June 10, 2014
Earlier this year, I moved to Seattle, WA. This is the fifth city I've moved to, in five years, in over three countries. I'm not good with these kinds of life announcements. I prefer sticking to food, but I wanted to give a quick update now that I've moved and settled a bit.
I moved to Seattle from a recent, and brief one and a half year move to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Before AL, I lived in: Chapel Hill, NC, Leuven, Belgium, and Barcelona, Spain. Coming from these places, I appreciate the culture here: it is laid back, techie, fit and sporty, outdoorsy, health and green-conscious, and foodie. I try to avoid obvious comparisons: weather and politics. Instead, I like observing people. How do they describe where they live? How do they view where I moved from without knowing anything about me? It's interesting. For example, in the south there is an ease in which a person starts a conversation, and there is no end to random conversation. In Tuscaloosa, I felt that anyone that was friendly felt like a friend. You could have nothing in common, but there is a sort of acceptance that I never really appreciated. This is a true observation: in the part of the south that I lived in, people still smile at you when they pass you on the street, or let's say campus. You start thinking that your clothes must be on backwards, but instead eye contact is usually followed up with a friendly smile. This was a unique adjustment coming from northern Europe, where you are generally left alone. If you are not used to it, it takes some adjusting. When I moved here, I discovered that the general behavior of people is very chilled and reserved. No one is rude, but there is disinterest: ok you're here. We get that Seattle is cool. Can you please go over there?
I've had a lot of experiences feeling like an expat, and to a greater extent an outsider, but what I find interesting after a few months of trying to re-establish life is that I feel like an expat in this city. Sure, there are no language barriers, getting a driver's license is straightforward, there is no registering at city hall - but things still feel...distant. I've moved enough times to understand that the re-establishment of your life (routine, friends, hobbies, job) takes time. I don't hold it against anyone, or anything.
At the hubs' office, he has felt what I've felt. Since he transitioned from being home-based to office-based, he extended invitations to his coworkers for lunch, happy hours, coffees, all the while the invitees being agreeable and then never showing up. The gesture is nice, and that does sound like a good idea, but not today and not tomorrow either.
We moved into a new apartment building. Since the building was new, most of the residents are to. I noticed myself responding in the exact same way as my neighbors: avoiding eye contact, shuffling quickly past each other in the hall, exiting the building, or floor, or elevator without holding the door. Now, I lived long enough in the south - I never forget to do that. I've noticed that if two people are going towards the elevator, such as often occurs when residents enter the building, the person getting on will hit their floor and then hit the "door close" button. Say two residents are coming towards the elevator, and the second is just a few seconds behind because they stopped to pick up mail in the mail room. The person waiting on the elevator will get on, do this same routine, and not pause a second to ask if they should hold the door. It is so comically infuriating to me.
The other day, I was at the grocery store and in line checking out with my things. The woman ahead of me had some wooden plank that I thought was a cedar plank. You know, those wooden planks used for grilling that infuse foods with smokiness. I asked my question, and the woman completely ignored me. I thought, she didn't hear, I'll ask again. The second time, the woman looked very surprised (which satisfied my first impression that she did not hear me), I repeated my question. She looked a little surprised, but politely said, "no." Then she turned around. Clearly my question was not an invitation to start a conversation. This gesture reaffirms why I think people are always on their phones. Why start conversation when you can just look it up this second? Silly me.
Shortly after moving, I attended a Meetup group. It was really fun - and everyone (self-selecting) was outgoing, kind, and fun. Eventually the conversation turned to the number of RSVPs - a large majority of the yes RSVPs had yet to show up. The organizer briefly apologized for this, but quickly explained that it was unfortunately a common experience, so the organizer always felt fine inviting friends along. The organizer explained that many Meetup groups keep a policy on no shows. A no-show is a person that updates their RSVP as yes, but fails to show up. A majority of Meetup groups have hundreds of members, so outings can be capped to accommodate larger groups. In addition to the no-show policy, many Meetups employ a three-strikes-and-you're-out policy: too many no-shows and you might get kicked out of a group. During that evening our conversation turned to the observances and the social norms of the area. I had explained that people felt very reserved, maybe even a little bit shy, but I'm sure with a big city that is a common experience.
The Meetup attendees were quick to explain that what I was observing - this sort of cool, reserved, disinterested disposition had a well known name: the Seattle Freeze. In general, most people are nice and polite when asked direct questions, but they don't go out of there way to be helpful or overly friendly. Most people that are from here have an established friend and family group, and you (the new person in town) are just another outsider that has changed the city in different ways. And no, they don't want to have another conversation with you, newbie, about the weather.
Posted by Neeli