The Seattle Freeze

There’s a supposed phenomenon known as the Seattle Freeze. It is said people in this town are openly friendly, almost in an extreme, but they don’t easily dive deep into new relationships. So people seem nice but they don’t really want to be friends with you. Seattleites (I love that word) are somewhat polarized about if it’s a real thing or not.

I’ve read blogs and forums discussing this and many people say it’s absolutely true and “happened to them”. So far I can not comment on the validity of this; I’ve not been in town long enough to form any friendships. But I can tell you that the people of Seattle are amazingly welcoming! This is nothing like what I’m used to in Denver

My wife points out that Denver’s culture stems from it’s old-west roots and the cowboy ethos of ‘minding your business’ still pervades our sensibilities. That’s not to say Denverites (not as cool a word) are cold, but there’s a definite edge. Random conversations with strangers take place when required and scarcely go beyond the basics of “nice day” or “your dog is so cute!”; restaurant workers are polite enough but don’t really engage beyond the dance of their profession and store workers will largely ignore you unless you approach them.

Not so in Seattle. From my first meal there I was taken aback by how engaged my server

was in talking to me, she was really pushing a conversation not just an ordering process. The folks at the coffee shop are overwhelmingly bubbly and have a way of lifting up your day (imagine your best Starbucks barista and then double it). I have a little pub down the street from my apartment and I’ve been 3 times, when I walk in the door they call “Hey Denver!” from the conversation that I had with a waiter on my first visit and they come and TALK to me. I’ve had strangers seated at the bar strike up detailed conversations about not just the game on TV but about my job, my move, and their lives in Seattle.

None of these conversations have been superficial and when I revert to my learned behavior of neatly wrapping up the topic and going back to “minding my business” these people don’t give up on it, they ask another question or come back to something I’d said earlier and continue the conversation.

My apartment is on the ground floor and rather than ignoring me sitting in there, people wave at me when walking by! People chat me up at the bus stop. I don’t know if there is a Seattle Freeze or not, if there is it will take me months to discover, but in the mean time these people make it hard not to feel engaged in the city and its culture.

I’ll keep you posted!

~ by brianherman on June 18, 2009.

3 Responses to “The Seattle Freeze”

  1. Nice post, Brian. Had the same experience in Portland a couple of weeks ago. Everyone we met was so friendly and genuine. The cause? Perhaps the rainy weather in the Pacific northwest makes people want to break out of their cabin fever and relate to other humans more so than other places? Here in Cali, who needs friends, when you can just go out and enjoy the virtually constant beautiful weather? Perhaps we’ll never know for sure what makes people there so friendly, but whatever the reason, it sure makes for a nice time.

  2. Very interesting post, Brian. Something I’ve been thinking about recently, actually… is the subtle differences between different cultures and societies towards “being friendly”!

    I think the only place I’ve ever been to in the UK that even remotely compares to what you’re describing here in Seattle is the very far southern end of Cornwall… places like Bude, Crackington Haven, Porthtowan and Redruth. People there seem genuinely friendly and interested in meeting people and talking to them, AND they have beautiful weather and countryside there!

    Sadly, much nearer London where I am, it’s usually not so much “Mind your own business” as “Why the**** are you looking at me for?? Do I know you?? You want something or what??” Very sad. I often get weird looks from people when I’m out and about, if I do something as innocent and innocuous as pay a stranger a compliment or pass comment on the weather (a very british discussion topic!) and it’s a big shame.

    People here just don’t often want to engage in conversation with strangers… They don’t seem to understand that if you talk to a stranger and get to know them, then that’s often how friends are made. (My best friend, whom I’ve known for nearly 10 years, I met in this way, albeit in Bristol – about 100 miles from where I live now!)

    British people in general don’t seem as sociable and friendly as americans (huge generalisation, I know! Sorry!) – and I really wish they were. I suspect that working for a large american company and talking with americans on a daily basis, the cultural and social influences are coming through and changing the way I look at things… and I think that if it’s making me more sociable, it’s a good thing!

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