lived here for almost two years I only know people in less than half of them. That sort of non-engagement doesn’t really bother me—it’s nice to know the neighbors but it’s also not a priority for me—but it does mean that I have to call the note-writer above “Apt 106,” since rather than signing it with his name he instead left only an apartment number.
The problem here is obvious—someone has stolen some packages from Apt 106’s door. Not just some packages, but 20 packages, which, as an editorial aside, I think we can all agree is far too many packages for one single person to have received. But so it goes: Apt 106 gets a lot of packages. Fine. That doesn’t make him a better person than me.
Now, there are plenty of ways to address this thievery, but what’s so unique about The Seattle Way is that it indirectly expresses anger while completely avoiding actual human interaction. That is, rather than talking with residents of the building about this theft, bitchy little notes such as this are written and taped to the wall instead.
If you were a psychology student curious about the definition of passive-aggressive behavior, look no further. If you were an sociology or anthropology student curious about passive-aggressive behavior at a macro-level, Seattle’s your perfect laboratory because this sort of crap happens all the time around here. If you don’t find pathological terms particularly revealing, that’s okay: I think you get the point.
So what motivates this sort of behavior? Why are a large percentage of Seattleites so piously terrified of interacting with other people? What is it about this place that makes so many of us afraid of being openly angry with another person?
My initial thought is that it has something to do with the isolating impact of new technologies, both the technologies themselves as well as the people who create them, many of whom reside in these hills. Maybe people who live in Seattle had childhoods like mine, ones in which the honest expression of feelings was prohibited. Perhaps it’s the cruddy weather that keeps people indoors with their heads lowered, or maybe a lot of people who live in Seattle just have weak-knees. It’s probably impossible and it’s certainly non-essential to determine the Why right now, but it’s as undeniable as rain that this stuff happens constantly in these parts.
What’s worse than the fact that the grown man inhabiting Apt 106 is still clearly waiting for his testicles to descend, an act of arrested development that led to this wussy-footed note being posted, is the actual content of the note, which we’ll get to in a moment after we pause to note the obvious upside of undescended testes—presumably Apt 106 can’t reproduce and thus further forward this annoying behavior.
Let’s start with the most obvious deficiency of this note: The Subject. Specifically, there isn’t one. No I has penned this letter. No human person has taken the responsibility to write anything remotely resembling, I am/feel x- because things have been stolen from me. Instead both sentences begin with, “Pretty disappointing/heartbreaking,” which is about as stimulating as starting a sentence with, Raining outside. In addition to the lack of an I, no name has been signed on the damned thing, only “Apt 106,” a further act of avoiding personal responsibility that seems to emphasize what a wuss we’re dealing with.
It’s also worthwhile to take a look at the feeling-verbs Apt 106 has employed: disappointing and heartbreaking. Come on Apt 106—20 packages have been stolen from you and this is the best you’ve got?? You have every right to be pissed or angry or upset or mad or fucking irate! about the situation, and this is all you could muster?? Worse, you’re not even 100% disappointed and heartbroken—you had to amend the evocative language and are only “pretty” disappointed and heartbroken?? The hell’s wrong with this guy?!
Let me be clear—I’m not a hard-ass and I don’t relish conflict any more than most of us do. I certainly don’t think Apt 106 needs to go early-Scorsese over this situation, but if someone took one single package from in front of my door I’d be pissed, and if I suspected that it was someone in the building I would go around and knock on every single door and ask about it. But then, that’s not The Seattle Way, which may explain why, even after all these years, I sometimes feel like I’m in the wrong place.