Photo by Paul Horner via Flickr

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.”

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  • TDUB Photography September 14, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    Have been to Porland many times …love it there. Thanks for the read.

  • Toni Myers December 11, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    Thanks for this, C.A. Carrington. I moved from NYC to Seattle long ago and had the same sense of ruddy faces and a sweetness which seemed gag-worthy at the time. Seattle is not nearly so nice after 40 years of big city issues, but Portland still has a small town vibe. A busy downtown built more to human scale, an emphasis on walking and biking rather than driving, the nicest big bookstore (Powell’s)imaginable, and a certain Portlandia funkiness. May it never lose these unique qualities. I visit when I miss them in my daily life.

  • Carol H December 11, 2012 at 11:45 am

    And if Portland ever starts feeling too frantic, come visit the Boise, Idaho area. I live just north of Boise in a rural mountain town called Garden Valley… we have fondly adopted our own time zone – Garden Valley time. We all wave at eachother as we drive by, and visits to the local market are more of a gathering to see neighbors and catch up than to actually shop. Enjoy and embrace the Pacific Northwest 🙂

  • C.A. Carrington December 7, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    For anyone in Portland or planning to visit Portland, here is a link to the location of Karam Restaurant (downtown, easy to find parking in the evening on the street, public parking garages abound as well!):,Portland,+OR&cid=0,0,10872995562513346076&ei=8DnCUMf1JabfigKapoCYCg&ved=0CJcBEPwSMAA

    Fantastic, reasonably priced Lebanese food, great atmosphere, very friendly owner/staff. Good options for vegetarians and vegans too, I’m sure they’d put something delicious together upon request, they aim to please for certain.

  • Anne December 7, 2012 at 6:52 am

    Just have to chime in and say how excited I was to see Karam mentioned. We just visited Portland, ourselves, and that restaurant was such a pleasure. Great food, great place.

  • Kathryn Gabinet-Kroo December 6, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    I grew up in Portland and still feel nice! Maybe it’s because Oregonians don’t suffer bitter cold winters or blazing hot summers…even the seasons are mellow!

  • Leslie December 6, 2012 at 9:28 am

    I visited Portland many years ago and your writer’s description is so what I remember.

    I’ve now moved out of Boston to a little town called Belfast, Maine. I had never been to Belfast before moving here.

    C.A. Carrington’s description fits Belfast, too.
    Lovely places these human sized towns.