The "Seattle Freeze" Thaws
I have previously written about a real phenomenon in the Pacific Northwest known as “The Seattle Freeze.” In short, there is a general consensus among non-natives that Seattleites are standoffish, cold, or distant. While this is likely a socially constructed appellation, I find that the term accurately describes my personal experience. While I have made fast friends with classmates and co-workers or fellow church congregants, I have yet to establish a community in my neighborhood populated with the kinds of friendly folk whom you might borrow a cup of sugar from in a pinch when your husband needs it to make his regionally famous America’s Test Kitchen Sugar Cookies. That is the kind of “freeze” the moniker suggests. That while you may meet people, and even develop some friendships, what is lacking is a warm and familiar friendliness that is common in other parts of the country.
Karl, for instance, is from Kansas and is used to tipping his proverbial hat at everyone he passes whether he is in a car or on the sidewalk. There isn’t a lot of hat-tipping in Seattle (likely because everyone is carrying umbrellas – just kidding – everyone knows that Seattleites don’t carry umbrellas – it’s a sure sign you’re a tourist if you pop open an umbrella). What is even more amusing, is that this town is divided into distinct neighborhoods all throughout the city. You don’t refer to where you live by street, but by neighborhood. For instance, I live in Green Lake, but my church is in Ballard and my school is in Belltown, while my office is in SoDo. Mind you, all of these neighborhoods fall within a 5-mile radius of my home. So, if ever there were a place to develop a sense of neighborhood community and friendly faces, it would be in one of the many kitschy neighborhoods of Seattle. And yet, because of the freeze, I have yet to experience this place as one where everybody knows my name.
However, I will attest to a recent experience here that I can’t say I’ve had anywhere else.
We live on a very busy arterial in my neck of the woods and backing out of our driveway is often treacherous during peak traffic hours. Thankfully, we have an alleyway. In the event we need to go somewhere around 5:00 PM, we can actually get on the road by exiting out the back. We also live very close to a large church. So, on Sundays, parking is next to impossible. Often, people have parked with their bumpers in the middle of our driveway. Or, neighbors have had a late night Saturday party and their blood alcohol volume prevented them from driving home, so they have parked in the back of our house. When we come out of our house at 11:00 AM on a Sunday to go to church, we find our car is wedged between stranger’s bumpers and crammed back alleys.
When we first moved in, we sort of shrugged our shoulders and successfully navigated our small sedan around the bumpers and badly parked cars. Now, however, with a minivan, this maneuvering becomes dangerous and virtually impossible. So, I have taken to leaving notes on the windshields of any cars coming dangerously close to boxing us in asking them to be mindful of their neighbors’ need to get in and out of their driveways and to leave enough room for us to do so.
Well, this past week, that happened and when we got home from church, there was a folded paper in our mailbox. And since the postman doesn’t work Sundays, I immediately predicted that it was a note from the owner of the poorly parked car responding to my message. I was correct. However, I could not have predicted that the response would have been counter-cultural and I was therefore pleasantly surprised to read:
I am beginning to imagine that while people may not be visiting with one another on front porches or having summertime block parties, perhaps that doesn’t mean that Seattleites are cold or distant. Maybe my neighbors are kind and considerate, but like many of us, just don’t know how to openly communicate those virtues verbally. “Emily” did a pretty good job, though – she even included some alliteration. For the win, neighbor. For the win!