I moved to Seattle a year ago to start a job, and while I was prepared for the traffic and the weather, I was blindsided by the stunning lack of human contact. Billboards should mark the city limits: Welcome to Seattle, Home of God’s Frozen People. Expect to be isolated, disconnected and judged. Enjoy!
The Seattle Freeze is real. I’m grateful for all the dogs I can make eye contact with because the humans here go to extraordinary lengths to avoid connection. Lack of human warmth is the norm, and it seems the locals are fine with this even though the scientific truth is we are born to connect. The Seattle culture is an anomaly in the realm of human behavior, but if you live in a bubble long enough, you can accept anything, including unfriendly passive-aggressive behavior. While geographically gorgeous, this city is an emotional tundra, which would be fine if mental and emotional health weren’t so fully dependent on human connection.
Seattleites are neither troubled by the Freeze nor in any hurry to change this culture. I’ve heard locals say it’s about Scandinavian roots, but this is probably unfair to people of Nordic descent. What bothers me most about the Freeze, though, is that Seattleites love to claim the mantle of the most progressive place on the planet, while there is more unacknowledged human suffering here than I’ve seen in any place I’ve lived or visited.
It’s hard to navigate not only the Seattle traffic, but the unspoken social rules of acceptable behavior. An awkward paralyzing politeness pervades the culture, often displayed at four-way intersections where we stare at each other, waiting for someone to move. I’ve also found it useless to try to make plans, as people either don’t respond or don’t pick up their phones to confirm or deny they’ll show up anywhere at any given time. They just ignore you. If there was a Passive Aggressive Olympics, Seattle would grab that gold.
I moved here from Colorado, where I had worked as a cowgirl in a ranching town for a few years. I don’t disclose that fact often because I discerned early on that the cowboy culture has been relegated to “redneck and racist.” Cue the “Seattle Gavel.” You’re a cowgirl? You’ve been judged. Your name is Billy and you’re from Texas? BAM! You’ve been judged. My guess is that very few people in Seattle have met a cowboy or anyone from Texas, where people are warm and friendly and would give you the shirt off their backs. The Seattle penchant for exhorting (via signs on manicured lawns) how Black Lives Matter creates more of a barrier (can you please stay off my property and for God’s sake don’t move into this neighborhood?) than anything of value. But the signs give white people comfort.
You’re likely thinking, “Well, if you don’t like it, leave.” And although that sounds pretty Trumpian, trust me, I’ll leave as soon as it’s economically feasible.
Meantime, I’d like to challenge Seattleites to consciously look up and connect. You can and should intentionally become more open and warm to the other humans around you. Would it kill you to break the habit of stony silence and engage? Is your time so precious that you can’t smile? Your dog can, I’ve seen him. In fact, if Seattle humans just tried to emulate their dogs we’d be better off. I’m not sure why locals extol the virtue of the Freeze like it’s a precious jewel when it’s an ugly stain on this beautiful place.
Homelessness, gang violence and the fact that 19% of high school students don’t graduate indicates that Seattle is a hotbed of social sickness masked by the stilted constructs of minimal civility. Every region has its problems, but things here can get dystopian-bad if folks won’t break the Freeze and finally learn to connect.