From time to time in this space I have written of my belief in the existence of the “Seattle Freeze,” as well as the related passive-aggressive condition known as “Seattle Nice.” The former is the notion that Seattleites are not especially hospitable to newcomers or those from out of town. The topic has been debated for so long it now has its own Wikipedia entry. The latter is the perception that Seattleites tend to hide disagreements and even anger with others they encounter behind a deceptively false show of friendliness that often gets in the way of conflict resolution.
To me, still New To Seattle, it is abundantly clear these phenomenons exist. Re Seattle Freeze, most newcomers I encounter–say, people who have been in Seattle five years or less–agree with me. Most folks I discuss this with who have been here longer than that do not (but see the first comment posted below). Re Seattle Nice, a surprising number of people I ask don’t understand that the concept connotes a dark psychological undertone.
Allow me to present two pieces of evidence to support my view, one high-brow, the other a little lower.
The lofty verification is a recent report by the good-government Seattle CityClub entitled “Greater Seattle: King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties Civic Health Index.” Okay, the title doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. The 32-page report defines civil health as “a community’s capacity to work together to resolve collective problems.” Buried in the report (on page 10) is a table called “Greater Seattle Group Membership and Social Cohesion at a Glance.” Drawing on data compiled by the U.S. Census and others, it evaluates the Seattle region against 50 other metropolitan areas. I can do no better than quote a column about the report by Diane Douglas, CityClub executive director, published on the editorial page of The Seattle Times:
Greater Seattle earns a D- on indicators of social cohesion. Our residents score among the worse in the country in informal civic participation metrics such as talking with neighbors (48th) and giving or receiving favors with neighbors frequently (37th). The “Seattle nice” or “Seattle freeze” syndrome is real. Greater Seattle struggles to master the powerful personal connections that grease the gears of compromise and action.
Wow! Seattle Freeze and Seattle Nice separated by just one word and linked together as a common condition.
I should point out the report says in its acknowledgments that “generous funding and key leadership from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Seattle Foundation and The Boeing Company have supported our work.” So this can’t be dismissed as the position of some anti-establishment crazies.
The lesser-brow piece of evidence is more familiar: the conduct of the vaunted “12th Man” fans of the Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks (as it happens, owned by the aforementioned Paul G. Allen) .
CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks play, is famous for being a loud stadium–so loud it’s made the Guinness Book of World Records. Besides the architecture, it’s loud because the fans scream at the top of their lungs in an effort to drown out the called-out signals of the opposing quarterback. This ploy sometimes works and has given the Seahawks the best home field advantage in all of pro football.
The contrast with how quiet the fans become when Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is calling the signals is little short of stunning. Now, I think an interesting debate could be had about the ethics of deliberately impeding the legal activities of the opposing team (Seahawks coach Pete Carroll appears to sometimes raise his arms to encourage more fan noise) as opposed to simply cheering from excitement or booing at an unfavorable result. But I digress.
To me, this is classic Seattle Freeze. It doesn’t get more inhospitable to newcomers (the other team) than this. But it’s also Seattle Nice. Fans who are polite and civil outside the stadium turn into something unpleasant once inside amid the anonymity of the crowd.
Then there’s the local reaction to Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s now-legendary TV rant against an opponent right after the NFL championship victory in the Clink over the San Francisco 49ers. Disparaged elsewhere, Sherman was widely hailed as a hero in Seattle, despite the kind of open, specific, blunt mouthing-off normally so disfavored around Puget Sound. He gets my vote as the most honest person this year in Seattle–by a wide margin.