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Why the Seattle Freeze is real and how to thaw it out

Dr. Pepper Schwartz, a UW sociologist, explains where the Seattle Freeze came from and what we can do to fix it.

With a simple Google search, it's easy to find various definitions for the phenomenon commonly referred to as the Seattle Freeze. Most definitions refer to a belief that it's difficult to make friends in Seattle, especially for newcomers.

In our quest to explore the freeze, KING 5 sat down with University of Washington Sociologist Dr. Pepper Schwartz to get her take.

What is the freeze? 

For newcomers, defining the freeze is often the first task.

Schwartz describes the freeze as the way people interact. That doesn't necessarily mean people are rude, just that some interactions tend to be more surface-level and less "let's be friends" focused. For some, that's not a problem. For others, especially newcomers, making friends can be a challenge.

What's the cause? 

Schwartz said there plenty of reasons as to why the freeze can be a real thing.

"I think demographic, cultural, historical – why is New York the way it is, where everybody is friendly and wants to tell you what they're thinking about? I think partially because they've got a big ethnic population. We don't have many Italians, we don't have many Jews, don't have many Greeks, we don't have many Mediterraneans, and we don't have many New Yorkers to have learned a different way of talking to each other," Schwartz said. "So part of it is demographic with cultural backgrounds differing."

RELATED: Is ‘Seattle Freeze’ over for singles? Maybe if you’re a straight woman in your 40s

Western Washington is known for its gloomy, rainy weather. Could the weather be at the root of it all?

"The weather might have something to do with it in the sense that you'd say maybe rain gets people in, but I think here people go out in it," Schwartz said. "I think it's a mark of pride for Seattleites that you don't have an umbrella. I don't know if the weather has a dampening effect on our moods, though. This is a pretty depressive place from November, to well, some people say June, I'd say maybe March or April, but the fact is that we do have a kind of weather like London, like other people see in Scandinavia, and there is more depression when you have glum weather."

What's to blame? 

If the weather may not be to blame entirely, who is? Schwartz said the freeze might be a behavioral trait passed down over the years.

"Well I think we started out very Scandinavian," said Schwartz. "We were timber people and fishing people. A lot of people came here from Finland Sweden, various places that were not exactly Mediterranean."

The rapid growth of the tech industry has some questioning if the freeze has only become worse. Schwartz believes the freeze preceded techies.

"We haven't until the last couple of years had huge immigration, but a lot of that immigration is in an area for techies, so maybe they're being friendlier with each other than we are," Schwartz said.

Digging deeper, with so many people moving to the Seattle area, does the mere fact that the phenomenon has a name cause some to automatically retreat?

"Well, I think the idea that there is a Seattle Freeze does permeate newbies, so in a sense, they expect it and maybe the interpret things differently, but I think a lot of people coming in at once does change it because people need to reach out," Schwartz said. "They need to meet people. The problem is a lot of those people are encapsulated. If you go to Amazon, if you go to Google, if you go to Microsoft, you go to campuses, so those places become where you interact as opposed to getting out of your office and getting out on the town and meeting new people."

How do we thaw out? 

If you're a believer in the Seattle Freeze, Schwartz said it's up to you. Each person has to try to step outside of their own bubble and make an effort.

"I like the idea of thawing out the freeze," Schwartz said. "All you have to do is reach out to the person in line with you, talk to the person you don't know before you go into the music festival you're going to, sit next to people in a movie and introduce yourself, go to a party and not just talk to the people you know. It's really easy to do. I think we have to learn how to do it."

"I think we all have more humanity in us than we recognize, and I think the freeze keeps us from that. It also keeps us, I think, from knowing the world as a much larger place than just our own bitty place, and I think you learn a lot when you talk to somebody who you might not have talked to in the everyday unfolding of your own life. I think we all need each other. I think we need to go back to a larger more general sense of self, and I think melting the freeze is important for that."

RELATED: Four ways to thaw Seattle Freeze from Dr. Pepper Schwartz

Do you think the Seattle Freeze is real? Weigh in on KING 5 reporter Brit Moorer's Facebook page.

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