It was a year after becoming New To Seattle in 2011 that I started writing in this space about the Seattle Freeze. That’s the notion Seattleites aren’t all that friendly to newcomers. I certainly found that to be true, as did the vast majority of other relatively recent immigrants I chatted up on the topic as I bopped around town, often refereeing youth soccer matches. However, despite Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary entries on the subject, and a 70-year-old printed suggestion that I found, folks who have been here awhile tended to disagree with me, sometimes forcefully.
But I think local mainstream public opinion has finally come around to my way of thinking.
The latest example appeared Wednesday at the top of the front page of The Seattle Times. A story by Gene Balk, the paper’s long-time librarian and statistics guru (as well as a fellow New Jersey native and Rutgers grad), reported on the large number of Seattle apartments with only one occupant. The very first sentence called the city “home of the notorious ‘Seattle Freeze’ “.
Think about that. Existence of the Seattle Freeze stated as a fact in the city’s newspaper of record! Just like the sun rises in the east or it rains a lot in Seattle.
Now, Balk wasn’t the first journalist with long Seattle ties to write recently something as definitive on this issue. In 2012 on the local news site Crosscut.com, Seattle native and columnist Knute Berger wrote an essay entitled “Simple rules for staying sane in Seattle” that included this:
Avoid your neighbors.
The Seattle Freeze is our famous social disease. Inoculate yourself. Don’t try to make friends, better to embrace the solitude, the peace, the occasional remote wave to the unfamiliar figure next door as you both place your recycling curbside. You didn’t move here for people, did you? Most everyone else moved here to get away from them. Socially, Seattleites will mostly disappoint. They’re just not that into you. If you must reach out, use Skype or Facebook. That way, people come with an off-switch.
Last year, barely two months after leaving the editorship of The Seattle Times to take an academic job in Philadelphia, David Boardman, unloading on Philly.com, contrasted the City of Brotherly Love with his experience in the Emerald City:
From Day One of our new residency in the city, we noticed something very different here. Seattle, rooted in the reserved cultures of Scandinavia and Asia, was certainly polite. But with that historical foundation and the addition of thousands of too-cool techie/hipsters, it was not particularly warm. In fact, newcomers there refer to the chilly reception they often receive as the “Seattle Freeze.” By contrast, Philly, with its population potpourri, produces plenty of heat, to be sure, but also a surprising bounty of warmth. In Seattle, when you get into an elevator with someone else, there is usually no greeting, no eye contact, and your fellow passenger will inch as far away from you as she can. Here, you get a smile, a ‘How you doin’ today?’ and you will learn the names and ages of her kids between the first and seventh floor. There, if you’re lost downtown, you’ll have to seek out help. Here, a stranger is likely to approach you to ask if you need it. ….
Thank goodness I’m writing about this chilly topic a day before summer begins.