The Surprising Reason I Didn’t Like Portland, Oregon

What is Portland Oregon Like? The Surprising Reason Why I Didn't Like Portland, Oregon - USA Travel

What is Portland, Oregon like to live in? This was my honest first-hand experience with the Pacific Northwest City.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” // Martin Luther King Jr. 

I’ve gone back and forth about whether I wanted to write about the last year and a half I lived in Portland, Oregon.

It seems to be a city that is loved by many and disliked by none. There seems to be countless reasons to live in Portland, yet no one talks about the downsides.

Well, here I am to talk about the not so pleasant aspects of Portland – I honestly found it to be a city that constantly made me depressed and negative on a regular basis.

I’m generally a positive person. I try to focus on the good aspects in life and shake off the bad. I tried my best to adhere to that positive mentality while I lived in Portland. However, there was an underlying nature to the city that I could not get on board with.

I heard countless exceptional reviews about Portland before I arrived, from online communities, friends, and acquaintances alike.

It’s a place that has been written about by the media a lot in the past five years. It’s known for its creative culinary scene, the TV show Portlandia, craft beer culture, and quirky nature.

I never heard one bad aspect about the city, besides maybe the dreary weather, before I moved there.

And I can completely understand that. I can see how it’s a great place to visit. I’ve written about the good aspects of the city and all there is to do there on this blog numerous times. I stand by those recommendations, but it’s not a place that I would advocate moving to anytime soon.

I don’t know if people simply don’t want to talk about the elephant in the room because they’re too uncomfortable with it. The aspect I disliked most about living in Portland is what it’s most proud of portraying in the media: it’s progressiveness, or lack thereof as I soon found out.

There were wonderful aspects about Portland and living in the Pacific Northwest as a whole, but I would never do it again.

Even with the amount of cities I’ve lived in abroad. Even with how many times I’ve had to start over and create a new life in a foreign place. I’ve never had as hard of a time as I did in Portland.

The few friends that I did make were not from Portland originally, and there was always that underlying feeling of you’re not welcome here. A state-level xenophobia against anyone who wasn’t born in Oregon, an overly white washed state to begin with.

Portland is meant to be progressive. Instead what I found was a place full of fear, disgust, and distrust for the “outsider”. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the words, “go back to California.”

I once waited in line at the DMV for an hour only to be publicly humiliated by a DMV employee. He decided to loudly make derogatory remarks to me once he saw my California license, because he knew he could get away with it.

I know there’s an on-going “joke” about Californians and how they’re not wanted in Oregon. I understand that, even if I don’t think it’s that funny.

It’s not just about being politically correct. That type of attitude only creates an atmosphere akin to the current political spectacle encouraging hate. And the thing is, it wasn’t just Californians that seemed to be the butt of every off-hand joke from Portlanders.

My partner is from New Zealand and he was met with the same response. Washingtonians and anyone else not from Oregon is met with the same backlash for moving to the state.

My first weekend in the city, I was eating lunch and reading letters to the editor in one of the local opinion newspapers. One person wrote that she was wanting to go around to all of the cars with out-of-state plates and attach balloons to them, to see if they would get the hint.

Leave, we don’t want you here.

I went on to the next page and read about how the people moving up from San Francisco were creating “yuppie” communities in Portland.

I read how they were the reason the rent prices were going up in the city. And fair enough, that may be partially true. The way in which it was written, though, it was dripping with a “how dare they” attitude.

There was a deep superiority complex that I began to notice around the city from locals. Perhaps it was due to personal insecurities or maybe just a simple misunderstanding of the world and who we are as humans. Regardless of the reasons, it was there.

The thing about hate is that it only creates more hate, no matter what that type of hate is.

I’m sure I’ll get a few more, “go back to California” comments from this post or worse. But it’s about time we discuss the negative and dangerous side to this American city.

Portland is unfortunately not the only city in America that has a mistrust and fear of outsiders, far from it actually. But isn’t Portland meant to be one of the leaders of progressiveness in this country?

Maybe at one time it was truly a progressive and welcoming place, but that’s not what I found during my time living in the city. And if the current Portland is the standard of progressive thought in this country than that is a serious problem.

In the current world that we live in where there is so much hate toward the outsider, we could all use a little more understanding and human decency.

To all Portlanders and anyone else that may have taken offense to this post, this is your call to action: don’t allow a community of exclusivity to continue in your city.

Next time you go to write a pithy remark on Facebook begrudging Californians or talk with disgust about the influx of non-Oregonians into the city, take a moment’s pause.

Do you really want to add another level of negativity to the world today? I think it already has more than enough on its plate.

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What's it like living in Portland? The Surprising Reason Why I Didn't Like Portland, Oregon - USA Travel

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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
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16 comments

  1. This doesn’t surprise me and I’m glad you wrote the post, Mimi. Portland isn’t somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a few reasons but certainly I have a similar outsider view of the place to the one you carried with you prior to moving there. It’s important to provide counters to commonly held views.

    In travelling, I’ve found a number of places have in no way stacked up to the rave reviews. For me, the problem seems to be the reverse of yours here – people rave about places that are great to live but boring to visit.

    I’m always kind of amazed by people who love everywhere they travel. You can take something positive out of every new place, absolutely. But few places sing to me and in the same way there are few on my “nope” list, with the majority falling on the middle. It’s refreshing to read a different take on the usual surface layer rah rah.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Helen. It’s interesting how there’s never any negatives to most people when it comes to Portland. If I only went by what people told me before I moved there, I would think it was a ‘Heaven on Earth’ type of place. I’m glad I went in with an open mind and came away with a personal experience that may be different than most, but is definitely true to my personal experience with the city. I try to always find the positives in the places I travel, but if there’s an important reason to why I disliked a place, I’m also not afraid to share why that was. I think travel writing could use more of that sometimes for sure, to open up a constructive discussion about certain places and why they don’t actually live up to the hype oftentimes.

  2. I loved this post. Even in Seattle, I constantly get comments about being from Texas – and I’ve been here for over 20 years! They call it the “Seattle freeze,” where it’s hard to make new friends. It’s really discouraging that areas like Portland and Seattle are like that. I have no idea why “locals” wouldn’t want to welcome others and make new friends.

    1. Thanks Marissa! I’ve heard of a similar attitude existing in Seattle when it comes to outsiders. Such a pity! That’s crazy that people still comment on you being from Texas after you’ve lived there for so long.

  3. That is so surprising! My best friend moved to Portland a year or two ago and even though she loves it, she’s mentioned that she doesn’t have a huge group of friends there. I can’t believe people actually say, “Go back to California” — that sounds so… Trump-like.

    1. I know, very Trump-like indeed… yet for the most part people in Portland consider themselves liberal and open-minded, which I found hypocritical. If you want to be an open-minded community, you can’t pick and choose what you’re open-minded about. To me saying “Go Back to California”, is scarily parallel to Trump’s talk of Mexicans going back to Mexico, or a ban on muslims in this country, or you name it. It’s all based on hate and a lack of understanding. I’m glad your friend is loving the city, there are a lot of positives as well to Portland and most everyone I talk to loves it – just that underlying attitude was a bit too much for me.

  4. I’m so sorry to hear about your experience in Portland. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I understand why certain cities or even countries would resent becoming “popular” or having the spotlight shined on them – it makes it difficult to preserve the vibe of a place when this occurs. Change comes fast with it and it can be all to much to process, all at once. On the other – well, variety is the spice of life and it’s heartwarming to think that people would appreciate your home town to a point where they’d uproot their own lives to move there. Either way, that attitude you described to outsiders doesn’t do anyone any favours, it’s just frightfully mean.

    1. Thanks for your comment LC. I guess there are always going to be cities you simply don’t click with, and Portland just happened to be one of those for me. There were a lot of positives to my life in Portland as well, but the lack of understanding or interest about cultures outside of Oregon was definitely disheartening. I think in general this world (and the US specifically) could use a more inclusive attitude – variety truly is the spice of life. 🙂

  5. Wow everything I’ve ever heard about Portland makes it sound like Nirvana – nice t get some balance. Shame you had this experience though – why people can be so insular and mean is beyond me 🙁

    1. I know, I was really surprised as well once I moved there. I don’t think that nature of unwelcomeness is apparent when you’re just visiting, but when you’re wanting to move to Portland people take it as a personal offense. It’s unfortunate indeed. 🙁

  6. Wow – I had no idea this is why you stayed in Portland such a short time. I like visiting, but I guess I got a similar sense: it could never feel like home, and I would never really know where or how to start building a life there.

    Oh well – on to the next 🙂

    1. Yes, Portland was a tough one to settle into. I was actually always only planning on staying for a year back in the US, so it worked out well that it wasn’t a hard city to say goodbye to. On to the next, indeed! 🙂

  7. This was such a great read, Mimi, and I’m so glad you worked up the courage to share it.

    My husband and I have been talking about moving to the Pacific Northwest, not specifically Portland (but somewhere in Oregon, for some time now. I currently live in the southeast and, though I was born here, I am sadly met with the same attitude you faced in Portland.

    We don’t want you here.

    Because I’m not a Christian nor am I republican, the bible belt doesn’t welcome me, and I often find myself feeling lonely here. Hopefully I can find someplace to call home. Thanks for sharing <3

    1. Hi Savannah, thanks so much for reading and commenting. It’s sad that this is the type of attitude that exists in our country in so many places these days. I hope one day people can be more accepting, no matter where someone comes from or what their beliefs are. That’s why I really appreciate the places I do come across that are so friendly and accepting. I would really like to think that there’s a place for everyone out there in the world, we just have to let the negative people and places wash off our shoulders in the meantime.

  8. Totally agree with you! Now that I live in Portland, I try to avoid telling people I’m from California because of the reaction I’ll get.

  9. Aw I’m sorry to hear that Corina, but obviously I can completely relate too. Yeah, it’s really not a nice feeling to be ashamed from where you come from – I get that enough just being an American abroad, it was disheartening to find it in my own country too when I tried to base myself in a new state.

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