In today's Washington Post, as a sports feature regarding the upcoming Redskins-Seattle matchup tomorrow, Blaine Harden writes about how unerringly polite -- to the extreme Seattleites behave. The article reminded me of my visit to Nebraska (home of Boy's Town, if that tells you anything) when I went to a football game and the fans were eerily pleasant, doing such non-eastern things as cheering the opposing team off the field with sincere shouts of 'good game'! (Naturally, a lot of players flipped off the fans, a move which seemed to stun them.) I expected to find such a tale in the story, but instead it focused on how their laws and views are shaped very differently from ours.
Two comments struck a chord in me for different reasons. One for being absolutely ridiculous and the other for being rather insightful. I'll give you the first, bolded by me:
- Goody-two-shoes behavior is endemic and appears to be spreading -- by order of law. A new city ordinance requires lap dancers to keep four feet from patrons. A new no-smoking law requires smokers to move at least 25 feet from the doors, windows or vents of a public building or workplace before lighting up. Starting this month, there's a $50 fine for residents who improperly mix their recyclable garbage. If the state liquor control board approves, a new city ordinance will ban the sale of cheap wine and beer in neighborhoods where people hang out and look slothful.
- Jonathan Raban, the British writer and social critic who has lived in Seattle for 15 years, says that a chilly Scandinavian undertow continues to tug at the soul of the city. "Strangers when they first arrive say this is quite a friendly town," Raban said. "They don't realize that the good manners are usually more of a protective barrier than an invitation to intimacy."
To Raban, the city's eagerness to legislate nice behavior suggests what he calls "the deep authoritarianism of the liberal mind." He added: "Liberals like to think they are on the side of liberty, but actually they are on the side of authority." Mayor Nickels does not see it that way. He says Seattleites obey laws and are civil with one another out of "respect for the community."