10 tips for Brits living in Seattle

(Illustration by Sara McCaslin)

How to get on in the Emerald City without coming off like a barmy wanker.

Try google-ing, “British in Seattle.”

With expat meet-up websites and Anglophile businesses scattered all over the city, there are more of us living here than you’d think. Seattle even got a new British Consul — Robin Twyman — in January 2013. According to Twyman, a new U.S.-E.U. trade partnership set up earlier this year is intended to strengthen the trade relationship between Washington state and the U.K.

I’m leaving Seattle soon — the old visa’s running out. But, it seems the city might be in for a revamped British invasion in the future. So, before I leave, I thought I might share some of my experiences. Fellow Brits and E.U. newcomers, here is some advice to help you better fit in with Seattle life:

1. Buy a raincoat:

Photo from Flickr by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/robertbanh"> (Robert Bahn</a>)
Photo from Flickr by (Robert Bahn)

The Seattle rain should make you feel at home. According to Sea-Tac airport measurements in 2012, there was just over 48 inches of rainfall recorded. The U.K. had 52.5 inches.

Yet, there’s something about the raincoat Britons simply don’t buy into. We either use an umbrella or stay inside. But, Seattleites embrace the raincoat fully.

2. Switch to coffee:

Photo from Flickr by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/schtumple/"> (Ben K Adams</a>)
Photo from Flickr by (Ben K Adams)

Mostly because nowhere in the world has so much variety and it’s delicious. Unsurprisingly, Seattle is ranked first nation wide for coffee consumption, according to a recent Healthsaver caffeinated cities survey.

But also, tea really isn’t an option. I asked for tea once and the barista looked at me like I was a real life Harry Potter character. And, the type you’re often offered is herbal. It’s not worth the fight. Stick with coffee.

3. Consume alcohol responsibly: 

Photo from Flickr by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/p_d_gibson"> (Paul David Gibson</a>)
Photo from Flickr by (Paul David Gibson)

Say goodbye to Britain’s binge drinking culture for the time being. You won’t see girls throwing up, men peeing in public or the police intervening in a street fight. Just because these are pretty tame weekend activities at home, doesn’t make them okay.

Enjoy one of Seattle’s home brewed beers for it’s delicious taste, not to see how quickly you can drink your mates under the table.

4. Dress casually: 

Photo from Flickr by (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lynnfriedman/"> Lynn Friedman</a>)
Photo from Flickr by ( Lynn Friedman)

Seattle has a “yoga pants” culture, where one can wear trainers and workout gear to almost any occasion.

It’s bloody expensive workout gear, don’t get me wrong, but it’s important to know that casual really is a way of life here.

5. Support the Washington Huskies:

Photo from Flickr by (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ngader">N Gader</a>)
Photo from Flickr by (N Gader)

College sport is as popular as professional sport and it’s important to show your allegiance when possible, preferably to the Washington Huskies.

Remember to “boo” if someone mentions another school team. Ducks? Boo, the ducks suck. Bears? Boo, no one likes the bears – and you’ll be fine.

6. Don’t look when you cross the street: 

Photo from Flickr by (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/viriyincy/"> Oran Viriyincy</a>)
Photo from Flickr by (Oran Viriyincy)

At home, drivers’ barely even see a roadside pedestrian. Seattle drivers’ on-the-other-hand like babysitting you across the street.

According to Seattle.gov there is an average of 500 pedestrian involved collisions per year. In the U.K. last year there was just over 25,000 pedestrian casualties. It’s difficult to compare a whole country to one city in this regard, but I like my odds in Seattle. I’ve stopped looking when I cross the street. Someone will stop for you.

7. Prepare for your accent to be mocked:

Photo from Flickr by (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dreamagicjp">Keiichi Inoue</a>)
Photo from Flickr by (Keiichi Inoue)

Your accent is going to become a novelty for the entirety of your stay. After nearly four years, people still repeat sentences back to me in the worst Dick van Dyke cockney accents. I’m not sure whether this is a Seattle thing, or just an America thing.

Nevertheless, thanks to the likes of Harry Potter and Kate Middleton, the obsession won’t ever go away. Get used to it.

8. Tipping is mandatory: 

Photo from Flickr by (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeshlabotnik/">Joe Shlabotnik</a>)
Photo from Flickr by (Joe Shlabotnik)

It’s seems logical to tip when you feel the service is deserving of your money. In Seattle, you tip whether you’re satisfied or not. More often than not, you will be satisfied. People know they’re working for tips and cater to your every need. But, get on board with doing the “tax math” (tipping whatever the tax is, plus a little more) and parting with your money.

9. Remember there’s no tax on the labels:

Photo from Flickr by (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/">401(K) 2012</a>)
Photo from Flickr by (401(K) 2012)

When you get to the counter to pay for your item, thinking you’ve snagged a bargain, it always comes out as more money than you originally thought. Tax isn’t calculated on the price tag, it’s added when you get to the till.

Don’t freak out. Stuff at home is being taxed too; we just like to pretend it’s not there. Seattleites are just an honest bunch.

10. Accept that people are just nice:

Photo from Flickr by (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/shifted/">Jenny Levine</a>)
Photo from Flickr by (Jenny Levine)

The British don’t make small talk or make nice with the cashier at the supermarket. Seattleites talk to you on the bus, apologize for bumping into you in the street and tell you to have a nice day. And here’s the thing, they say it like they really, actually mean it. Don’t fight it. Accept the happiness and you’ll probably have a better day for it.


  1. Aaaaaaaaaaaand – if you’re feeling homesick – come and play netball in Redmond on Saturday mornings there is a Fall and Spring Season at the club. The only one in WA. Bonus is that there is a British store in Redmond too that sell odd bits and bobs that you may find yourself craving – like Bisto, or pork pies.

    The netball club is called Emerald City Netball and there are some UK expats, as well as people from NZ, Aus and SA… but lots of locals too. I made some great friends there – http://www.seattlenetball.com/

    1. Thank you for mentioning netball! I’m leaving the UK shortly to move to Seattle and I was very sad to think that I wouldn’t be able to play netball anymore!!

  2. Number 10 only applies if you are a southerner, by southern I mean you live south of Sheffield. Us Yorkshire folk will talk a glass eye to sleep, I once missed a whole days work because of a conversation I had with a lovely old lady on a bus. I ended up miles away from my house!

    Great piece, I would love to live in Seattle!

    Have a nice day (I mean that too)

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