We’re not feeling the Freeze today.
The Seattle Times published a story Tuesday about a survey in which about 40% of Pacific Northwest residents said they’re not interested in making new friends — and almost half said they don’t even want to talk briefly to people they don’t already know. The results seemed to corroborate the existence of the so-called “Seattle Freeze,” a phrase long used as shorthand for how hard it can be here to genuinely connect with our fellow humans.
This struck a nerve with readers, who told their own tales of freezing (and thawing!) from their time living in the Pacific Northwest. With more than 250 comments on the article, more than 4,000 interactions on Facebook, hundreds of upvotes and comments on Reddit, and dozens of emails in our inboxes, you gave this story anything but the cold shoulder. The phrase “Seattle Freeze” even started trending on Twitter.
Thank you for sharing your stories with us. We’ve excerpted a few of our favorites here (lightly edited for grammar, length and clarity):
“I would most definitely thaw it if I had the power. I’m an East Coast transplant (15 years ago), and remember how difficult it was to actually connect with people when I first moved here. I make an effort to welcome and share connection with anyone I know who is a recent transplant to the area, so I am consciously doing my part to change the freeze.” — Debra Barclay
“Seattle/PNW is the worst city/area yet for kindness and courtesy. I’ve stayed, visited and lived in many areas on the East Coast, so there’s a good reference. I’ve always told people back home that the people out West have egos as big as their mountains. I moved here 22 years ago and have yet to make any friends that even come close to the ones I’ve made on the East Coast. Lifelong friends, I’m very happy to say. There have been many, many times I’ve been asked the difference between the East and West coasts, and I’d say there’s absolutely no comparison. Except that Puget Sound is exactly like Maine, only with nice people. … I was SO excited to move out West and when I found out Seattle was referred to as the Emerald City — from my favorite movie — I thought it was kismet, but I was in for a whole different way of life as I knew it.” — Cheryl Conaway
“I moved away from my beloved PNW to live in Raleigh, NC, for nearly 20 years. The warmth and friendliness of the people there is so very, very different than the city of introverts that is Seattle (and the Eastside, too!) Don’t look people in the eye, don’t wave, and for goodness sake, don’t smile — you might actually have to smile back. I used to be like that, too — until my move to the South. I became acclimated to the friendliness of the place. So, coming back home to the PNW and having my neighbors look at me like I had two heads whenever I’d smile and wave driving past them was like being doused in cold water. Open up, Seattle! Stop giving other humans the cold shoulder!” — Rebecca Rodgers
“Sad to report, but the freeze will have to stay. With the recent (past six years) gentrification of Seattle and the surrounding area, and the continuing evolution into a ‘high-tech only’ job market, we will find less need to speak to each other individually and more reliance upon conducting most of our day-to-day commerce by way of the computer. Seattle is a basically newly evolving community in the past 100 years and consequently has not developed much history or community spirit anyway. At this point, I do not think there will be much chance for that to happen. Seattle will continue to be mainly a crossroads of high-tech companies and individuals moving through their careers rather than through their neighborhoods.” — John Broderick
“Moved here in high school 45 years ago. Had one friend for 18 months with whom I have lost touch. Then met my husband at the UW and was obviously meant to stay. About 16 years ago, I decided to engage people everywhere I go to try and make a dent in the Freeze. I would say most people are open to talking, but that is about it. Many will not look you in the eye when walking down the street and much fewer will say ‘hello.’ With everything we have to offer as a beautiful place to live, we should all live beautifully together. What this means to me is being cordial and interested in other human beings around us. When we do not make an effort to connect with others, we may live very isolated lives. People have so much to offer, and we can all be better when we connect and warm up to each other.” — Kathy Captain
“I’m a Boomer-age single woman, one of the ‘young old,’ as The Economist magazine has named us. I’ve been single most of my life and have no children or grandchildren. I moved to Seattle from San Francisco in May 2015. I found community here through my church on First Hill, which continues to be very welcoming of newcomers. So we constantly get new people, especially young people who are in this area for work. I ended up volunteering at MoPOP, which has also been most welcoming. So, ‘the Seattle Freeze’ sort of doesn’t exist for me. What I can speak about is the notion that some people don’t want to ‘unfreeze.’ I am constantly accosted by strangers seeking conversation. They often seem utterly ignorant of social niceties, to the point of coming across as downright offensive and uncouth. I would rather not be subjected to this sort of thing, period. There is a way to strike up a conversation with a stranger. People who want to do this need to learn how. And if they’re not willing to invest some time and effort into this, they really should leave the rest of us alone. It can even be frightening, and it’s always off-putting.” — Ramani Mathew
“My husband and I moved here from The Bay Area nearly seven years ago, and I can’t say that we’ve really been affected by the Freeze. We initially lived downtown in a great apartment building with people from everywhere who wanted to get to know each other. Many of us enjoyed hanging out on the rooftop after work and getting to know one another. I’ve never been afraid to say hello, reach out and find new friends. Do I think we need more now? Maybe not, but not saying no more either. I also feel those born and bred in Seattle are not necessarily the same people who are doling out The Freeze. My very informal poll shows that more folks from the Midwest have tended to be more ‘to themselves’ than Californians, Texans or those from Back East. Maybe it’s because they needed to get out of the Midwest and felt Seattle was a great place to hide? There was a time that Seattle was nearly the farthest you could go and, essentially, disappear. Not so much anymore.” — Erik Waldorf, who signed his email with the delightful nickname “Anti-Freeze Erik”
“The key to getting to know people in Seattle is to belong to a long-term structured group whose interests you share: church, a bowling group, book club, neighborhood council, or similar. In my old Seattle neighborhood, over several years I was puzzled to see only a couple of children playing outside. Then I formed a Block Watch, which put on a BBQ to which 27 children and their families showed up. Their free time was so organized that most of it was spent being ferried around to school, lessons, and play dates with children in other areas, meaning that we never saw them. Parents of children at the same school built bonds but not necessarily in their neighborhood. I have had a hard time making friends right where I live, but it has worked out very well when I joined something. I do agree that the Nordic cultural norms have created some of the issue, but many non-Nordic people have moved here in the past 40 years. The Seattle area also has a plethora of jobs that demand total commitment. Those at Amazon and Microsoft come to mind. I know people who took jobs here and came either alone or with a partner. Their work allowed no time to build personal ties. Because of that, every relationship need had to be met by a partner, which was a recipe for depression and strife.” — Kathy Wilmering
“Regardless of where one lives or travels, I have always found that if one is open, friendly, welcoming, warm and with a smile on one’s face, you will get positive responses.” — Kris Laurance
If you’ve read this far, here’s a treat: An early description of what became known as the Seattle Freeze, circa 1946, from a Seattle Times editorial.