Monday, April 29, 2013

Seattle Freeze Culture

I hadn't heard of "The Seattle Freeze" until we looked into moving here. If you haven't heard of it, here's an article from Pacific Northwest, the Seattle Times Magazine, that explains it really well.

To boil it down, the concept of "the Seattle Freeze" isn't that people are unfriendly, they're very friendly but in sort of a customer service way - chatty and polite, but you're never going to break that wall into friendship.

One article that I read said that you'll make a lot of friends that you can say "hi" to, but never any that are going to invite you to hang out. Another article had a guy explained that he'd made a lot of acquaintances but never a "take a bullet for you" type of friend.

So far, I haven't really encountered that, but many of the friends I've made have moved here recently. Even the Seattleites I have met are mostly people that are making an effort to make friends - going out to meetups, for example.

I kind of dislike the concept of "the Seattle Freeze." I think it can be kind of a cop out. "Oh, I never make any friends... probably because of the Seattle Freeze."  It's kind of like thinking that if people don't like you, they're probably jealous because you're so pretty or so successful. Maybe you're not so likable or nice or friendly yourself, right?

But my opinion changed this week. I've been taking a course to prepare to teach ESL (English as a Second Language, also known as English for Speakers of other Languages.)  One of the topics we covered in our class this was the concept of teaching our students American culture. For example, if your student comes to class late often, but is from a culture where it is considered acceptable to be late, it might be a "learning opportunity" to speak to your student or your class about the importance of timeliness.  Along these lines, the teacher gave us some examples of American culture multiple choice questions.

And then I saw this one...

I'm sorry, I can't figure out what the correct answer is supposed to be.

As for a) I think that if someone tells you to "drop by" and you spoke about a specific day and obviously spoke about his address or wherever it is that you "dropped by," than he should have honestly expected you to visit or should not have said that;

As for b) That doesn't really make sense, no particular Sunday was discussed; and

As for c) I can see the argument that you should have called, that's never a bad idea, and that's probably what I would have done, but I don't think your friend had should have been "surprised and upset" without that call. That probably would have been my answer, out of the choices given here, but I don't think it's a perfect choice.

I think I'm bothered by the use of the word "friend" here. If someone is your "friend" they shouldn't be upset when you drop by, especially when you've discussed it and you came on the particular day they suggested.

Ok, it might not be a good time. You might answer the door and say "Oh, I'm so sorry, I was just headed out" or "taking a shower" or "giving my dog a bath" and discuss a better time, but if you're an adult, I don't think that should "upset" you.

My class, full of Seattleites, unanimously agreed that "A" was the correct choice, that his friend extended the invite but didn't mean it.  Why?  Why would your friend say that, especially something specific? It'd be different if your friend had said, "We should hang out sometime," and then you showed up at their door the next weekend - that would be weird, and your friend would be rightfully upset. But your friend obviously told you his address and specifically mentioned a day of the week - why do that if you didn't really want them to come?

I think teaching this to your students would be perpetuating the Seattle Freeze culture. When your student becomes conversant, he might say "Let's meet up on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. at the mall, I'll be standing in front of Macy's" when he has no intention of showing up, because he was taught that this is American Culture.  I think we should instead teach "that friend is a jerk, you need better friends" and maybe get this friend to an etiquette lesson rather than our student a culture lesson.

Am I right?  (No, seriously, tell me - am I right? I'd love to hear from both Seattleites and non-Seattleites!)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. I've lived in Seattle for a decade, and I have never, ever found it so hard to make friends. Even in the small community I live in now (outside of Seattle and known for it's "community" feel), I struggle.

    Your example from your class is so telling. I have so many people reaching out to me with what *sound* like specific invites: let's do happy hour (including a day of the week but no fixed date), let's get our families together for dinner some weekend (but squirreling out when a specific date is mentioned), let's form a book club (complete with proposed topic but no meeting time), let's have a playdate, let's get together for a weekly walk/hike, etc.

    These are not just vague "let's get together sometime" invites. They are highly specific, often including days of the week. None of them is for real. And people get upset if you dare to try to actualize any of these plans with them. It's crazy-making.

    What bugs me the most is that the B.S. invitations come from people who think they are trying to be "nice". What on earth is "nice" about extending a fake invite? It is rude, insulting, and thoughtless. It is hurtful to the person you invite. And it destroys the social fabric, because it makes everyone wonder which invites are for real and which are just misguided attempts to be "friendly" or "nice".

    My strategy for dealing with this has changed over the years, but I am settling into treating every invite as if it's real--while simultaneously not getting my hopes up. I would rather piss off the rude people who extend fake invites than potentially blow off someone who is extending a real invite. If I make the extender of the BS invite uncomfortable, so be it. They brought it on themselves.