Seattle Freeze

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    I keep reading about the “Seattle Freeze” – how Seattleites are polite and friendly on the surface, yet don’t reach out to connect with people on a deeper more satisfying level. I do find this to be generally true. I’m wondering, do you have any ideas of how we can help “thaw” Seattle out?


    Offer me chocolate, and I’ll be your best friend forever! Ok, ok – being facetious. I’ve lived here my whole life and so can’t be objective about this. I do get tired of being Seattleites being stereotyped as “snooty” though. I mean geez, just ‘cuz we’re so much smarter and cultured… ;-)



    I lived here in the ’70s before Seattle was ever thought to be cool by anyone outside Puget Sound. I moved back here in ’03 and knew, literally, two people in the entire Northwest. During the four years me, my wife, and son have lived here, we’ve developed a whole new set of friends, many of which are neighbors, many others who live in other neighborhoods. We didn’t experience any “freeze” and I have found Seattleites to be generally as open and forthcoming (on street, random, bus-stop, etc. meetings) as any “friendly” place I’ve visited or lived. There is, though, an undercurrent of Nordic “rightness” to a lot of the city’s sociality, perhaps newcomers are experience that and interpreting it as a “cold shoulder” or “freeze.” Me, I love this place and it’s denizens – human and other.



    I wonder if some of it is a reaction to the huge, rapid influx of people to the region? The population growth I’ve seen in my 38 years here is just staggering. That, or maybe the long dark winter stuck indoors breeds a lot of introversion? ;)

    What I find curious is that my own close-knit circle of friends is made up predominantly of people who AREN’T from around here,and I wonder if that’s a product of the fact that so many people who live here now aren’t from here originally or the inability of adult “natives” to “thaw” each other out enough to be friends. I know I keep people at arm’s length until I’ve had plenty of time to get to know more about them. And come to think of it, the other “natives” I know here do tend toward the introverted.

    A friend of mine from PA and I have discussed this issue a lot, and I really think it is just regional culture. IME, it just takes time to “thaw” us out on an individual basis, and folks newer to the area shouldn’t expect that the cultural rules from their region are going to be the same as the ones here.



    As a Washington native and WSeattleite since 1991 I think it’s what you make of it. I’m sure that if I went looking to connect with new people in the area I could do so easily.

    Since I don’t know any different way than how it is here I certainly don’t feel any “freeze”, but for people just moving into the area from outside WA it might be difficult.



    I think people in Seattle do tend to keep a distance from anyone they don’t know well. I don’t know how many people I’ve come across while running through my neighborhood that won’t even look me in the eye when I go past! I’m certainly not scary looking; a younger, fit female in workout clothes, ready with a smile and wave and an out of breath ‘hello’ if I get any sort of look my way. And I’d say 50% of the time the people I pass don’t acknowledge me at all. I don’t think we have that large of a blind, deaf, mute population do we? Or are people just so shy they can’t even smile at a fellow neighbor? I’m extremely shy but make an effort to project warmth and approacability because if no one does, everyone will think this city is unfriendly.



    As a native WSer and scandihoovien my family was the epitome of aloofness. I’ve always been kind of the weirdo (comments from the peanut gallery are accepted) in the family as I will go up to total strangers and say what’s on my mind. This used to bother my late wife to no end when she was with me. I will admit that a massive shy streak comes over me when I see an attractive lady.

    I’m amazed daily when I ride the bus that the seat next to me is almost always empty even if people are standing. The people I work with laugh when I tell them this because they know me as a goofball and not a scary person. I’m just direct in my approach.

    If it wasn’t for my lab and our daily walks around the point I’d probably never meet any of my neighbors.



    I’m a native, but I’ve heard so many transplants here tell me that it’s incredibly hard to make friends that I believe it.

    I’m always happy to make new friends but sometimes feel I don’t have the energy or time to keep up with the ones I have (that’s that NW introversion for you.)

    Would love to hear about ways that people connect and make new friends here. I’m warm and approachable too…except on the bus! :-)



    I’m usually the “sucker” who looks the Tourette Syndrome person right in the eye and therefore the one who’s caught in a conversation with said person for the 20 or 40 minutes I’m on that bus (obviously, depending on where I’m going). However, by looking folks right in the eye, I’ve had some amazingly enlightening and fascinating conversations with complete parents-born-in-Swedish-Hospital 2nd or 3rd gen Seattleites. I think a lot of folks from here are genuinely shy and not unlike Nova Scotia or New England in that regard. That may have something to do with the lack of winter light, but – wait a minute. I spent about 5 months in Stavanger a while back, during winter, and did not experience that same level of shyness. Maybe it’s just a North American Northern Lattitudes thing.



    Here’s my experience as a transplanted Chicagoan…

    The Seattle Freeze is real. After some discussion with a friend who relocated here from Iowa, we have decided that a lot of it actually results from an overwhelming fear of offending *somebody* by saying *something* wrong. Let me give you a really specific example.

    I am nearly 40 years old and recently had braces put on my teeth. Not a single coworker in my office said ONE WORD when I walked into work the first day I wore braces. No one acknowledged there was *anything* different about me that day, outside of the surreptitious looks and a bit of a startle response the first time I opened my mouth to speak. It was my boss’s boss (who is from the Midwest) who casually remarked, “Oh hey! You got braces! How long will you have them on?” and chatted with me in a friendly way about it. I think the rest of my coworkers were worried that if they acknowledged I had changed anything, I would somehow be offended. Better to not say anything at all.

    This is very different from the Midwest idea, which is that by commenting on changes in appearance, you are showing that you notice — and therefore, you *care*. It is an expression of interest and caring, not an insult or intrusion into an intensely private matter.

    Extrapolate this into the way neighbors and people on the street interact, and you get a “friendliness” which exists on the surface but never delves any deeper. I know it’s not just me, because when I discuss this theory with other transplanted Midwesterners, they agree that I am spot-on. If it were not for my fiance and his circle of friends, I’m convinced I wouldn’t have made a single friend here in Seattle.



    Hopey –

    You’ve hit the nail with the ‘Seattle niceness’ insight. I often tell people that ‘nice’ people scare me cause I don’t know what they’re really thinking behind the mask. I think my boss would worry if I was ever ‘nice’, she prefers my direct approach as she knows I’ll tell her what I really think of something. That’s how I show I care. :)~



    Have you experienced this: I make a good friend that likes to get together and do some of the same things I like to do, and she changes jobs and moves to another city. The last three years I’ve had 3 friends move away, and now I feel like I’m starting over.

    And what Kayleigh said: “I’m always happy to make new friends but sometimes feel I don’t have the energy or time to keep up with the ones I have”. What is up with this? What are we so busy doing that we don’t invite folks over for a meal or a cup of coffee. I’m talking to myself here, not you Kayleigh. My resolution for 2008 is to invite someone new over for dinner at least once a month, even if it means I’ll have to clean my house.


    Erik – what does your lab look like? I’ll say Hi the next time I see you walking in the neighborhood. (I have to assume from your post that YOU’RE terrifying.) :-)



    I’m guilty of the not saying hello when I pass people when I’m out walking my dogs.

    Tomorrow I’ll try to smile and say hello, see if I can’t get the Seattle Freeze to thaw a bit.



    Velvet –

    He’s black and probably a mix of lab and chow…approx. 90lbs (rescue dog). Me, I’m scary looking…but actually if you look at the top of the WSB page, the silhouetted dude walking along Alki during the sunset…if that’s not me it’s my doppleganger.



    Sue, you are entirely right.

    I hadn’t heard people talk about the Seattle “freeze” until the last couple of years. So I think throughout my 20s, I internalized a lot of the social “rejections” I got and now I rarely ask new people over for dinner. I need to reach out more anyway, though.

    I hope it’s a boundary thing and not snobbiness that keeps people at arm’s length. I would hate to think this city with all its liberalism and compassion somehow thinks it’s too good to meet the neighbors for coffee.

    I have been told so many times by newcomers that I’m a “breath of fresh air” because I’m both more direct and open and more friendly than is typical Seattle. Which is kind of funny, if you know me, because I am sometimes reserved and shy. Makes you wonder what the other end of the spectrum must look like!



    Okay, so I’ve got two WSB-ers ready to invite me over for dinner, then? Or at least out for coffee? ;)

    Kayleigh, the “liberalism and compassion” is oddly enough part of what causes the freeze in the first place. People are so sensitive to what might “offend” others, that they err on the side of saying nothing, which results in a very shallow version of friendliness.

    I am now remembering a friend in Chicago who had recently moved from Seattle. She was your typical Capitol Hill goth, if you know what I mean. Tall and thin and goth with long bright-red dreadlocks. Beautiful gal, very striking. She would often complain about how much people on the street in Chicago remarked upon her appearance. She HATED it. She would tell me that in Seattle, she could walk down the street and no one would “bother” her. But by a Chicago native, that type of positive comment — as long as it was not something everyone here would agree is harassment — is considered normal and even friendly. And my friend was right, it doesn’t happen hardly at all here. (My friend has since found her happy medium in New York City.)

    I’m not sure it’s boundaries per se, but rather how willing people are to make a kind remark and risk having it taken the wrong way. Does that make sense?



    Hopey,I think we are talking about the same thing in slightly different terms. If I went into my workplace with new braces on my teeth, and someone mentioned it to me, I would probably feel like my boundaries had been crossed. (Even if it were a well-intentioned comment.) I don’t want comments on how I dress, beyond a “cute shoes” or “you look nice today” kind of thing. Privacy, introversion, independence, noncomformity—maybe all of these are factors.

    Thinking about it, you’re right…it does discourage meaningful interactions, though.

    In defense of us natives, sometimes newcomers can be insulting. I have been told many times how poorly Seattleites dress and how our work ethic isn’t as strong as “back East” (like a work/life balance is a BAD thing.) It doesn’t make me want to ask someone over for dinner if they think I dress too casually, don’t work hard enough, am not sophisticated enough, etc. It’s fine to have preferences, but not cool to look down on the place you are now calling “home.”

    I’d be happy to meet folks for coffee sometime. I’m close to the very cool and funky C&P Coffee Company.



    I’m in! We could make it a time when C&P has live music or something…that would be fun!

    A West Seattle Blog coffee club, be there if you’re not afraid of blowing your anon cover. :)



    I have lived in Seattle all my life and West Seattle half my life (moved over from Burien so not THAT far away) and I don’t know if it’s true. I have heard about the Seattle Freeze many times from others but haven’t found that to be true. I have met lots of nice people but sometimes it is hard to get to know them and not ALL of them are originally from Seattle. I have found that people from Seattle are flaky with relationships and commitments though.

    Ask WSB if you can have your own forum for a ‘meetup’ group. Then you can all get together for coffee, etc. Fill your calendar. LOL!


    If I see people on the street downtown, pouring over one of those colorful walking maps, I almost always ask if there’s something I can help them with. Some place I can direct them to.

    I’m wondering if the ‘Seattle Freeze’ came about because so many transplants complain about everything once they get here: the weather, the ‘coldness’ of people, the hills, the way we drive, our government, not any good Chicago pizza, New York-type deli’s, kosher food restaurants, etc. As if the Seattle area is the only place with these problems/conditions.

    I certainly do know we’re not perfect, but frankly, I have very little patience anymore for the constant criticisms from some (not all). I’ve, a few times, asked why they just don’t go back to where they came from if they’re so miserable here.

    There you go. I guess that might be an example of the ‘Seattle Freeze.’



    hehe…jo…true…when they come here, I suppose they shouldn’t expect things to be just like at home. I certainly miss some of the “delicacies’ of where I grew up, but, really, Seattle is it’s own place, with it’s own special things. Smiles matter, asking if people need help, as you do, matters. I see clients everyday, sometimes new ones, and I have to be able to be friendly and welcoming, to be interested and a listener. After 33 years in West Seattle, I’ve made a few friends, and a lot of acquaintances…you just need to make an effort, and not wait for the other person. Life is too short for it to be otherwise :)



    We often tend to attract that which we focus on.

    It’s a universal law.

    Fear attracts fear.



    Just to be clear, and I know Joe wasn’t necessarily talking directly to or about me, but I’m not at all unhappy here. (Although my fiance thinks I’m NUTS for actually missing the Chicago winters!) In fact, West Seattle is everything I thought living in Seattle would be, and I’m so glad I finally found it!

    I understand the attitude of “go back where you came from” — I was the same way about those who couldn’t handle the Chicago winters. (My fiance, who is from Oregon, regularly gets called a “wimp” when he complains about being cold!) But it also doesn’t mean every out-of-towner is automatically that way. Besides, I know where to get my true Chicago style pizza: mail order! ;)

    It could very well be that the climate in Seattle, especially the winters, drives away folks who can’t handle a few months of darkness and relative solitude. It could also be the wide open spaces which are so close, making it easy to go off into the woods or mountains by yourself or with a few dear friends, which creates the “boundary” issue. When you live in a large city where after driving for an hour you’re not in the foothills of mountains, you’re just barely out of the city and into the beginnings of suburbia… that makes for a very different sense of “personal space”, I would think.

    I would be happy to join in a coffee klatch sometime, but honestly I would prefer a night or weekend when there *wasn’t* live music, so we could sit and talk and be able to hear each other. I promise to bring a board game as an icebreaker.



    I think a majority of Seattle residents put on the freeze. Sometimes I’m guilty (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to confront my upstairs neighbor at 2:00 am for being loud…or even go up there during the day to calmly talk about it), but I won’t b/c I’m afraid of the reaction I’ll get. I went running on Christmas morning and encountered at least 15 people and only two acknowledged my “Merry Christmas” or “good morning”. I’ve stood at the bar at Matador and Peso’s for 20 minutes waiting for friends to show up and not a single person approached me to talk. And no, I’m not an unattractive or mean looking person. My sister and I joke that if anyone approaches us while out and about, they must not be from here. And we’re usually right. I think our brother is the exception but he traveled solo for a year around the world so he can talk to anyone after that experience. Make eye contact and smile a bit…makes a world of difference!

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