Our love/hate relationship with snowbirds: An explainer

You’re right, snowbirds. We agree wholeheartedly.

Palm Beach County’s winter economy gets a vital boost from the money you spend and the taxes you pay.

Many of the restaurants and small businesses that cater to visitors would have a hard time without you. Your tax money helps support our schools, roads and the renourishment of the beaches, which beckon you south every winter.

Your property taxes, often higher than that of homesteaded locals, are a yearly windfall on which we count.

So, thank you. We’re grateful. Enjoy your stay. Play golf. Get a tan. Be sure to come back next year.

But is it surprising that those of us who cleverly arranged our lives to live full time in the place you just visit sometimes feel overwhelmed by you? Not to mention, taken for granted?

Related: Cerabino Welcome back, snowbirds. Here’s what you missed

Let’s look at the numbers.

Here in Florida, we absorb an estimated 900,000 to a million seasonal residents who stay a month or more every winter, raising our state’s population by about 5 percent. That figure doesn’t include tourists. (However, the snowbird population could be much higher. Since the U.S. Census doesn’t count temporary residents, agencies and municipalities use a variety of ways to estimate their numbers, but there is no standard method. For example, your brother and his wife who stay for two months in your spare bedroom wouldn’t be included in those figures.)

About 145,000 snowbirds flock to Palm Beach County in the winter, raising our population about 11 percent, according to the county’s figures.

The ratio of permanent to seasonal residents is far higher in some coastal cities. In Jupiter, roosting snowbirds boost the winter population by an estimated 17 percent, by 14 percent in Delray Beach and by 11 percent in Boynton Beach and Palm Beach Gardens. The Town of Palm Beach’s population soars with an extra 75 percent (based on 2010 U.S. Census figures and Palm Beach County’s estimate of seasonal units and average persons per household in each municipality.)

Add that to the 97 million tourists who visited in 2014 and you see that we Floridians are nothing if not good hosts. Mostly, we do it happily.

We love it when you gush about our sunshine, our beaches and our natural beauty. We’re pleased to share it with you.

But it’s bad form to complain to your guests about their home.

Why insist that northern lobster is better than stone crab? It hurts our feelings. Or complain about slow service in a restaurant jammed with your fellow snowbirds? (While we can’t get a table in our favorite restaurant until May.)

Or complain about the traffic (see restaurants, above.)

And why make fun of us for wearing boots, a sweater and a jacket when it’s 55 degrees (spend enough time here and you’ll get frostbite at 60 degrees, too) while you’re comfortable in shorts and a tank top?

We’re the ones serving you dinner or listening to your complaints about the quality of the local bagels. Do we show up in New Jersey grousing about soggy conch fritters?

We’re the ones trying to dash into a pharmacy after work with a sick child’s prescription, to find 10 snowbirds in line ahead of us. Or doing the supermarket dash after school pick-up to encounter near-stationary knots of perplexed snowbirds. (That vegetable you’re holding is a boniato. That’s a papaya. You’re welcome.)

You’re retired and on vacation. We’re neither. If we ask nicely, would you run some of your errands in the middle of the day while we’re working?

Jay Limbasiya, of West Palm Beach, would be happy if you’d stay home during morning rush hour.

“I wish they wouldn’t get up so early and crowd onto I-95. They’re not working, so why aren’t they sleeping in?,” he wondered one afternoon while waiting for a noodle bowl at Whole Foods in Palm Beach Gardens.

George Karameros, of North Palm Beach, wishes our frogpounders didn’t frighten you into driving 10 mph with your flashers on (which is illegal, by the way.)

“They don’t know how to drive in our kind of rain,” he said, after ducking into the bar at The Cooper on PGA Boulevard while waiting for one of those deluges to stop.

Mark Gorman, of Palm Beach Gardens, wonders why some of you aren’t nicer to us permanent residents.

“They think they have an entitlement to act rudely,” he said.

Cheryl Nevius, a real estate agent, also waiting out the happy hour deluge at The Cooper, wants to know what’s up with the condescension.

“It’s the attitudes, mainly from the ones from New York,” she complained.

Even Peter Nero, a former Westchester County, N.Y., resident and now 12 years a Floridian, has gone over to the other side to complain about his part-time neighbors. Some of his winter neighbors, he says, act as if they’re coming to a resort instead of a condominium.

“They’re very demanding,” Nero says from his position as president of Palm Greens Number 1 Condo Association in Delray Beach. “The only thing they don’t ask for is clean towels.”

The sun is shining. The sky is that gorgeous winter blue. Flowers are blooming, palm fronds are blowing and cocktail hour starts at 3:30.

Chillax, folks. Isn’t that why you’re here?

We understand that it must be difficult to transition from a fast-paced city life to our laid-back pace. We have to do the opposite when it’s our turn to wander cluelessly around your turf in Manhattan, Chicago or Philadelphia.

Take a lesson from Mary Anne and Ken Freedman of Singer Island and Bourne, Mass., on Cape Cod, who are walking on the sunny side of snowbird street even on a gloomy January day.

Tanned and fit from their daily walks, they have to be prompted into mentioning something about Florida they don’t like.

“Well, the traffic gets pretty heavy, ” says Ken.

“But we’re part of that, so we’re not going to complain,” says Mary Anne. “After all, we love the fact that we haven’t seen snow in 10 years.”

Deeply golf-tanned, wearing shorts, loafers with no socks and holding a cigar, Bob Hammer could star in Visitor Bureau videos about the good life as a Florida retiree.

He had a commodities firm in Chicago, he says, chatting with friends outside a Delray Beach Starbucks near his Addison Reserve home.

“We contribute greatly to the economy,” he says of his fellow snowbirds, “but when I come down, I don’t feel entitled. I feel grateful. We have a lot to be grateful for down here, and we have to be respectful.”

So please, snowbirds, try going with the flow while you’re here. Maybe we chat a little bit more and a bit slower than you’re used to. Be patient with us. Smile back. Life in the sub-tropics moves slower.

If being in a hurry mattered to us, we’d move north.


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