They’re as much a part of Seattle scenery as the mountains and the Sound–and maybe just as revealing. I’m referring to “no-solicitation” signs that grace the front of so many homes. I see them in every neighborhood I visit, sometimes on rows of houses at a time.
Over the four decades before I became New To Seattle last year, I lived in the four mainland U.S. time zones, more than a dozen residences. I’ve been in all 50 states. I can’t think of another city that literally screams “stay away from me” nearly this much.
Now, I’m not disputing the legal right of homeowners to determine who can knock at the front door uninvited, especially when the visitor is trying to make a buck. There is certainly an expectation of privacy, a right to be left alone. At least theoretically, the stay-away signs, somewhat encouraged by a Seattle ordinance, are supposed to be aimed only at door-to-door salespersons hawking commercial services or products.
I wonder, though, what they say about the essence of Seattle’s soul.
Undoubtedly, the signs–varieties I have seen in Seattle also include “no solicitors,” “no soliciting,” “no agents” and “no peddlers”–also discourage individuals pushing religious or political causes or seeking money for charity. The First Amendment likely protects such pursuits from explicitly severe government regulation or prohibition. But as I see it, overall we need more interactions on the issues, not less.
An underlining concern is that many solicitors, who under Seattle law must be licensed and not knock after 9 p.m., are actually con artists selling shoddy goods or criminals trying to locate empty houses for a quick break-in and robbery. I don’t know if official statistics back up such m.o.’s as huge problems.
The annual end of Seattle long winter generates a plethora of warnings and tips about how to handle “solicitor activity,” as it was called in one recent post on the blog Magnolia Voice covering the Magnolia neighborhood, where I live. Here’s one written earlier this month on the blog Maple Leaf Life for the Maple Leaf neighborhood, and another from last year for the blog My Ballard, which, not surprisingly, covers Ballard.
Last week, a thread on a West Seattle blog about a “brazen solicitor” quickly generated 15 comments full of other close encounters and advice. Among the deluge was one post–and only one–that stood out for its humanity:
Wow.. I can’t believe how much fear and paranoia is being expressed in such benign events such as this. I understand sometimes people can be creepy, but most of us are just born that way, lol.
To me, the no-solicitation mantra jives with a narrative that Seattle really isn’t a very friendly place at all. Sure, its residents are civil and polite. To a fault, even, judging from the juxtaposition of non-aggressive drivers and high accident rates. But not on balance warm, engaging, inviting, encouraging or most any other adjective that might suggest a communal convergence of the human spirit.
I am not alone in this conclusion. On Monday, veteran Seattle journalist Knute Berger–unlike newcomer me, he grew up here–wrote an essay on Crosscut entitled, “Simple rules for staying sane in Seattle.” Here in its entirety is one of them:
2. Avoid your neighbors.
The Seattle Freeze is our famous social disease. Inoculate yourself. Don’t try to make friends, better to embrace the solitude, the peace, the occasional remote wave to the unfamiliar figure next door as you both place your recycling curbside. You didn’t move here for people, did you? Most everyone else moved here to get away from them. Socially, Seattleites will mostly disappoint. They’re just not that into you. If you must reach out, use Skype or Facebook. That way, people come with an off-switch.
Seattlites can make all the fun they want of Los Angeles or New York–I lived in both areas, and any jibes are likely entirely warranted. But the level of agreeable human interaction in these places is magnitudes more than here.
You can now go away.