There is a term called the “Seattle Freeze” that I can best explain by saying that Seattle-ites aren’t unfriendly, but our sort of friendliness is leaving you alone. Sure, someone may hold a door for you – in my experience usually only mailmen or men over 60. We’ll let you know if your baby drops his pacifier. But otherwise, we’ll remain silent and let you do your thing as we do ours. Elevators are quiet, busses are shockingly quiet in my opinion, carpools are quiet, and the streets are quiet especially when compared to other cities.
I didn’t fully realize this till the first time I really left town for a while. I was 18 and my dad was driving me across country to college in Arkansas (of all places – what can I say, I wanted a drastic change from Seattle, Washington and I got it!). We stopped for the night in a town in Colorado on the border of Kansas. The hotel clerk could NOT stop talking to us as we checked in and I thought it was the oddest thing. I was used to just having them take our information, handing us our key, and directing us to the room with a hand gesture back home. It wasn’t just that he talked so much and was friendly, though I didn’t interpret it that way that night. It was that he described how people in Seattle seemed so unfriendly. He kept contrasting it with Denver and saying how nice people there were to strangers when he moved to the area. I had only flown through the Denver airport before but I just imagined every big city was impersonal like Seattle. I didn’t realize we had something special, the Seattle Freeze.
After four years in Arkansas and another year for graduate school in New Orleans and sometime overseas, I emerged a different person. I learned you could talk to strangers in the grocery store line and not be weird. You could wave at cars whether you knew them or not in small towns. You could be invited over for lunch after church. You could make a friend at the swimming pool. When I moved home I was shocked to find making friends was so much harder here, I’d forgotten about the Freeze.
I got so lonely after a while. I would try and work my way into talking to a nice looking person on the bus on my 4 hour round trip commutes from the Rainier Valley to Bellevue (someday, let’s write more about the public transportation system here and a few of its plusses and minuses). But then I would start to worry they would find me the creepy, annoying, overly friendly stranger I had once imagined similar people to be myself. So I’d stay silent and fall back into the Freeze myself. I’d try and invite coworkers to events and hope they’d invite me to something someday. In one position, I only saw the homes of three of my 30 closest coworkers. Many would always hem and haw about the idea of hanging out after hours but find a way to not plan anything official. I started going to young adult groups at churches around the city in the hopes of making friends. I believe I look like a young professional, I practice personal hygiene, I smile a lot, and I came alone but no one would talk to me.
This translates to the business world in the Northwest Gold Coast area too. If you’re trying to grow your business, or create new business connections, or look for a new job networking Networking NETWORKING is the best advice everyone gives you. But how do you network in a city that is known for its impersonality, its quiet, its unfriendliness, its coldness?
In the end in my desperation I finally tried a few things and seemed to break through the Freeze. I also realized I had to keep melting my own Freeze – origins off to stay open to those who were trying to pursue me as a friend. An old college friend of mine once said that people act like their friends are a hand full of cards. If there hand is full they think they are okay and close themselves off to other people who long to be their friend. Keep your hand open, there’s always room for more in the game of connections. I have a few tips after my experience for making friends and breaking through their Freeze as well as UNFREEZING yourself so others can be your friend.
How to Break Through the Freeze of Others
- Fake it till you make it. People often comment on how they are too shy to approach a stranger, I am just as shy too but sometimes you just have to blurt something out, “What book are you reading?” “Do you like your Windows Phone?” “What do you do on sunny days in Seattle?” I regret not approaching or talking to people WAY more than I regret talking to them.
- Keep searching for interesting social events AND go to them. I would look for at least one event a week, whether it was a young adult group, a Chamber of Commerce meeting, a foreign film opening, an art gallery opening event and GO (keep an eye out for our monthly upcoming events posts for ideas). If you see someone interesting, talk to them. If one event doesn’t work, try another the next week or month. I should add that I kept trying young adult church group after young adult church group. After a few months I visited a church group where many people were friendly and invited me out to happy hour afterwards. I said yes, though all I knew was a few names. I sat down at a table and met my future husband! It pays to keep trying new social events, you might meet a lifetime friend.
- Use the internet to make friends. I’m not talking about Facebook. I’m talking about Craigslist’s Strictly Platonic section http://seattle.craigslist.org/stp/ or http://www.meetup.com/ . I used Craigslist’s Strictly Platonic section and ended up learning how to play the ancient board game Go, meet someone for coffee, and go as a date to a Microsoft Holiday Party. I am still friends with one of those people today but had interesting experiences with all the rest. My husband has had good experiences with MeetUp.com for photography sessions at Alki, hikes in the Issaquah Alps, etc.
- Keep trying. Don’t give up. Ice melts slowly.
How to Melt Your Own Freeze
- Fake it till you make it. Same as above, if someone is friendly to you don’t fall back into the icy ways of thinking they are TOO friendly. Appreciate it and move forwards, maybe into friendship or a business connection.
- Make some interesting social events. Almost every party we host at our house our friends and family know they can always bring a guest, in fact I’ve had birthday parties where I’ve asked people to bring friends of theirs who are strangers to me! Invite college students you meet to lunch, they love that or invite a mom with similar aged kids to yours to a park later in the week. If you meet someone interesting let them know and invite them to get together. Everyone wants to hear that they were fascinating/cool/intriguing.
- Use the internet to make friends. Set up your own profile for platonic friendship or create a meet up group or event.
- Keep trying. Don’t give up. Ice melts slowly, but this time it’s at your own pace!