What am I getting myself into?
October 12, 2007 12:27 AM   Subscribe

The Seattle Freeze: What am I getting myself into?

I'm moving to Seattle in a few months from the Los Angeles area to accept a job offer, and hardly know a soul other than one or two acquaintances there.

Frankly I haven't been too incredibly worried about meeting people - which is somewhat surprising considering I'm a pretty introverted - but I think it partially originated from being so taken back by how nice everyone was while I was visiting last to check things out.

Now I'm hearing thats what they all say - before the end!

I just ran across a very interesting article that I think has been mentioned here a few times - but just in passing - regarding the "Seattle Freeze" in the Seattle Times, which I had never really heard of until now.

So hive mind, I'm curious to hear your own perceptions of this phenomenon... fact or fiction? Am I in for some rough times, or is this just like any other big city. If it is true, is there a hidden secret for winning over the locals? haha

I'm still excited about the move, and not rethinking my decision based on reading an article in a newspaper, but I am thinking of if and how I should prepare myself for a potentially very different culture...
posted by vitrum to Human Relations (21 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
My partner and I will be moving to Seattle soon. He's a Seattle native, and describes the city's denizens as highly polite, to the point of passive-aggressiveness. Just assert yourself — you'll be fine.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:42 AM on October 12, 2007

I can sort of see where the "Seattle Freeze" talk is coming from, but I've never found it especially difficult. (On the other hand, I moved here for graduate school, so making friends was somewhat built into the system in my case.) However, I moved from a place that has a similar reputation for superficial (and passive-aggressive) niceness, and maybe I've just grown up with a preference for it. I do know that some other people in my program who moved from other locales have expressed more frustration than I've experienced.

I agree that people in Seattle are overwhelmingly nice. I also find that when I spend extended amounts of time in places where people don't act that way, it really wears me down. I guess I prefer Seattle Nice/Seattle Freeze to the alternative.
posted by adiabat at 12:46 AM on October 12, 2007

Go to the next MeFi meetup in Seattle. They'll treat'cha right.
posted by fatllama at 1:31 AM on October 12, 2007

If you ski or snowboard, you should come to the Whistler Meetup in December. A numer of Seattle mefites already plan on attending.

posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:50 AM on October 12, 2007

That article reminded me a lot of moving to Toronto. People are pleasant, but it's very hard to make friends there. I ended up meeting people from Livejournal or other message boards. But it took a very long time.

I was warned about this before moving to Toronto, that people would take a very long time before they would accept me, and I thought "Yeah, right." But it was so true!

Recently I moved to Syracuse, NY and it was the total opposite, people have gone out of their way to be friendly and invite me to do stuff with them. So I think that there are regional differences in how much people befriend newcomers.

If I knew then what I knew now, when I moved to Toronto I would have made a much bigger effort to find and attend things like Mefi meetups and online social groups.
posted by Melsky at 7:11 AM on October 12, 2007

I vouch for the Seattle freeze. People's social circles seem to be more static - there just isn't much interest in including new people, rather than the no-effort alternative of just doing stuff with the usual crowd. So if you grew up there, you'll have plenty of friends. But if you transplanted there after your school days, it's hard and frustrating, and a disproportionate number of the friends you do gain will be transplanted social orphans like yourself.

But on the flip side, probably because it's hard, if the usual avenues aren't productive there seem to be a fair few activity groups through which to meet people and do stuff and break ice, etc. I can't recommend anything firsthand yet. Ask again in a few months :)
posted by -harlequin- at 7:15 AM on October 12, 2007

...and I thought that that The Freeze was a Vancouver British Columbian quirk - and didn't think that it crossed down across the border (after all, Seattleites are so nice)

The most confounding comment I heard, a few months after moving here 17 years ago, was about some other person in my company "oh she is nice, but I have a full group of friends already and we are not accepting anyone new into our circle" holeeeee

What did I do when I moved here? Hung out with the few people that I knew already from Montreal, became closer friends with them, and started to build my own circle, had dinner parties, went on ski trips with other folks from elsewhere, started to hike in our local mountains, and had wonderful weeks and weekends.

By moving here I had to step out of myself quite a bit and meet new people. Our company was hiring from outside BC a lot, those days, so creating a group of like-minded friends was not difficult. I had to open my mind, my social calendar and my heart much more than when I was living in Montreal, but seventeen years on I have great long-time friends. It takes more effort - but it will take more effort in any new city where I don't know anyone.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:20 AM on October 12, 2007

How old are you?

I've found that people who are about 20-30 have NO trouble meeting and hanging out with folks (people in this town love parties, bars and music shows at that age), but if you're over 30...yeah, you might be in for some trouble.

MeFi meetup.
posted by tristeza at 8:43 AM on October 12, 2007

I actually moved AWAY from Seattle before I realized the effects of the "Freeze". I'm so used to people being really superficially polite without actually meaning it that I have a hard time in my new local. It's very hard to realize when people say "it was nice to meet you" or "we should hang out sometime" etc they ACTUALLY MEAN IT. I come off as cold or unresponsive because I don't reach out and arrange to meet up, am taken aback by personal questions from collegues, etc.

So yes, Seattle people can be polite but distant, but not all of us know we're doing it.
posted by Rubythursday at 9:51 AM on October 12, 2007

I wonder if this is a PNW thing, because Portland is the same way. One of our local free weeklies ran a piece about that phenomenon a few months ago.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 10:14 AM on October 12, 2007

This is soooo subjective. This is literally the first time I've ever heard the term "Seattle Freeze," and I couldn't disagree with it more. I've not met a truly friendlier bunch of folks anywhere else.

I moved from L.A. to Seattle more than 10 years ago. You can quibble with the weather, but Seattle is paradise compared to L.A. in just about every other respect.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:15 AM on October 12, 2007

Best answer: I agree with b1tr0t, fully. Part of it will be an age thing as well, unfortunately. As mentioned, people in their 20s are more open to getting a larger circle of friends. It also doesn't help that there seems to be a high number of people with odd social skills (I don't want to blame it on the tech jobs, but there, I said it).

My suggestions would be to look for classes or activities you would dig and start taking them regularly. It shouldn't be too hard to meet people that at least have similar interests. Also, this will sound so damn cliché, but find a coffee shop you dig and spend some time there. I had a lot of friends who met nearly all of their friends by being a regular at a cafe.
posted by piratebowling at 10:19 AM on October 12, 2007

There's a facebook group called "Seattle Anti-freeze". These people organize parties for newcomers and other socialites. A friend of mine is quite impressed with the group and with their events.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:31 AM on October 12, 2007

Best answer: I was born here, grew up mostly in California, and moved back as an adult. I feel at home in the city and its culture, but came here with no social network; eight years later, the depth of the circle of friends I've found here makes it hard to imagine ever leaving.

The "freeze" is real but not as big a deal as it sounds. People are no more distant here than anywhere else; you just can't mistake the polite, friendly social style for evidence of some deeper interest, or misinterpret the veneer of reserve for dislike. Friendliness is the norm. If you are used to a more brusque, direct culture, it will feel weird when the grocery clerk flashes you a big smile and asks about your weekend plans. He's just being polite, in the Seattle way, and doesn't expect you to invite him to your barbecue. Conversely you can't expect that people are going to pick up on your interest in them just because you are having a conversation and asking about their life. There's a big difference here between "we should hang out sometime," which may mean next week, next year, or never, and "let's meet for dinner at Bleu Bistro next Tuesday", which really does actually mean that the person wants to spend some time with you.

There are some good points about Seattle from a friend-making perspective. Once you are in, you are in. Everyone I know seems to be part of a couple different overlapping circles of friends. I've met so many total strangers who turned out to be only one or two links away, through a completely different social group, that it's stopped surprising me. Seattle is a big enough city to have room for a lot of different things going on, but it's small enough that people with common interests will more than likely keep crossing each other's paths.

People really do tend to hibernate during the winter, but they come bursting out of their shells in spring, and if you catch the wave you will spend all summer fending off invitations to hiking trips and barbecues. Seattle in summertime is a wonderful thing.

Come to think of it, another cultural difference might be that people in Seattle seem to spend time together mostly in the course of doing something else. I haven't been particularly successful here at just hanging out, in the California mode. Get people together to do something specific - hiking, skiing, a party, a picnic, whatever - and it's a different story. This is definitely a low-key sort of place, but it's not laid-back; there's an edge of action under everything.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:51 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Mars, I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about. You are from here, you grew up on the west coast, you're so in the freeze that you don't realize it exists. You are the quintessential self-selected group.

In Seattle, people will be super-nice to your face and that will be the last you hear from them. In New York no pays much attention to strangers (sensory overload, I suspect), but once you get to talking to them you have a friend for life.
posted by astruc at 11:19 AM on October 12, 2007

Best answer: You'll be fine. We'll have a meetup for you and Blazecock as soon as y'all get into town!
posted by vito90 at 11:27 AM on October 12, 2007

Everyone said this about my home, Minnesota, too. In Minnesota, I could more understand the stereotype because many people never leave there. With all Seattle's tech jobs, people come from all over (we moved to Seattle in 2001) and have to start their entire friendship circles again.

It's no more difficult than anywhere else. People just blame the city rather than themselves when they don't instantly have a jillion new friends.
posted by GaelFC at 11:50 AM on October 12, 2007

Oh, it's real. I noticed it at playgrounds right away. In New York City, where I lived right before moving to Seattle, I found it easy to make friends with the other parents while our kids played together. Here I might get a nod, perhaps some light conversation, but that's it. I've lived in many different cities, in a few different countries, so it's not just me.

That "we should get together some time" thing drives me nuts.

That said... it's harder to make friends here than it is in many other places, but it's not impossible -- it just takes longer. It's a fine place to live, and since you'll be moving here with a job you'll have a way to meet people.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:45 PM on October 12, 2007

For an introvert, it's a feature, not a bug. That said, most of my Seattle-area friends are originally from somewhere else. There are plenty of such folks, to the natives' occasional consternation, so I doubt you'll really have much trouble.
posted by kindall at 5:27 PM on October 12, 2007

People are polite here in Seattle? Obviously the people saying this have never lived south of mason-dixon. People aren't polite here, they're passive-aggressive nutjobs (and my sample size is huge--I meet a lot of people).

I have a small core of incredible friends here, but it's taken more than four years to find a small group of incredible, sane people. The people I'm closest to here are locals, not imports, so they do exist, but the culture here is radically different, and incredibly shallow from what I've seen.
posted by tejolote at 8:54 PM on October 12, 2007

People are polite here in Seattle?

Yes, they're very polite. I can walk down a street full of strangers here and be blissfully ignored by every one of them. The attitude is: mind your own business and I'll return the favor. The very height of politeness if you're an introvert. I would bet that there are far more introverts here per capita than in most other cities.

It's a sort of paradise, really.
posted by kindall at 8:44 AM on October 13, 2007

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