The Seattle Freeze is a well-known trope, but I’d like to dispel this myth if you’ll oblige me. Hopefully you will find these arguments to be the difference between Seattle being a great place to be, and it being a snob-ridden cesspool of detachment.
I have to start here: Come on, we’re a big city!
We may give off that hometown feel when you look at pictures, see movies, or share memes online, but we are actually quite a large hometown. Seattle is a big city-the 20th largest city in the US; and we’re gaining in population faster than almost any other city in the US too. Just check in at any other large city and you’ll find prevailing attitudes similar to our own. Seattle has a population comparable to Boston, Baltimore, Detroit, and Kansas City. When folks visit places like that, I doubt that there is as much dismay expressed over what could just as easily be dubbed a city-wide bad attitude. All we ask is that, like the denizens of any other large city, we be afforded a little anonymity.
Living in this city includes dealing with a combination of being trapped in a place with too many other folks, overstimulation from media, and a lack of sunshine that makes it easy to remain surly. But there’s more to it than that. Like a couple of wisened old timers whittlin’ on the front porch, Seattleites are comfortable in shared silence. We are content in quiet contemplation and peaceful relaxation. With us, there is no obligation to fill space and time with sound. If we have something to say, we’ll gladly say it, but we do not feel any need to conjure up something to say simply because there isn’t anything being said at the moment. We enjoy the moment when there’s a moment to be enjoyed.
We consider it considerate
It’s said that although we’re nice, we’re not friendly, or not very friendly. More accurately though, we consider it considerate to tread lightly in other’s lives, and we appreciate the same in return. And we’re not cold or insensitive to the needs of others at all – far from it. If your grocery cart falls over, plenty of folks will stop everything to help you pick up your stuff and get back to your day. If we see a little kid crying we’ll throw ‘em a smile or play peek-a-boo to see if it helps. We hold doors open for each other regardless of gender, same with holding the elevator, and we line up nicely for the bus most of the time. We may not immediately take you out for a beer but for pity’s sake, we’re nice people!
We have respect for privacy…
At the heart of it, we love to insulate ourselves in privacy. By extension, we consider it courteous to respect others’ privacy. We observe courtesy without intruding in each other’s personal space. We give each other the benefit of the assumption that you’re a capable adult, and adults may do as they please; largely, we live and let live. We let you work out your own problems and we don’t snitch or interfere unless someone’s getting hurt-like it should be. If you ask for help we will assess whether or not we’re in a position to help and whether or not we want to, as is anyone’s right – everyone has limits (or should). And it’s nice to get a little emotional space; it feels a little weird when a stranger makes it obvious that they can overhear your quiet conversation, or saw your blunder, or know your daily schedule.
Not “friendly” enough in the office? that’s unprofessional here
We love to collaborate and often work in teams. Many co-workers also get together outside of work. But if you’re trying to make friends at work, while you’re on the clock, you’re the one being rude. Aside from the fact that your socializing is not productive in the workplace, you put people in a very awkward position when you try to socialize at work. Nobody likes an ultimatum, and your attempts to make friends at work are seen as “be my friend, or make our working relationship forever awkward”. Given that ultimatum, the typical Seattleite will choose “forever awkward” before “forced friendship” every time. Also, friendship in the workplace is tied up in cliques, gossip, and drama – again, this is unprofessional behavior. Want to get together outside of work? There are ways to approach colleagues, but alas, my post is about why we are how we are, not how to approach us – that will have to wait for some other post.
Your friendship is a form of intimacy
We make fast friends here in Seattle, but we don’t make friends fast. Although we don’t make friends quickly, the friendships we do cultivate are often strong and steady relationships. We don’t curry a large group of acquaintances here, by and large. If we like you, we really like you, and we share our very precious time and space with you. Honestly it’s a form of intimacy, and you just can’t rush intimacy – genuine connections are best made when interactions are organic and un-pressured. We want to feel comfortable before committing to very much, and who wouldn’t?
Sometimes we mistake the intentions of another, especially when they behave outside of our expectations. I acknowledge here that sometimes we think it’s not that you’re genuinely nice, but that you want something from us. When someone is very boisterous, genial, gregarious, etc. it’s often a symptom of their attempts to use niceness as a tactic. Seattleites don’t like disingenuous or fake social graces. Whether their goal is to get a date from us, money, our time, or a ride, we can generally tell when friendliness is being used a cover. We’ve been burned before by marketers, panhandlers, pollsters, exes, even our own families. We are very wary of being asked for something because we may not want to give it, but also because we hate saying “No” in a big way (apparently that issue gets its very own blog posts elsewhere too, so let us not digress here).
We are afraid of or don’t like change?
We’re one of the most innovative and progressive-minded populations in the country!! We love new bands, new books, and new ideas. We don’t like seeing something that’s already righteous and awesome and local get converted into a copy of something from afar – and who would? Your insistence on bringing national chains or fads to our neck of the woods very much comes off like you don’t like what’s here and wish you were elsewhere, so you’re trying to make here just like everywhere else. We respect your rights to like other things and places, but feel that if you want those things, you need to order them online, or go visit them where they are, rather than informing us of how we’re supposedly not providing you with the amenities you think we owe you. It’s ok though, cuz Seattle has awesome stuff too!
Seattleites are more than happy to make their own way, and if someone is with us on our journey we will enjoy their company, but we don’t need company to survive or to thrive. We do not rely on others to entertain or engage us; we are capable of entertaining ourselves. We also don’t feel the need to be constantly entertained; we’re happy to exist without requirements. We like a stable, consistent personal life that hopefully leads to harmony and contentment. We like to balance our professional, family, and community lives with our personal independence. Seattle is proud of its heritage as a home for the most rugged of individualists and trailblazers.
Values and conflicts
We all value the right to maintain our own cultures and cultivate our own values. Seattle is a very diverse city, with many cultures intersecting. As a result, there’s no expectation of shared values or culture when we meet a stranger. People tend to start discussing their values as soon as possible in a new relationship, mostly to ensure compatibility, and because shared values are comfortable and familiar; they put people at ease with each other. The problem starts when values collide. Seattleites don’t like confrontation. It’s painful, and often unproductive. We respect the rights of those who hold differing view points and it’s easier to respect opposing viewpoints when we’re not put in the position of having to agree with them or defend our own position. We’d rather agree to disagree before we get started.
We are busy… achieving self actualization. Join us!
Yes, we are busy people, but that doesn’t mean we’re “too busy for you”. We manage our own time to maximize it – we want to get the most from our day. Whether it’s working long hours, holding a second job, volunteering our time, participating in community events, caring for pets, furthering our education, or being a parent, there’s added responsibilities in many people’s lives that fill their time completely. We take our civic duties and personal development seriously. We take our work and our commitments seriously too. We want to make ourselves and the world a better place, so we start with the “man in the mirror”. Part of that is filling our lives with meaningful activities. Part of that is engaging in self care – more on that next.
For many of us, caring for ourselves is a challenge to remember let alone fit in to our schedules – as noted earlier, we’re committed to family and community in addition to work. We use our commute or our coffee break to get a little personal time. Self-care is critical to being able to give quality attention to colleagues, clients, our children, etc. In our personal time we strive to avoid any stress or anything overstimulating. And frankly, we just like a little down time in our day, it helps us recharge so we can get back to business feeling ready for success!
We think we’re better than you
We’re not smug or superior. It may seem like we are, but really, that’s a mistaken impression. A lot of folks come here and tell us all about how great other places are, and when we tell you we think our place is just dandy as it is, you take it to mean we think we’re better than you. Or, when we keep to ourselves and don’t interact, you assume it’s because we’re aloof in superiority – but we may be preoccupied, rushed, or just plain oblivious. We are not indifferent when we hurry from your side – we may have a prior commitment, and we respect others’ time. Plenty of us are shy or harried, and we go about our daily tasks focused on reaching our goals. It seems like a bit of a stretch to assume that because someone didn’t engage you that it must mean that they are bitter, resentful, or think they are better that you.
We’re socially awkward, anxious, introverted, or recalcitrant
Some folks might have an emotional disorder that hinders social interaction. They might be dealing with anxiety, depression, autism, mood swings, or phobias. Maybe they prefer limited social interaction. It could be chronic fatigue or pain, or a speech impediment. Whether it’s any of those, or insecurities or something else entirely, it seems like for this category you could give us a pass. These issues aren’t anything we are doing to you out of malice, they are challenges we’d like to overcome. Some of us simply aren’t wildly outgoing – that doesn’t make us jerks.
Passive agressive: that isn’t the point
It’s fine to say we’re passive aggressive, and I’m sure that plenty of us are. But that’s not the point. The point is that often, people think we’re being passive-aggressive when we’re not. A passive-aggressive person says one thing but is doing another, like saying they’re fine when they’re not. The thing is, we really are ok. We’re actually doing fine, maybe even doing well, so when we say we are ok, it’s not some defensive cop-out to avoid confrontation, it’s just that we genuinely never had a problem in the first place. The problem is when newcomers decide with surety that Seattleites both have a problem and are not willing to share it. That’s absurd.
Imagine a normal day; you wake up, you’re groggy, but generally content. You get dressed, walk the dog, lock the door and take the bus to your local coffee shop. You get there, you’re waiting in line like normal, minding your own business. Maybe you’ve got some music playing in your headphones and it’s possible you didn’t notice someone in your vicinity – as of yet there has been no shared experience or intersecting activity between you. Suddenly, bam! they demand to know what your problem is. You say you have no problem, but they press you, insisting that you do. They say you snubbed them – when you didn’t even realize they were nearby. You think to yourself, gosh, all I did was start my day, why is this person so upset? You back off a little, hoping that a display of submission will help them realize they’re blowing this out of proportion-you honestly don’t need a fight at 7am regardless of how it got started. You’re now accused of being passive-aggressive; but you never had a problem at all, you just wanted a cup of coffee.
Outsiders can be overwhelming
I’ll admit that for some time I assumed people from other places were insecure, desperate, immature or needy. It seemed like they had a strong desire for attention and interaction. They came across as intrusive, disruptive, aggressive, dramatic, and unrefined. Whether it’s the mother hen clucking at us, the blow-hard full of hot air, or the fun loving party animal who just won’t stop, the over-the-top role that some folks wear like an ugly christmas sweater is just too much for your average Seattleite. We get it. You’ve found a niche in this world and it largely involves letting everyone know that you’ve got a great life and everyone else could too, if they just follow you. But we’re good. Truly good. So we don’t feel a burning need to join you in the atmosphere; you’re just a little too far out there for our taste.
On being “a native”
I have a hard time with this one as I’m 3rd generation born here, and I am an Alaskan Native as well. I know there is prejudice against the newcomer here, but my prejudice was limited to Californians in particular. From my perspective, they moved here and did nothing but complain about here, or compare here to there. They moved in droves and they were the ones acting superior when they got here. The told us how our beaches were inferior, our weather was dismal, our driving sucks. They were the ones telling us about how great it was to drive instead of using public transit, that we were lacking in national chains and we were behind in fashion trends. Of course, we responded defensively. We rejected their materialism, shallowness, and competitiveness. I know this part of ourselves is real, but I’d like to think it’s also something we keep in check (or at least most of us do.)
As I’ve come to the end of a week or more writing of this post, I have to admit it. Yeah, I’m a Seattleite, like many, who’s a little stuck up and I avoid conflict, I’m a little distant and hard to get to know. Maybe it’s Seattle or maybe it’s something else, but I wouldn’t trade this place for the world.