I am sitting in the National University of Singapore Central Library, and I am freezing. It’s a million degrees with a million percent of humidity outside, but the air con is on full blast in here. I have to carry around a sweater to wear indoors.
Instead of moaning and complaining about how cold I am (because, how interesting is that, really, and being cold is relative, anyway) I am more interested in exploring freezing from a different perspective, an interpersonal one, which is, ultimately, what I’m exploring while I’m in Singapore.
I have lived in Seattle twice, the first time from 1994-2001, and the second from 2006 to the “present.” I love Seattle for its entreprenurial spirit, its natural beauty, its healthy lifestyle, its progressive outlook, and its fresh air. It’s a nice place to live.
However, one of the particularly interesting? confusing? frustrating? cultural markers of Seattle is what has been called the “Seattle freeze.” This interpersonal phenomenon has been generally defined as a coldness people experience when interacting with Seattleites outside of your friend group; people are polite, offer to get together with you to have a coffee (but often don’t follow up), and rarely make an effort to invite you over or for an evening out.
Of course, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the Seattle Freeze. Some people do not believe The Freeze exists, others believe (and have experienced?) The Freeze as an icy layer preventing a newcomer from accessing the secret society lurking under the Space Needle.
Being in Singapore has given me a different perspective on the Seattle Freeze. My experience of meeting and interacting with people here is almost completely opposite than my experience in Seattle. Instead of small talk in the grocery line, the task of purchasing carrot juice is a curt exchange of money and receipts. On the bus or the MRT, both almost always packed, most people interact with their electronic devices and rarely make eye contact with others.
But this is not a Freeze. I have found once you do make eye contact, once you do sit down over a teh si (which actually happens when it is offered) and have a conversation, I have found Singaporeans to be extraordinarily generous, kind, and friendly. Without suspicion.
I have lived in the same house in Seattle for 4 1/2 years. I barely know my neighbors except when bonding over shoveling snow or pruning a raspberry busy. After being in Singapore for three weeks, I have met everyone on my apartment house floor, and one of my neighbors (who I just met this morning), went out of his way to give me a ride to the university because it was raining.
What?! How fantastic is that?
So, I really am not freezing in Singapore. I am melting.