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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

January 22, 2009 at 4:00 PM

The Seattle Freeze

Seattle gloom calls for a cheery mood

Eric Lacitis’ article [“Friendless in Seattle,” page one, Jan. 17] about the “Seattle Freeze” was spot on and it was easy for me to identify with the young newcomer to the city when she said, “Even in Chicago, crossing paths, you make eye contact and might smile to acknowledge the other person. Here, everybody looks down or straight ahead.”

Unfortunately, that has also been my experience.

There is a reason you never hear someone say, “I’m so glad I moved to Seattle — the people here are so friendly!” Your city is a lovely one, and people here are nice enough when you come into contact with them in such circumstances as a retail transaction or participation in a mutually held-interest group. However, there is an unmistakable coolness exuded by many inhabitants of this city toward people they don’t know; it exceeds what I would consider “normal.”

For example, I’ve been visiting a friend who lives near the zoo an average of once or twice a month for over three years now. Her next-door neighbor knows I am a frequent guest who stays in the house adjacent to her own. She no doubt recognizes me and my car. But when I attempt to make eye contact with her to say hello, she completely ignores my presence.

I encounter the same thing when I take long walks around the neighborhood. People here simply are not in the habit of exchanging greetings unless they know one another. Anyone reading this who has lived somewhere else where the majority of people act more friendly knows what I’m talking about. Life is hard enough for all of us and a momentary exchange of smiles and pleasantries between strangers can serve to brighten a gloomy day, of which there is no shortage here in Seattle.

In this city, the prevailing attitude seems to be: “I don’t know you, so there is no reason for me to acknowledge you, let alone be civil toward you. I have my world, and you’re not even on the periphery of it.”

Perhaps, this is a Pacific Northwest thing, as everyday civility isn’t much better in Portland, where I currently live.

To those residents who do indeed exchange greetings with people they’ve never seen before, and may never see again, know that you are doing your part to diminish the pervasiveness of the “Seattle Freeze.”

— Dan Possumato, Portland

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