I’ve just moved to Portland, Oregon, from New York. And, as you’ve probably read at least 5 times in the last 10 to 15 years, dammit-all-to-hell if everyone here isn’t incredibly NICE. It might throw this tried-and-true Northeasterner for a bit, but I’m sure I will gladly get used to it (and have some niceness rub off on me).
Going to the Department of Motor Vehicles in New York for any transaction was always a test of my sanity and felonious subconscious, requiring a full day off from work and normal life to experience (notice that I didn’t say “accomplish”). But here in Portland, the process of switching my driver’s license and registering and titling my vehicle to Oregon was orderly, friendly, and the clerk was even just a tiny bit lenient (he took my out-of-state check with no address listed on it, after some hesitation and review of policies, for the simple reason, I’m assuming, that he wanted to be nice).
Pedestrians and bicyclists thrive here, alert but unworried that this will certainly be their last day on earth (buses, taxis, trucks, and cars traverse the streets, with drivers fully aware that there are many folks out-and-about on foot and bike). Drivers frequently stop their car for a pedestrian to cross a busy street, mid-block and regardless of traffic congestion.
One evening while downtown, searching for a wonderful Lebanese restaurant I had visited years prior (not knowing it was called Karam Restaurant and was on that very street, just around the corner), I stopped and asked two street security officers if they could help, and they happily spent 10 minutes describing every Middle Eastern place they could think of (and had enjoyed) for blocks. Coincidentally, one officer was originally from Queens, with a still-present thick accent, but very laid-back and friendly, Portland-style.
Favorite Portland phrases heard thus far: Not a problem. Oh, no worries! I’m sorry, that’s on me. Pardon me. Thanks so very much. No problem at all. Fantastic. Happy to help out.
My friends in New York will protest, “But we’re nice!” and yes, of course, they and many more are. But the overall vibe of the city, the state—the Northeast in general—is rush-rush-rush efficiency, and WOE to the person who might get in that efficiency’s way (disdainful looks, possible hand and finger gestures, likelihood of colorful language). The West Coast’s general way-of-being seems thus far, to this New Yawkuh, to be a mellow, friendly, no-big-deal breeziness. Lots of smiles. Fewer forehead-creasing frowns.
In my first weeks in Portland, I’d shake my head (and curse a minor bit under my breath) when I reached a four-way-stop-sign intersection in which all four drivers were smiling, sitting patiently still, and waving each other merrily and patiently along. No one was moving, as they were too busy smiling about it (“Oh, what a gosh darn situation this is!”). Now I just smile, wave away to the other drivers, and think, “What a great place to live!”
Check back for more C.A. Carrington pieces on living in Portland, to see if the author, for the first time in her 45-year life, transitions to being “too nice.”