How to Become a Portlander in 11 Not-Very-Easy Steps

You're going to love it here. We're going to love you. Promise.

By Courtenay Hameister June 30, 2017 Published in the Newcomer's Guide: 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

Newcomers guide 2017 why you re here u4hykk

You're coming to Portland in what we like to call "interesting times."

Image: João Fazenda

So you just moved to Portland.

Welcome! Please tell me you don’t have a car. I mean, I have a car, of course—I’m just hoping you don’t have a car.  (Here’s the part where I talk about our bike lanes and walkability and bus and train and car-sharing. We good? You sell that car? Let’s move on.)

You’re coming to Portland in what we like to call “interesting times.” And by that I mean times when approximately a billion other people have chosen to move to Portland. Our population is growing at over twice the national average rate, so that means you’re going to have some competition. Competition for jobs, for a spot in the left lane on I-5, and most definitely for the coveted 45th place in line at the 72nd-best brunch spot in town. (“Slightly-Worse-Than-Average Jim’s” eggs are a little runny, but the hash browns are almost delicious.)

What else might you need to know? Because we have advice, and plenty of it. In fact, we have advice about what you need advice about. Start with these 11 steps to entry-level Portlandness to avoid acute culture shock and/or social ostracization.   

1. Know That Dating Here Is Weird

You don’t want to hear this, but you need to use an app. Tinder, OkCupid, SubparCupid—whichever you choose, it will be better than trying to cold-open on Portland’s inscrutable romantic scene, and for one reason: in a dating app, you might be forced to click a box indicating what you’re interested in. Is it casual dating? Marriage? Marriage and then polyamory and/or an amicable divorce?

Without that technological filter, you will lose your bearings. In Portland, eligible others will ask you to “hang out.” And you will. You might “hang out” all summer and, when they introduce you as their “sweetie” at a party, discover that you’ve been dating them for months without your knowledge. The Portland “hang out” drifts with alarming speed toward something like common-law marriage, except you may not have even kissed.

Portlanders, see, are notoriously noncommittal. So if you do choose to date without an app, just consider carrying around a form that asks any new “friends” to check a box indicating what they want from you. Knowledge is power.

2. Know What You’re Getting Into When You Try to Buy a House

First of all, you’re adorable. You can’t buy a house!

If you wanted to actually buy a house, you should’ve been here 15 years ago, like I was when I was offered the house I rented in inner Southeast for $190,000. My credit rating was horrible, and I didn’t consider myself responsible enough to own a house, so I turned the offer down. Now I drive to that $450,000 house daily and drink a Burgerville chocolate hazelnut milkshake in the driveway and cry.*

3. Know That Driving Sucks

It’s good that you already sold your car and bought one of those huge skateboards, because “driving” isn’t really the word here anymore. Creeping? Scooching? Portland’s traffic scorecard, in one global study, landed at number 12 out of 240 cities in the United States for traffic congestion. What that means is that you will spend roughly 48 hours, or two full days, a year sitting in traffic. The bright side is that you can develop fun car hobbies, like one-handed knitting, screaming obscenities, and crying about that time you could’ve owned a house in inner Southeast for $190,000.

That being said, I spoke to a recent transplant from Los Angeles who said of Portland traffic: “Meh. Looks like a Tuesday.”

4. Know that You Will Live a Healthy Lifestyle

You may be guilted into this. I’m so sorry.

Friends will ask you if you want to go biking, or snowboarding, or “hike up to Pittock Mansion.” That last one is a trap. It’s not a “hike.” I mean, it starts off as a hike, with soft inclines next to a literal babbling brook, but once you cross Cornell Road, it turns into a series of switchbacks that will trick you into thinking every one is the last one until you start to think that this is just your life now: climbing switchbacks and wondering if that heat in your calves is muscle fatigue or slowly creeping hellfire.

But it’s really pretty once you get to the top. If you can see through your sweat and tears.

5. On the Other Hand, Know What You're Getting Into, Food-Wise

The queso with guac and brisket at Bunk Bar at the Wonder Ballroom.

The Nutella and banana waffle at the Waffle Window.

The “Cheesus” at the Grilled Cheese Grill (a burger on a “bun” of two grilled cheese sandwiches).

These are the creations of a faction of rebel chefs who have thrown all pretense of subtle flavors out the waffle window to create insane, indulgent food you will dream about while asleep, and also for most of your waking hours. It’s not just excess, it’s weaponized excess. But, you might ask, isn’t Portland also the capital of gluten-free, vegan, ethically sourced, and joy-free foods? It is. But I’d hazard a guess that anyone who regularly eats those foods might also be seen standing on the street corner by the Waffle Window, jonesing for Nutella, paying strangers to score them a waffle so no one from their “Gluten Is Garbage” group will see them copping a hit.

6. Know That We Have a Vibrant Creative Class (For a Bit Longer)

It’s long been a reason people come here: we have one of the most potent creative communities in the country, a multidisciplinary Renaissance city-state where collaboration rules and everyone supports a Big Idea.

Sounds good in theory. But with rents skyrocketing and rehearsal spaces disappearing, the days of crashing on Bodhi’s couch while the band perfects its sound are gone. (Also because Bodhi gave up music to develop a weed-infused beer delivery app; he couldn’t afford rent otherwise.) And yes, of course we all need a weed-infused beer delivery app. But as a transplant, consider doing something to support Portland’s creative community. Become a local artist’s patron on Patreon. Go out to see a live music show, a play, a reading, or a stand-up comedy show. And if you own one of those new Death Star–like apartment buildings on the east side, maybe consider lowering the rent to below $1,300 for a studio. Because baristas make great bass players, and they’ll never be able to stay and play if you don’t.

7. Know Your Passive-Aggression

What you’ve heard is true. It’s a sport here. 

If you’re thinking it’s fine that you’ve kept your neighbor’s lawn mower for three months just because he smiles and waves when he sees you, it’s definitely not fine. Ask him about it. He will say, “No, it’s cool. Keep it as long as you need to!” Listen to the tenor of his voice. How high did it go? Can only dogs hear it? Then he is very, very upset and is probably the one leaving you anonymous notes with tips about how to keep stray pebbles from escaping your garden path onto other people’s lawns.

Just return the mower. And if you always assume a Portlander is angry about something and act accordingly, you should be fine. Eggshells are surprisingly easy to walk on once you get used to them. Note: Passive-aggression is one category where Seattle has us beat. (Ask someone from there about the “Seattle Freeze,” and when they just stare blankly past your left shoulder rather than responding, you’ll see.)

8. Know Where Your Umbrella Is

And for god’s sake, USE IT. Those people who say only tourists use umbrellas here? They all have pneumonia. Every single one of them.

9. Know Seasonal Affective Disorder

This is real. Don’t mess with it. Buy a light box (quite literally, a box of light) or adopt kittens. Many Portlanders also use whiskey, but that strategy has its own pitfalls.

10. Know That There Is a White Thing Going On

With 76 percent of its population checking the census box for “white,” Portland is the whitest major city in the US. We’ve recently seen racially motivated violence carried out by people (if you can call them that) who’d like that percentage to be even higher. Maybe this isn’t surprising for the largest city in a state that originally forbade black people from living within its borders. Yes, you read that correctly.

Yet the city also has one of the country’s largest urban Native American populations, and there are diverse and thriving arts organizations, businesses, cultural outlets, and communities of color all over the city. Whether you’re a part of one of those or are blending in with the 76 percent, maybe think about how you can seek out and learn from a perspective different from your own. Listening rules.

11. Know That You Are Making a Good Choice

I realize I may have just really bummed you out, new Portlander. I don’t mean to. What I should have added earlier (but didn’t, because I’m passive-aggressive and recoil from declarative statements) is: there is no other city in the world I would rather live in.

From sun-dappled morning strolls on the Wildwood Trail to nights laughing with friends in warm bars to transformative literary readings, the experiences I’ve had in Portland have made me a better person, and have gotten me as close to happy as I’ll ever get.  You’re lucky to be here, we’re lucky to have you, and I welcome you.

And one last tip: just ignore all those supposed “Portland natives” lamenting your arrival. Or straight up ask them when they moved here. Chances are, it’s probably about a week before you did.

*The milkshake is highly recommended, by the way. Also, I don’t want to crush your dreams. There are still deals to be had. Be prepared to jump quickly and pay double-digit percentages over the asking price.

Courtenay Hameister is a longtime Portland writer and speaker. For 12 years, she was head writer and co-producer of the public radio hit Live Wire. Her book Okay Fine Whatever will be published in February 2018. 
Filed under
Show Comments