Thursday, June 06, 2013

The long history of the Seattle Freeze (A regional Cascadian personality exists, "Cascadian Calm")

DK wasn't happy. He moved to Seattle, took a new job, settled in and looked around for a social life. He didn't find what he thought he'd find. He tried the neighborhood hangout, he tried his work buddies. He even tried church, but he couldn't seem to settle in anywhere socially. And, the women were shallow too. Even though he said he had a good job, DK said the women he dated were more interested in whether a fellow brought home a good paycheck.

His problem, he concluded, was the city. "Seattle is a cold city," he wrote.

In other parts of the country, it was different.
(In other non-Seattle cities) (t)he people's spirits... seem to go out to one another in friendship. They are interested in others interested in doing things together. They feel that a stranger has something to offer in their social life and they give him the opportunity to do so. 
Conversly in Seattle, most people live in a house and their spirite of friendship fails to go beyond the boudnary of their own home or intimate circles of friendship. The viewppoint of the average person in Seattle is "My home and friends are the world -- beyond them there is no worth -- beyond Seattle, there is no world."
This Seattle is Unfriendly theme (or Seattle Freeze) isn't very rare. You hear it from time to time as people get acclimated to the area. But, it is amazing how far back this complaint goes. DK was a World War II veteran writing to the Seattle Times after settling in Seattle after his service in the Navy Reserve.

While more recent complaints have blamed technology for the phenomena, DK probably didn't have to fight a smart phone to make friends. The overall cause is probably something a bit more ancient, so blame the Nords or the climate.

Either way, you can track the Seattle Freeze consistently through the decades. Rick Anderson wrote in the Times in 1979: "Seattle is no -- NOT -- a friendly city."

Fred Moody, writing in "Seattle and the Demons of Ambition." specifically cites the Seattle Freeze as one of the reasons people moved to Seattle in the 1980s (or, more traditionally, had a hard time fitting in).
The two terms you heard over and over again when newcomers rhapsodized about their new Seattle home was "laid back" and "nice,"the clear implication being that, outside the Northwest, people where "agressive" and "mean."
Again and again I heard transplants describe the same rite of Northwest passage. In talking about how hard it was to make friends when they moved to Seattle, then invariably described an episode in which, after a few akward months here, they were taken aside by a kindhearted, more Seattle-savy acquaintance at work or in their neighborhood, and told that hey had to "tone it down," "dial back," or "turn down the agression" in order to survive socially.

But, this flip side of the Freeze, the non-Seattle Crazy is just as important as the Freeze. Because, if you're insane, maybe it really isn't us. Maybe its you.

Going all the way back to 1946, a letter in response to DK makes this very case:
I most certainly do not agree with DK when he speaks of Seattle's unfriendly attitude toward outsiders. Since the first day I arrived in Seattle a year ago, I have been treated with the greatest courtesy and kindness.
I would like to know what DK wants. Maybe he needs a few lessons in "correct approach" when he comes to a new city.
In fact, published complaints about the Freeze seem to correlate with new people coming in. Take a look at our migration rates for Central Puget Sound (Population Change and Migration, Puget Sound Regional Council), there are three peaks since the Boeing bust: the late 70s, early to mid 90s and post 2005. It might be cherry picking, but Anderson wrote about Seattle being unfriendly in 1979, here's one piece from 1994 and the original Seattle Freeze article from 2005.

The Seattle Freeze might be our social disease, but it's a condition that only seems to appear when we mix with new folks. So, why is that?

Maybe, in fact, we're sane and you're all crazy. In fact, maybe you come here, act all neurotic (a tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability; sometimes called emotional instability) and expect us to be able to deal with that.

Here's a study that back up what my point in (via here).


The darker the color on the map, the more easily the resident of your state experience unpleasant emotions easily. The lighter states, the more relaxed people are.

The same study pointed out that the typical Northwesterner was very open, but also very introverted. So, take that with the very sane label, I could see why crazy extroverts from other parts of the country would have trouble here.

So, long story short: we have a regional personality here in Cascadia. It is open, quiet and sane. It isn't for everyone, but it was what defines us. There's Southern Charm, Northeast brashness and up here we have Cascadian Calm

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

The idea that Seattleites are nice just because they don't have the balls to be assertive is nonsense. Seattleites aren't nice, they are reserved and suspicious. Suspicion is not conducive to harmony. That is a cultural problem that will hopefully right itself now that people are becoming aware of the "Seattle Freeze", and as out-of-towners slowly take over the NW area.

Oh, and dealing with the rest of the country's neuroticism is a burden? It's called empathy; another term Seattle folks should become acquainted with.

Emmett said...

I actually know a lot less about Seattle people specifically, I was pushing beyond that particular city. That said, think it is a matter of point of view. What you might suspect as being suspicious might actually just be reserved.

And, the point of the post was that the Seattle freeze has nearly always been around and recognized. So, I doubt the slow migration of new folks will have any impact.

Kim Bannerman said...

I agree with what the anonymous poster has written.

I moved to the Seattle area about a year and 1/2 ago.

Here are my initial realizations:

-I learned quickly that my "southern" accent caused Seattleites to automatically deduct IQ points from me in their heads.

-I also learned to "tone down" my passionate extroverted personality. How dare I be too aggressive or proactive?

What I know now:

-Seattleites pride themselves on the said "cascadia calm" or "native Seattle". They should be cognizant that their behavior translates to RUDE in every other region of the country.

I'm a native Atlantan. And while I was never "interviewing for BFF's" when I lived there (most of mine were long-term friends in a small circle, not unlike the Cascadia Calm you describe):

-I would always introduce myself and be NICE.

-I would always give people a chance, and get to know them.

-I would try to make people feel comfortable and welcome, regardless if it were a work situation or social.

I'm a very helpful and giving person, it's how most true southerners are raised to be. I'm a connector of people, too. I genuinely want to help if I possibly can.

You know what this really is about? It's called MANNERS.

It should be taught during childhood and practiced throughout life. I don't care if you're of Norse decent, an introvert or whatever your excuse is.

There are far more transplanted people here in the Seattle area than ever before. We're not going away, Seattleites. Time to embrace the change/different people and see that as a positive thing that makes your life richer! We all have gifts and bring different things to share, after all.

So Seattle, it's time to be nice, polite and have some manners.

Kim Bannerman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sara said...

I have to agree with Anonymous and Kim, Emmett.

There's nothing wrong with being more introverted, as long as you don't demand and are rude to other people who are not. Most people in the world are much more extroverted than the Pacific Northwest. It's not insanity. People look at Pacific Northwesterners as being over-sensitive. When somebody is being more outgoing or assertive, they arn't being "mean." But "mean" is the default assumption Seattleites, and Pacific Northwesterners have about that. Being indoors all the time because of the weather may give the locals this kindof "indoor manners" for all of their interactions, even when thry are out and about. But what you have to realize, is most people in the world live in a place with better weather, and so are used to being more outgoing and interacting with people outside of their home and social groups. We learn at a young age (usually about juniorhigh-highschool and definitely by college) that we have to get comfortable meeting people outside our social groups, and the kindof clickish behavior that Seattleites find normal, elswhere is consider "highschool or middleschool behavior." The implication, being kindof shallow and juvenile.

Again, I'm not trying to be mean to you, it's just the truth. I think Seattlites and other Pacific Northwesterners sometimes kindof impose their own social fearfulness and sensitivity onto other people and either

A) Assume they are being mean,
Or,

B) Sort of demand/expect/insist that people who move here adopt local ways of doing things.

People arn't going to do that. They have a right to be themselves, and if you want to get to know them (and also not be rude, and rather polite) PNW'ers actually have to step out of their shell a little bit and show a little less fearfulness.

Have courage! People arn't as mean as Seattleites think they are, after all, people all over the world have friends.

It's ok to actually be sincere with people and have depth, and intense friendships, and sincerity.

To have real loyalty, and not backstabedness.

You can't ask people to tone it down. You're asking them to not be who they really are (most of the world) and that's rude.

It's like asking them to "tone down" the fact that they are gay or the fact that they are Buddhist, or black, or whatever. It's just the way people are.

You can't ask people to pretend to be something they arn't just for you, and then act all hostile and like they are being rude for just having a higher energy level than you, or a stronger personality.

They're not being mean, it's just like asking a taller person not to be tall, and to stoop down on one knee so you don't have to look up when you talk to them. You can't do it, it doesnt really work. To use that analogy, you just have to accept the fact that you are shorter and they taller. And love and accept and have compassion for each other anyway.

Love and peace!
-Sara

Emmett said...

@Sara, I wrote this post (and subsequent posts) from a position of defensiveness, trying to defend the regional personality from criticism.

I suppose this is a debate about what constitutes normal behavior. Kim's reference to "It's called MANNERS" was particularly interesting. Because where you are matters in terms of what manners are.

In the South, manners are introducing yourself and expecting a lot of back and forth. Up here, that's considered rude.

Like Kim's in the position of defending Southern Charm, I'm here defending Cascadia Calm.

Sara said...

I appreciate what you are doing Emmett, but the thing is you are acting like there isn't a larger truth. You are saying things from the perspective of saying "well, we like it this way here, so that's what we want."

And you know, it's fine to want that, it's just you can't expect it to stay that way. A lot of people in the PNW area are very sensitive. And you know, it's fine to be sensitive, it really is. But you can't expect other people to kind of bring themselves down to that level just because locals here find a higher energy level abrasive. It's like asking someone not to be tall, to use the previous example. You know, if you're a short person (so to speak), that's ok, but you can't ask people who move here to pretend that they are not the "size" that they are. This area has been a kindof monoculture for a while, where many sensitive people lived here, and other sensitive people from other parts of the country moved here because they liked being around other sensitive people who understood them, and knew what it was like to be sensitive.

And that's fine, there's nothing wrong with that.

But the thing is, there's too many people in the world now. We've hit 7 Billion people and are on track to 9 and 10 Billion. There's not enough space for all the sensitive people to have their own space and not have to interact with people who have larger energies than them.

It's not a personal thing, and people aren't trying to be mean, they just are who they are. They can't help the size of energy they have, and that they are kind of a "big fish." Nobody means to harm the locals, or scare them with their larger sounding ways, but it's just who they are, and they can't help it by means of their sheer size of their energy. In other parts of the country, where there is more "sensitivity diversity" for lack of a better term, people just learn from a young age to navigate the waters so to speak with many different "size" people. In here, in the PNW, people have just gotten used to the same size people by and large, and what you refer to as having "calm" waters.

But you know, what is "calm" to someone or not, varies depending on the size of their energy level and how sensitive they are.

Some fish whitewater rapids just fine.

I'm very sorry that the waters are becoming more stirred, but it's just going to happen. There's no helping that. It's not the out-of-state-ers fault, it's just the fact that people are becoming more populated and the earth smaller for it.

I feel for you, I really do, but there's no animosity involved, it's just human population growth.

Sara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sara said...

Deleted double post above

Sarah Nopp said...

It sounds like the commenter Sara is saying the regional culture of Cascadia shouldn't be approached with the "when in Rome" attitude that other regional cultures are afforded. Even moving from the mountain states I noticed a distinct cultural shift. I made the adjustments needed to fit in and got on just fine. I assume that if I ever move to Atlanta or London or Prague, I will discover I have to make adjustments in my behavior to fit in as socially acceptable, normal . I really don't understand why the Cascadia Calm / Seattle Freeze thing gets such a bad rap. But saying that the cultural norms and expectations of the whole region are wrong, and its people need to behave like people from other regions is pretty imperial sounding.
Manners:
the prevailing customs, ways of living, and habits of a people, class, period, etc.; mores.
ways of behaving with reference to polite standards; social comportment.
There is no "larger truth" about manners. They are social contracts in a state of constant negotiation.

Anonymous said...

Kim, I can already tell why you have a hard time in Seattle - you obviously have very strong ideas about how other people aught to act. Congratulations. Seattle has two main personality strains - the Scandinavian kindness and reservation combined with American western/frontier live and let live liberty. Neither of those are conducive to telling others how to act or burdening others with your issues. It's not a place for braggarts who talk "I I I" all they time.

Kim Bannerman said...

I haven't had a hard time in Seattle. I'm actually doing quite well!! But thanks for your concern, "anonymous" :) and regarding speaking from an "I" approach: should I speak for all transplants here? No.

I challenge you to meet some new people where you work, live that have moved here in the past months to about 3-5 years. Ask them how their experience has been.

Washington schools are implementing the RULER approach. FYI it's a social & emotional learning approach: http://ei.yale.edu/what-we-do/ruler-outcomes/
I'm glad to see the involvement of growing the social/emotional side of a child along with the academic.

Kim Bannerman said...

@Emmett Btw, there is no other place on earth that I've travelled or lived where introducing yourself after some chit chat/you click on some common interest is considered RUDE. Wow. That makes me sad to know there are people who think that way....

Emmett said...

Hi Kim,

I think we're talking past each other here a bit. What I think I'm trying to say that along the spectrum of rude behavior, there are things that are considered okay to do in the south, but are rude up here.

I wouldn't say that " introducing yourself after some chit chat/you click on some common interest" is rude. On the contrary, I like it when people do that.

Also, I love that you're a Crimson Tide fan, expecially given the special place Alabama holds in Huskies football history: http://olywa.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-football-game-that-changed-cascadia.html

Anonymous said...

Being passive aggressive is more rude to me than an upfront loud mouth from the south in my book. At least with one I know EXACTLY where I stand

Elois McMillan said...

oan btw.....calling people "crazy" that dont fit in with this type of culture further proves the "seattle freeze" theory lol i think the cascadian calm personality described here is a bit on the psychopathic side myself

Justin like the boots:) said...

I must say, the social climate is a bit frigid particularly in Seattle. I do have a slight Texan accent, am fairly friendly, and don't expect a bunch of back and forth banter. However, I can feel the freeze when the 'native' can't wait to retrieve the hand they've reluctantly extended in greetings, greetings for the most part initiated by me.
I can only comment on this reality as a person who is well traveled, having lived in nearly 60 cities, worked for the military, and experienced as a customer service professional.
It almost feels unnatural, with an aire of 'better than', as opposed to meeting on even ground as two empathetic, caring people. Well, because I think the attitude of indifference really means "I just don't give a f**k who you are".
Not that other regions don't have their ego's or cliques, I've just noticed a lot more freeze attitude in this region than ANY other.
Two examples from just today alone: Got my hair cut and asked the lady if she knows where the closest bank is, she replied "If you have a phone you can google it". Oh, and the guy I noticed happily chatting up some likewise natives, without being obtrusive I cordially introduced myself and told him I liked his take on a certain idea he brought to the public forum earlier. His cold and indifferent reply as he struggled to put his hand out for a half-hearted shake ..."Good, see ya"...then literally brushed past me, that smile he had earlier nowhere to be found. I really was taken aback by the end of this day. And the list of freezes I can't recall anymore.
It may be geneological, from the bloodline, or in the damn water, idk. But it is absolutely present. Y'all need to get some Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) bulbs and lighten up! Catch more bees with honey than vinegar, and if the freezers don't like honey, they can live a bitter honeyless life. It doesn't have much of an affect on me as I do find a good amount of genuine folk here that I can live with...most of them( not all) originating outside of Seattle.

Anonymous said...

The saying you can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar is very true. Judging people is acidic like vinegar is. Smiling to people and being kind is great honey. That is bare bones advice on how to go about interacting with others.
I live Seattle, my neighbors in my community, the people at stores I frequent because they are local and sell local items. The environment, the culture resonates with me. It's a big part of who ai am. You don't try to make others fit into your own personal world so that you can mesh better with them. That is a type of using that doesn't work. People can have off days. We all do. If you meet some people you believed to have this lovely term "the freeze"they are not trying to freeze you out. They don't know you. They may hear your accent and be reserved because your accent clues them in that you may be one of thousands of people who come and go. Many people move here and it's not a good fit for them. That is not something negative, but just fact. They may be reserved because they are used to outsiders moving in, and criticizing their home, the people they love, and the weather. If someone tells you to Google where a bank is, it very well may be that they don't at that moment know themselves and came up with a solution for you that they would do, like googling it.
What you put out into the world returns to you. If you are looking for examples of how this "freeze" thing is prevalent, then it prevents you from seeking out all the examples of kindness, people smiling, laughing, helping each other. Every day I encounter people who are very positive , open and friendly. If I run across someone who isn't, I don't take it personally. People are allowed to be who they are. There is nothing you can do to change it. Leave it be. You don't move in with room mates and expect that they will be thrilled if criticize how they have their furniture, the way they dress, talk, their own personal beliefs and traditions. That would be rude to expect that. No one should have to change just for you because you don't understand. That doesn't mean your way of interaction is wrong. It doesn't mean the way Seattle people interact is either. You have a choice here. If you fel like Seattle is a good fit, ad you want it to be home for you, then stop trying to change others so you can feel more comfortable. If you don't think it's a good fit, then you should move, because it doesn't make your life happy. One thing that will make it a constant point of stress for everyone is living here and actively seeking out examples of how the people I Seattle are just wrong in the manner that they live. Nobody n any region would appreciate that.
If you moved to say Appalchia area would you expect the people in that region to change their rich culture, or their attitudes just for you? Every region has their own culture, their own history, their own behaviorisms. If you don't understand it yet, at least don't put down the people where you live because they don't think and act as you want them to. Don't try to change them it's not your designated mission in life to do so. If you thnk After moving here give it time, and try to take out your pre- conceived judgements so you can see clearly that the Pacific Northwest has it's own rich culture. This is our home.

Anonymous said...

What's the nickname for the phenomenon of people moving here and complaining because it's not like where they used to live?

Kim Bannerman said...

Passive/Aggressive attacks with an "anonymous" user name. Sounds about right.

What I've come to realize since I posted on here back in August 2013, there are super cool awesome Seattle natives here.

You just have to ignore the one's that freeze and find the cool ones :) They're out there!

Even my Seattle native friends talk about the "freeze" and they tell me "yes, there are more of people like us here-I promise!". How refreshing and true.