Uptight Seattleite

Dear Uptight Seattleite,

I’m a transplant in need of some communication tips.

I was at a dinner party the other day, and some guy was talking about something or other, the usual liberal blah blah blah. “Well, here’s the problem with that,” I say, and proceed to outline what I thought was a friendly counterargument. Suddenly a hush falls over the table. Like I’ve just committed the worst possible faux pas by expressing an opinion. Everyone is looking at their hands, and I’m like, “What did I say?”

Where I come from, conversation is like oxygen—the very life of the city. But conversation here seems to be a ritualistic exchange of platitudes. Where’s the zing? Where’s the humor? I’m suffocating here! Is there some way I can inject some vigor into this dreary little scene without scaring the natives?

Suffocating Bostonian

Dear Bostonian,

You have a viewpoint, and that’s valid.

It’s always valid to have a viewpoint. I think you will find we are very supportive of the validity of viewpoint-having. And that’s why it’s important to do your part and join us in viewpoint- having-validity recognition. Perhaps you could do this by not telling your dinner companions that there is some kind of “problem” with what they say. That kind of talk is likely to make anyone feel disempowered. And invalidated.

If there’s anything we don’t tolerate, it’s intolerance. All the more reason for you to express your differing opinion in a tolerant way. There are phrases you can use to express your opinion without invalidating anyone else’s. Remember that being confrontational just makes things worse. So try a “humorous” approach. A little bit of the funny can go a long way toward deflating dissent.

Such as: “Whoa! Slow down there, Mr. Grumpy!”

Or you can say: “It is complicated, isn’t it? Let’s put a semicolon on this for now and come back to it some other time.”

Not that you can’t be direct! If you’re feeling bold, try this one: “It’s helpful to understand that . . . “

The passive voice is a terrific consensus builder! Because, after all, the important thing to remember is that we all basically agree. I think we can all agree on that. Keep that in mind and your conversations in Seattle will go much more smoothly.

Dear Uptight Seattleite,

Sorry to get personal, but you kind of look like you’ve never gotten laid in your life. Not that you haven’t, but you look like you haven’t.

An Observer

Dear Observer,

Oh my.

Well, I hate to say it, but I’m afraid your disrespect for women is deplorable. Do you know that word? I think it’s very important to have the deepest possible respect for women and their struggles to exist in a sexist world. I myself strive to communicate with them as if they are my equals. I never approach them in an aggressive way or a way that might somehow objectify them. It might be a bit difficult for someone who hasn’t studied the subject, but it’s important to understand that gender roles are imposed on women by society. To keep them in line.

It’s true that some of them, through relentless societal pressure, seem to have developed a preference for the trappings of their inequitable societal role. Are you following this? Like red lipstick, high heels, tight skirts, and silky blouses. Also, creams to make their skin soft and silky. And perfumed hair that catches the light just so.

Not that I pay attention. I don’t notice the fashion trends followed by women I see on the bus, in Capitol Hill coffee shops, and in Westlake Center. Not that I can’t appreciate a good-looking woman. In a respectful way, of course. There are a number of, well, total babes in my reading group. They would never wear low-slung jeans or tops that would reveal the milky-smooth skin of their midriffs. Not that I actually notice what they wear—their dog-hair-covered Gore-Tex jackets, their little mousy glasses, and their proletarian ponytails. I don’t notice any of that. I think they can see by the way I smile at them that I am not noticing what they wear. And that I appreciate that they don’t care about superficial things. If we ever talked about it, they would appreciate my appreciation even more. And maybe we could get to know each other a little bit better. I respect them far too much to talk to them, though.

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