Much has been said lately about the “Seattle Freeze,” the supposed aloof unfriendliness of local residents that outsiders claim to encounter when they move here. Maybe it’s real, but I’m not convinced.
The great British expatriate writer, Jonathan Raban, who made Seattle his home, once described the reserved style of Seattleites as “Scando-Japanese;” a blending of the cool politeness of two of the city’s most influential ethnic groups. I suppose that might be what folks who migrate here from more socially expressive places run into, but should they take it personally?
Since I grew up in Seattle and have some of those Scandinavian roots, it’s not easy for me to judge. I’ve lived for extended periods in other cities and have traveled to many more, and I have not found it distinctly easier – or harder – to make new friends in other places. Being the new kid is never easy. It does seem many of the complaints about the Emerald City’s coolness come from transplanted Southerners. Maybe Southerners do have a warmer, more loquacious affect when they meet strangers, but would it really be all that effortless for someone from Seattle to fit in down South in a stay more permanent than a tourist run to New Orleans or Nashville?
And consider other major cities: Are people in Seattle any more aloof or guarded than people in Baltimore or Boston or Detroit or Denver? In my experience, I’d say no. Maybe what the freeze is really about is the fact that Seattle has joined the ranks of those big cities. When you’re in a place so packed with people, it’s impossible to smile at everyone who passes by on the street. Your cheeks would ache.
The other thing I wonder is this: Has the Seattle I grew up in been transformed by all the thousands of newcomers and, if so, is traditional Seattle really to blame for the unfriendliness? Maybe this is something else we can blame on all those emigres from Los Angeles and Silicon Valley. It’s really the “California Freeze!”
Correction: This post was corrected at 4:20 p.m., Oct. 11. Jonathan Raban is still among the living.
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