The Seattle Freeze is a phrase newcomers to town will inevitably hear tossed around, whether in jest or by true believers. They'll gather it has something to do with Seattlites not being friendly, but what exactly is it and is it even real? For sure, the concept of locals freezing out newcomers has its doubters, but read on for a bit more about what it is, where the term came from, and even if there are some cultural theories behind what's going on.
What is It?
The Seattle Freeze is an elusive concept that hovers over Seattle’s social scenes of all sorts—it’s the belief or perception that Seattle is not an exceptionally friendly place. More specifically, the Seattle Freeze is linked to Seattle’s openness to those who move to the city and speaks to the belief that Seattle natives freeze transplants out. Most will say that Seattle natives are friendly enough, but are slow to make real connections, friends or invite transplants into their lives. Ask those who have moved to the city and at least some will mention having a difficult time making new friendships or jumping into the dating scene.
Depending on who you talk to, the Seattle Freeze may get dismissed as mere myth or you might hear about just how real it is. Make no mistake. There are many who think the idea is simply conversation fodder and only driven on by people who perpetuate the myth.
But is It Really Real?
The freeze is elusive. On the surface, Seattle residents are not rude or obviously unfriendly in any way, not by a long shot. If you ask someone on the street for directions, you’ll likely get all the help you need. Smile at someone, they’ll probably smile back. Chat with cashiers or baristas and they're often more friendly than many other parts of the country. Try to make new friends or find a date and you may be met by groups that don’t seem to want to let you in, or you may find the exact opposite.
Some claim that the Freeze rears its ugly head only at a deeper level, meaning not with casual contact, but when newbies are hoping to integrate. Others claim that the Seattle Freeze will even block natives from making eye contact with you on the streets. How true or false that depends on personal experience. As someone who moved to this area long ago, I did not find the truth to the Seattle Freeze, but I've known people directly who say it couldn't be truer.
Theories for what has caused the Freeze range from a look at Seattle’s Scandinavian heritage by the Seattle Times (turns out only about 7% of Seattle natives are descended from Vikings) to thoughts that it might be the weather. Some theorize that Seattle is populated by introverts because of the many tech sector jobs here. Maybe it's all three combined.
The truth is likely somewhere in between. Seattle is a city. People in cities are often running to and from work. They're busy. There's a more hectic energy than in the suburbs. Seattle is a city of transplants so perhaps the Seattle Freeze is nothing more than transplants getting used to the energy of the city. Really, the city does not feel so unwelcoming at all, but unlike the South where hospitality is the rule, you will likely come across some individuals or groups who are not as welcoming as others. That's just the name of the game with a city filled with transplants who came here for college or a job or for a change of scenery, as well as natives seeking to preserve the culture of their town. Seattle is a city of diversity and its social reactions are equally diverse. There is no single culture of hospitality that rules the roost. Most likely those who have felt the Seattle Freeze just need to reach out to a different group of people until they find people who fit with the level of social interaction they seek, whether that means more...or even less. Because make no mistake, there are plenty of introverts in town too.
In reality, there's such amazing diversity in Seattle that anyone can find someone to relate to. If you're a transplant, look for groups on Meetup or Facebook tied to your interests. Keep an eye on bulletin boards at local bookstores for fun things to do. Join an activity group like Events and Adventures, or a book club (look to Elliott Bay Book Company for help finding one), or a foodie group. Hang out at one of the many, many coffee shops and look for others sitting alone who might be up for a chat. The options are many.
There's even a group designed specifically to thaw the Seattle Freeze include the Meetup group called Seattle Anti-Freeze.