The Myth of the True Seattleite

In a city of transplants, Seattle identity has become an exclusive club.

By Zoe Sayler December 26, 2022 Published in the Winter 2022 issue of Seattle Met


"I'm from Seattle,” Says Liar from Shoreline.

Man Who Moved to Seattle 12 Minutes Ago Upset Everyone Moving to Seattle.

Op-ed: Californians Need to Go Back Where They Came From (Except for Eddie Vedder—He’s One of the Good Ones).

Seattle satire publication, The Needling, pokes fun at all our city’s quirks—but its headline writers really make hay with stories about our tendency to draw strict lines around who can call themselves a True Seattleite.

As a comedy writer, “you’re always making fun of things that are taking themselves too seriously,” says Needling founder Lex Vaughn, “which I think makes Seattle a very ripe place for local niche satire.” And our city’s been making it since time immemorial—or at least since the 1980s, when homegrown sketch comedy show Almost Live! ribbed the Pacific Northwest’s sun-starved office workers and High Five’n White Guys on KING-TV. Nineties Seattle Times columnist Jean Godden once outlined the 10 degrees of Seattleite, from “Got off a Boeing 747 at Sea-Tac yesterday” to “Has an REI membership number below 10,000.” Countless TikToks exist on the topic of Seattle identity, including a University of Washington student mockingly rating Red Square passersby on their “true PNWer” status (pronounced “poo-nwer”).

As with so much successful comedy, it’s funny because it’s true. But for people on the receiving end, constant reminders that they don’t belong aren’t always so funny. Vaughn would know (cue scandalized gasps): She’s a California transplant herself. “It’s not like, a little joke to you as a new person,” Vaughn says. “It’s like a real source of anxiety and depression.”

Backlash against transplants isn’t especially surprising in a city that so quickly ballooned with them. As of 2019, half the adults in town were born in a different state entirely, many of whom came here as part of the rent-gouging, neighborhood-transforming tech boom. But it does seem particularly hypocritical in a city of people that would largely balk at the words “Go back where you came from.” Not to mention the fact that most of the gatekeeping is done by people who aren’t native to this land in the first place.

“There’s misdirected anger,” Vaughn says. “I totally get being upset about seeing some of your favorite things leave the city.” But was it really the programmer who moved here for a job who wrecked your favorite local haunt? Or should that blame be placed on the company that built a shiny new neighborhood with disregard for what we already had?

Giving outsiders the collective cold shoulder won’t make Seattle a better place to live. Pressuring people with diverse experiences and perspectives to conform in a land of Gore-Tex and introverts might make it a worse one. Will a transplant ever be considered a true Seattleite? Maybe, maybe not. But then again, who is? 

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