Is Seattle really among ‘America’s snobbiest cities’?

TnL coverThe country’s obsession with lists of all kinds has brought forth yet another.  The website of Travel+Leisure, a magazine owned by American Express that, as its name suggests, focuses on the la-dee-dah lifestyle, has cranked out rankings of what it calls “America’s snobbiest cities.” In this assessment Seattle is in a tie for No. 5 with Santa Fe, N.M. Seattle is not considered as snobby as No. 1 San Francisco or No. 2 New York City, but more so than No. 7 Chicago, No. 9 Washington, D.C., No. 11 Portland, Ore., or No. 16 Los Angeles.

Seattle as a super-snobby place? I don’t believe it for a minute. At least not if you go by the typical dictionary definition of a snob: “One who tends to patronize, rebuff, or ignore people regarded as social inferiors and imitate, admire, or seek association with people regarded as social superiors.” A more colloquial definition: people who are full of it.

Now, I do think there is a tendency on the part of Seattleities to ignore others. But in my judgment that has nothing at all to do with relative social standing and a lot more to do with that local phenomenon I have written about known as the Seattle Freeze. As I see it, a lot of folks here tend socially to ignore other folks other than relatives and already close friends.

In my pre-New To Seattle era, I lived 12 years in New Mexico and spent a lot of time in Santa Fe. Charming architecturally, Santa Fe was full of people who definitely were full of it.  I don’t discern that tendency nearly as much in Seattle.

The T+L feature just went up on the website, although if one looks at the fine print closely, it appears the data actually was compiled a year ago. But it didn’t get a lot of attention then and certainly went past my radar with nary a blip. Better later than never.

What criteria did T+L use? The stated explanation is not all that clear or even full of common sense, especially since T+L specifically cited Seattle’s “concentration of espresso-drinking software engineers.” Apparently, an unscientific on-line poll was taken of readers in various categories concerning 35 metropolitan areas (meaning the snobs in suburban Bellevue, Burien and Bothell are part of this, too.) The weight assigned to each category–or for that matter the number of respondents–does not seem to have been revealed, meaning the sweeping results could be from a rather small number of answers and/or have a huge margin of sampling error.

Respondents were invited to grade on what looks like a 1-to-5 scale, and responses were sorted out by whether the rater was a resident of or visitor to the given city. Among the topics queried: reputations for friendly residents, “smarty-pants” residents (whatever that is), “good-looking residents,” high-end shopping and high-brow cultural offering. The magazine also took into account responses for questions it said assessed “21th century definition of elitism,” including tech-savvyness, artsy coffeehouses and environmental friendliness. This last factor was defined as “the kind of city where you get a dirty look for throwing your coffee cup in the wrong bin.”

I’m not sure what some of these measures have to do with a determination of snobbery. But I certainly can see why inclusion of these last three factors–especially the one about trash recycling–might push Seattle toward the top.

However, it is possible to drill down through the online data in support of the published rankings to tease out some insight.

On the issue of whether the locals are friendly, visitors ranked Seattle 18th of 35, in the bottom half but just barely. However, Seattleites were much, much harsher on themselves, pegging their neighbors at 28th, in the bottom quarter.  I assume the lower this ranking, the higher the notion of snobbery, although, as mentioned earlier, I see the Seattle Freeze at work.

Asked for assessment of civic pride, visitors ranked Seattle residents 19th, but locals figured 24th. Here, I assume higher means more snobbery, but again, the stated criteria is pretty weak. Locals and visitors alike rated the average Seattle at or near the top in intelligence, which I assume is a characteristic of snobs.

I’m not sure how this fits into the snobbery rank, but for all of Seattle’s much vaunted cultural offerings, the city didn’t fare too well, ranking somewhere in the middle of the 35. The worst rank for both residents and visitors alike was for “historical sites/monuments.” I guess people just can’t excited about that remembrance of Confederate war veterans.

According to T+L, visitors ranked Seattleites 22d in personal attractiveness. However, the locals rated themselves 32d–three from the very bottom. Maybe they’re sick of the crime-fighting folks who dress themselves up as super heroes and mount street patrols.

But that gap gets closer to what I think is really going on here. As I see it, the problem with the Seattle mindset is not superiority but rather inferiority. I witness this all the time. Defensiveness about the weather in a climate that really isn’t all that bad. An uncertain sense of self-esteem about how to market its considerable charms to the world.

Sure, the newly crowned Miss Seattle was caught kvetching on Twitter about the local climate and the local people. But the Seattle citizenry should have been excited by the fact that this became world-wide news.  As I wrote back then, “Do you think such utterances from, say, Miss Topeka would draw any coverage outside of Kansas?”

Time now for another espresso.

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Is Seattle really among ‘America’s snobbiest cities’? — 11 Comments

  1. Pingback: Seattle makes another 'most snobbiest cities' list - New To Seattle

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  4. I agree with your statement that “snob” is not the correct adjective to use… yes, we don’t like littering or mix-placing recyclables. And, there is a Seattle Freeze – I fit that description. I like just about everyone, and will offer to help people anytime someone looks to need an extra hand. But I don’t have enough time for the friends I do have, so getting all chummy with a new person I just met on an airplane or on the bus, and planning to make time to spend with them would make me feel guilty about Not spending that time with the friends I already have…
    Maybe it’s not snobbery… maybe it’s an over-developed guilt complex. 🙂

  5. I’m a San Francisco native, but sadly, have not lived there since I moved to Seattle in 1984. My closest friends are still from my SF days. Aside from 2 longtime friends made in Seattle, I can attest to the fact that there IS a Seattle freeze. I don’t know if it is snobbery, but I am extremely outgoing and have found it difficult to make friends since I moved here. I would never view San Francisco as a snobby city, but again I haven’t lived there in a very long time and the makeup of the population has changed since I was growing up in the city.

  6. I certainly agree that the the criteria apparently used by T+L to determine degrees of snobbery make little sense, and that to me Seattle is not a snobbish place at all. However, that being said, one indeed can draw dirty looks in Seattle for improper recycling protocol.

  7. Online polls are notoriously unrepresentative. Moreover,

    ““the kind of city where you get a dirty look for throwing your coffee cup in the wrong bin.”

    This is irritating. The authors assume that there’s no legitimate reason to recycle beyond status, no legitimate reason to maintain technological job and life skills beyond status, and no possible enjoyment of drugs like nice coffee, alcohol and weed. If I give you a dirty look for not recycling, it’s because you’re actively making the planet a worse place for us all to live in, not because I think I’m better than you. You might be better than me, how the hell do I know, but I disapprove of that particular action.

    I like my streets clean, my planet healthy, my coffee strong, and I like to know what the hell I’m doing at work. I don’t think better of myself for those things. They just represent things I like.

    You can’t take a city’s culture (be it Boston’s historical appreciation, New York’s appreciation of art, Seattle’s appreciation of the outdoors and environment) and deem it snobby because it doesn’t meet your own particular value set. As if people having values other than your own were somehow doing it to exclude you.

    I don’t think Seattle residents are at all snobby. I don’t think they’re particularly friendly in a superficial way but they will have your back when you need it, which is far more important than inviting someone to church 10,000 times, or inviting you to a party at which everyone asks what job you do.

    That said I also don’t think we’re the best city. Different cities cater to different interests and life goals. I like Seattle and Portland. The people here share my basic values, in general. But it doesn’t mean we’re better than Boston, New York, or Albuquerque. Just different. These lists are ridiculous.

  8. There are parts of Boston that consider Lowell the Wild West, and could hardly conceive of a city west of Ohio even having the basis for snobbery. However I find it suspicious you have lived in or near two of the snobbiest cities in the U.S.

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