The Seattle Freeze: Fact or Fiction?

Anyone that’s either lived in or done any kind of research on Seattle has at least heard of the famous “Seattle Freeze” social phenomenon. You know, that notion of the polite-but-not-friendly local of the greater Seattle area and the seemingly never-ending struggle of transplants trying to become friends with them. The debate about it’s existence is most likely much older than the two and a half years I lived there, but it’s a notion that many people to this day continue to have differing opinions on.

Seattle is really the first place in the country outside of Central Pennsylvania that I’ve ever actually lived for an extended period of time. It was my first real dose of culture shock and the realization that despite the USA being one country, it is comprised of cultural differences between different cities, states, and even regions. I moved to the Seattle area in 2009 and the only thing I really anticipated experiencing was cold, rainy weather, beautiful mountains, tall trees, and more Asian restaurants. My experience ended up being much much more than just that though.

Central Pennsylvania is not known for having the friendliest people on the planet. Thanks to the PA Dutch, I was used to people with that rugged blue collar type personality mixed in with the bluntness commonly used to describe people in the Northeastern US. For me it was normal to find myself at a restaurant where the server’s first words would be a very brusque and to-the-point “What do you want?” and not take it any other way than simply that. Nobody is being mean or unkind. They just don’t know you, therefore don’t care about you on a personal level and just simply want to get down to business. If somebody wants to be your friend, they will let you know straight off the bat. It’s relatively easy to know where you stand with someone: You’re either friends with them or you’re just a non-entity to them. There’s no real in-between.

Living in the greater Seattle area, this expectation of people was about to be shattered. Upon moving there, one of my first impressions was how friendly and nice everybody was. Gas station attendants actually smiled and said “Hi, how are you today?” rather than scowl at my presence while standing in silence waiting for me to tell them what I wanted. This seemed to be typical behavior everywhere I went no matter what I was doing. It was so refreshing. I thought to myself “I’ll have no issues making friends here.”

I landed a job as a call center agent in Everett so I was surrounded by other financially unstable 20 somethings who just wanted a paycheck. There were 5 other people on my team that seemed a little introverted just like me. Over the course of 6 months, we all seemed to ease up around each other and speak to one another more. Nothing deep but typical vapid conversation about TV, Movies, and what we were doing over the weekend. It was a relatively pleasant work-social-life. I left that job having at least three of my co-workers on my social media and one of them inviting me to go out to dinner for a drink as a thank you for giving them a ride to work every day.

If this is what people consider the Seattle Freeze, then I’m a bit unsure as to what the problem is. Often times people who complain about the freeze mention having a pleasant chit-chat with someone they had just met and proceeding to invite them to hang out then being disappointed when they turn them down or flake out all together. Maybe it’s just me but when I meet someone for the first time, my intentions are not to invite them into my life until I’ve gotten to know them more over time. Sometimes keeping superficial pleasantries is good for keeping the mood positive but it doesn’t necessarily serve as a means to connect with someone on a deeper level. That kind of stuff is further reinforced by seeing someone often, having common interests, and slowly developing a level of trust.

In my opinion, I think the Seattle Freeze is just an over hyped term coined by frustrated extroverts who don’t know how to interact with a much more reserved population. This social phenomenon exists anywhere you find a collectively more introverted population. The Pacific Northwest IS in fact largely Scandinavian and Asian influenced. Maybe that might have something to do with it.

Some might like to think of this as coconuts vs peaches – where some people have a hard shell but are soft on the inside and some who seem soft on the outside but have a hard pit at the center. When I think of Seattleites, I think of it more as jello surrounding a force field with a titanium lock and key. The sweet stuff can be sampled but if you want the good stuff, you have to be given access first. And that is something that isn’t just freely given out.

This is just my take on it. Have you visited or lived in Seattle? What were your experiences? Is it just a myth or is it a real thing unique to Seattle?


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