Last week, a woman I follow on Instagram lamented that after a move to the Pacific Northwest about a year ago, she has had trouble making friends, citing “the Seattle freeze” as the cause of her increasing feeling of isolation. People from far and wide jumped to provide support and advice. Some swore that the PNW is the least friendly place in the country. Others cited long-lasting friendships as evidence that Northwest is perfectly genial. Needless to say, my interest was piqued.
I asked a friend of mine, a sociology professor and PNW transplant, if their concerns were (in my highly scientific, technical verbage) “a real thing.” After kindly reminding me that what people perceive as friendliness is a purely social construct and that she hadn’t personally experienced “the Seattle freeze,” she confirmed that — yes — the PNW’s brand of social interaction is not typically perceived as friendly.
I felt my metaphorical hackles rise. Not friendly? Seriously? Then, I remembered that when we moved to Arizona, I was taken aback with people’s neighborly attitude. People started chitchatty conversations (that, as an introvert, kind of creeped me out) in grocery store lines. My colleagues got together after work for happy hour most Fridays. People opened their homes – dirty laundry and all – to others like it was nothing.
That got me thinking: maybe by the rest of the country’s standards, Northwesterners aren’t the world’s most outwardly friendly people; however, maybe we’re just a little misunderstood. As my friend pointed out, “friendly” is a social construct and maybe our way of expressing benevolence is a bit different from the legendary hospitality of the South or the neighborliness of the Midwest.
Maybe we do life a little differently.
So, this is in celebration of you, misunderstood Northwesterner. Friendly or not, this is what we do.
We care more about issues than stuff.
Life isn’t about the newest Louis Vuitton bag or the biggest house on the block or designer jeans with perfectly imperfect distressing in all the right places. A lot of people give lip service to this idea, but Northwesterners believe this on a fundamental level. We’re concerned with saving the environment, saving arts in education, saving people from cancer, saving fish from drowning — whatever the cause, you will find a passionate Northwesterner who believes in it.
Here’s the crazy part: we do more than take out our checkbooks to resolve those issues. We recycle and compost. We drive hybrids. We shop local. We volunteer at the animal shelter and The Boys & Girls Club and the YWCA and the food bank. In fact, according to volunteeringinamerica.gov (a totally legit government agency…seriously, check it out), citizens of Idaho, Alaska, Washington, and Oregon volunteer more hours per capita than any other states except Utah.
That’s right. Take that, Tennessee.
Wait a minute. That wasn’t very friendly.
I encourage you to examine your priorities and try to perform better next time. I believe in you, Tennessee. You can live up to your nickname. You WILL live up to your nickname.
We live and let live.
This might be the crux of the Northwest attitude. We’re are famously laissez-faire, which might play into our reputation as unfriendly. We don’t tend to get overly involved with other people’s lives without permission. We’re not going to police you into being like us or judge you if you’re not.
If you’re used to having your neighbors pop by with an unsolicited casserole or your friends informing you that “on Wednesdays, we wear pink,” our laid-back attitude might come across as uncaring. It’s not.
Truth is, we just want you to be you … and let us be us.
If you want to traipse through life with one pant leg rolled up so that it doesn’t get caught in the chain on your morning bike commute, fine. If you want to drink your coffee out of a recycled pickle jar, we won’t bat an eye. If you want to have a goat living in your dining room, by all means, let a goat live in your dining room.
We all have quirks, foibles, hang-ups. You can’t whitewash them away. No amount of “pull-yourself-together-and-be-a-lady” will eradicate or mediate them. Northwesterners embrace quirks. After all, this is a place of welcome, and if you can’t do that, you can just get out.
Oops. Unfriendly again.
This is a place of welcome, and if you are unable to be welcoming to others, you are welcome to reside elsewhere.
With us, what you see is what you get.
Northwesterners are refreshingly straightforward. We don’t wear makeup to go to the gym. We don’t have a complicated set of unspoken rules governing our social hierarchy. We don’t talk nicely to your face and then “bless your heart” sarcastically behind your back. In Trump-ese (Am I allowed to quote him for comic effect?), “We don’t have time for that nonsense.” Duh, we’re too busy volunteering!
Seriously, though, I think our collective straightforwardness may be off-putting to some. Northwesterners don’t engage in a lot of small talk to provide social lubrication. We cut to the chase. We get intense quickly.
The upshot of all of that is that you can be assured that if a Northwesterner is nice to you, he or she wants to be friends. There’s no need to analyze motives or dig for drama. There’s a reason The Real Housewives of Seattle doesn’t exist. Episodes would consist of rather quiet afternoons at the coffee shop, where friends talk earnestly about protecting farmland from development, followed by a quick trip to the farmer’s market to procure a bundle of organic kale. Worst. Television. Ever.
With all of this said, misunderstood Northwesterner, can’t we do all of these things AND smile at strangers more often? Can’t we do all of this AND open our homes to our colleagues? Can’t we do all of this AND bring the occasional lactose-free, gluten-free, vegan casserole to a neighbor?
I think so.
Copyright Best Coast Living, 2015. May not be reproduced without permission of author.
Washi tape clip art by Teacher Karma.