Seattle freeze debate: Data implies locals aren’t too friendly

May 29, 2019, 10:00 AM | Updated: 10:50 am

Seattleites have debated the validity of the Seattle freeze for years. Some say it’s a myth, while others insist that locals aren’t too friendly or interested in socializing.

Historian Feliks Banel argues for the latter.

“I remember in 1998 … I met a woman who had moved up here from Portland and she decribed the Seattle freeze to me, but not in those words,” Banel recalls.

The woman explained to Banel that people would tell her, for example, about a really cool bar, where the drinks were cheap, that had unique atmosphere.

“Then they would say, ‘Here, I’ll give you the address,'” Banel laughed. “In other places, people would want to take you and show you things themselves. In Seattle, they just want to give you the address.”

Seattle freeze data

While many debate if the Seattle freeze is actually a real phenomenon, it now appears there is data to back it up.

The Seattle Times reports that about 40 percent of Washington and Oregon residents say that making new friends is not a priority. The numbers come from a survey conducted by Northwest insurance company Pemco. According to Derek Wing, a Pemco spokesperson:

Some might say that Seattle is a lonely city, and while there might be some truth to that, there is also hope that this reputation will soon change. The up-and-coming crowd wants to connect on a personal level, and newcomers are going out of their way to make that happen – it’s just one of the many ways the Northwest is constantly changing. It is encouraging to see that the ice may be melting.

Indeed, the Times broke down the numbers a bit further to show that not all demographics are so cold — but, mostly, they are. Men under the age of 35 in Washington are more likely to say that making new friends is extremely important, especially if they have children.

In general:

  • About 12 percent of Washingtonians say that making new friends is “extremely important.”
  • About 8 percent say making new friends is “not at all important,” while 30 percent say it’s “not too important.”
  • A total of 39 percent of people under the age of 35 say its either “extremely” or “very” important to make new friends, but only 21 percent of people above the age of 35 share that perspective.
  • People with children, they really want friends. A total of 41 percent said that it was “extremely” or “very” important, while only 15 percent of people without children said the same.

See the full survey results at The Times.

Wing further told the Times that Seattleites are more interested in JOMO (joy of missing out) than the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out).

Seattle freeze history

As Banel explains, the Seattle freeze is an attitude woven into the region’s history — even if people weren’t calling it that until more recently.

“The phrase ‘Seattle freeze’ doesn’t appear in The Seattle Times until 2005 … I remember knowing what the Seattle freeze was 20 or 30 years ago, but not hearing it called the Seattle freeze.”

Banel says the concept goes back to the early days of European settlement in the region. Unwelcoming locals is a trend that has persisted with the many waves of newcomers ever since.

“Of course, Natives were here for thousands of years so they were probably the original Seattle freeze, because they didn’t want pioneers coming here by the thousands with their diseases and taking all the land,” Banel said.

“Seattle has always been desirable, we had two very successful world’s fairs here,” he said. “People came here by the thousands and tens of thousands during World War II, we have Boeing of course, and a lot of those people stayed.”

After WWII the population continued to grow with that era’s baby boom. Banel says that around that time, a group called “Greater Seattle Incorporated” started up (it would eventually create Seafair), hyping the city. In response to that, a counter group called “Lesser Seattle Unincorporated” was formed to downplay the growth and newcomer sentiment of the day.

In the ’80s and ’90s, there was a bit of an anti-Californian attitude that sprung up. That was quite evident in a variety of classic Almost Live sketches, such as this one called “The Last Northwesterner,” where a man flees a mob of Californians demanding that he sell them his house.

Perhaps today it could be felt in the latest wave of tech transplants driving up the cost of living.

“Seattle’s strength, in my mind, is how it completely reinvents itself every five or 10 years; every generation or so,” Banel said. “….We’re living with the result of that now in how dense Seattle is and how the population is growing. It’s almost like there are so many people who are new arrivals now, you couldn’t develop a Lesser Seattle movement because it would just be a bunch of hypocrites.”

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Seattle freeze debate: Data implies locals aren’t too friendly