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.


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
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27 thoughts on “The Surprising Reason I Didn’t Like Portland, Oregon”

  1. Look, I’m with you and I’m without you on this one. As someone who moved up to the north west from California in 1986 and squandered his own opportunities to buy a house here, it is very difficult as I will very long-term resident practically native if you will, to see that after so many years of saving for a house, my partner and I have seen year over year double-digit increase by an influx of blind sheep from California. You heard me say that right. There’s your xenophobia. Why? Simply because not only did every house we drove up to years ago when we were house hunting sell for 100 K over asking price, it was those Californian plates at every open house that finally gave us the big picture.

    Quick story. There is a main house on the property where I rent. The landlord has rented to at least five families in the five years I’ve been there. Three out of five have been from California. Two of which have told me they are utterly shocked at how expensive and competitive it has become here. And that they are gravely disappointed in what they thought was supposed to be a gold rush of real estate. Oh, MA had no idea traffic was as heavy as it is here. And also they had no idea wild fires and smoke was an issue here. Noticed the last five or so years of smoke in the Willamette Valley?

    Their lies your problem. Human ignorance, greed, and negligence. The blind sheep leading the blind sheep, i.e. more Californians dog piling on Portland.

    So yes, it’s hard not to be bitter over the fact that y’all bring either your expensive real estate leveraging from your overpriced state (yes I know that’s the root cause here) or even worse your jobs that skew median income from average income …such as mine, that will never break six digits. That disparity between median and average income is now causing us to be one of the most expensive real estate markets, adjusted for median income.

    Your solution to solve your own problem, no matter how innocent you may think you are, that solution unfortunately involves creating problems for other people. That is unfortunately a larger part of the real systemic issue of capitalism out of control. Another story.

    Think about all sides of perspective here. You’re coming at it from a very shallow perspective. However in the end, my partner and I have realized that we’re just going to be the next “Californians“, but instead referenced as “Portlanders” or “priced out west coasters”, to be hated (by the next midsize city for which we can afford housing and are moving to, not soon enough—which I will not reveal).

    • Hi Eric,

      I’m glad you’re concerned about the housing prices in Portland, the harmful aspects of unchecked capitalism, and possibly other issues not touched on in your post but that also have led to unaffordable prices – things like NIMBYism, the effects of historically (and often still existing) racist housing policies, etc. I also get that it’s hard to not be bitter when you see the home you want priced out of reach because the market is out of control.

      With that said, when I lived in Portland, I made under $20K/year, worked 60 hours a week, and barely got by while starting my business, so to find so many people who were closed off and angry upon hearing that I was from California was disheartening, to say the least.

      I also have a quick story: A lot of property in California is purchased by money coming from China. When I see Chinese immigrants here, though, I don’t get angry at Chinese people or feel hatred towards them. I keep my bitterness focused on policies that have led to this situation – not other victims of it.

      I understand that it can be tough to separate general ideas (“the super rich are buying multiple properties in Portland and making prices go up for you – and a lot of those super rich are from California”) and still be kind to others at an individual level.

      But just because it’s difficult doesn’t make it okay.

      This idea that all Californians who go to Portland are “ignoran[t], greed[y], and negligen[t]” and “blind sheep” isn’t fair or reasonable. Most of us, in fact, don’t own a home either and are also wondering how we can save up for a house when just making rent is difficult.

      So it’s not that I don’t understand where you’re coming from. I do, I just don’t approve of the ultimate mindset that you and other Portlanders like you have about Californians. Or the fact that we’re used as the easy scapegoat for Portlanders to express their anger against.

      It’s also important to remember that California is a state of almost 40 million people with diverse backgrounds (both culturally and socioeconomically), so it’s probably best to not treat us as a monolithic group when making these types of arguments.

      I hope you find a nice home in the new city you’re moving to. I also hope they treat you better than how a lot of Portlanders treat Californians.

  2. (White privilege isnt something to be grateful for. Its something to dismantle.)

    Hailing from California myself, where real diversity exists, The localism and racism here was shocking and effing abysmal to encounter. I am horrified by the undercurrent of hate here, and how people rationalize their xenophobia because “its not racism lol.” It was eyeopening to see what was going on at the protests. Protesters were outright being abused by police and their lives were in danger. Police were in full on swat team mode and loving every minute of it.

    When I read that Portland was once considered a model KKK community, and that the pioneers committed mutiple massacres on the local tribes, including the Multnomah…and swept it under the carpet of history like it never happened…the energy of this place made sense. Theres just bad blood built into the land. And whites who are okay with reinforcing white supremacy still consider this an ideal place to be (see above thread), still profit from all that suffering.

    No wonder this place is dark, the ancestors are angry.

    Having lived here for a minute…I have to say, other than the food its pretty boring too. Small venues. The trash collectors dont always collect trash, the aggressive bureaucracy is greedy and pedantic. Property taxes are crazy.

  3. Yeah Portland is kind of dusty these days. The biggest thing I am annoyed with is how Portlandia set this precedent for what Portland is about. Portland has become a meme of itself.

    I def feel the annoyance with Californians moving here. I’ll own it, I give my friends shit who moved from Cali. I simply can’t relate to some of my friends rich Topenga up bringing, and their sense of elitism cause they lived in LA. This is just my experience, but yea personally, I don’t really want more of that and I feel perfectly fine with that. It is not like telling a mexican go back to mexico, that would be racist. Its like telling a very privileged person to go back before our town looks like SF and locals are priced out because californias decided to move here and everything is “so cheap”.

  4. I was raised in Portland. I lived on the coast of California and the Sierras most of my adult life. Recently I went back to my sisters wedding in Portland. I felt nostalgia for its dark dingy soul. I left it in sheer delight when I was 18. California welcomed me with open arms and I had such a delightful time living in Cali, really. Flying into Portland felt like descending into an abyss of darkness. Part of me will always love it there. But you are right. It is unwelcoming. The black rivers surrounded by trees. The grumpy faces of the local folk who are he worlds least accepting or friendly people. I get it. Alas I have a fondness for its skanky streets. You can make it popular and you can make it trendy but you cannot cut out its cut timber, soggy soul. Its a dark place. Perfect if you like a bit of dark now and then.
    I currently live in Southern Oregon. Please don`t tell anyone but its lovely here. and pretty California is close.

  5. Mimi reading your post and comments from the others made me sad. I grew up in Portland and it wasn’t like that back then nor was I raised to treat people badly or be rude. It’s true Oregonians do not welcome “outsiders” moving in. Not making excuses but people move in from crowded cities to get away from that and in doing so create the same in Portland and some Portlanders resent that and all that comes with overcrowding. As I don’t live there anymore but still visit I do see that it is not the warm, friendly place I used to know. I still love it just not the people so much.

    • In the early to mid 1990s, I had made many good acquaintances, and some even better friends, who were from a variety of Portland suburbs.
      Born white on the Washington State Peninsula, having lived (at that time) in CA for 8 years, and having met these friends in the Alaskan fishing industry, I was afforded an unusually intimate view of many Portlandians of all ages in spite of me being from Cali.
      After reading many recent views and articles on modern Portland, I wonder when (or if) this mythical, “progressive” Portland ever existed?
      While hanging in Portland circa 1993, a cherished local friend introduced me to the most egregious racism I personally had ever witnessed when he boastfully trumpeted, “I won’t even let a n——r touch my food or serve my food!” I NEVER saw his hatred coming. This friend was entertaining, trustworthy, generous, make-you-cry-funny, loyal, affectionate, open, and welcoming (apparently only if you were anything but black). Prior to his statement there was no visible dissatisfaction with US society-as-a-whole I thought normally accompanied all white people who hated those of different colors. He never indulged in racists tirades, nor gave any indication of the bigotry he had been raised with. Hearing his statement broke my heart, and betrayed my adoration for him as my friend. Even more surprising to me at the time was the general agreement with his position by ALL my Portlandian friends; the same belief even pervaded his highly-educated, upper-middle-class girlfriend, (who was also a Portland-local, born and raised).
      To piggyback the unexpected racism, there was also the steady undercurrent of “go back to California, we don’t want your money here!”, that hung like a heavy mist in the air at all public and private gatherings I attended. I remember literally hearing the same exact words, scathingly drip out of the mouths of my friends when a few drinks had loosened their tongues and they forgot I was in their company. Maybe they hadn’t forgotten my presence at all; even in immediate retrospect it was difficult for me to determine, so strong was the distaste for all Californians.
      In spite of our philosophical differences, for nearly 2 years these people were my friends, were welcoming, inclusive, and very accepting of me, (yet I believe if I had been openly gay I might have found myself badly beaten in a Gresham ditch late some night). Though most of the people I encountered around and in Portland were welcoming to me, they all appeared to have (or agreed with) such disdain for all that was different from what they knew growing up.
      So I ask all those who proudly beat their chests with proclamations of how progressive Portland is: When has Portland EVER been this progressive bastion I’ve heard tell of this past 15+ years!?
      Though I will always truly value those Portlandian friends from my past, at best Portland seems to have tried to apply the lipstick of inclusion and tolerance onto the pig of exclusion, bigotry, and perceived natural-born superiority.
      And yet, I happily intend to move to the Vancouver, WA area in the next 6 months from CA Wine Country, but my lenses and expectations are VERY clear and realistic as to what I’m heading into. Gratefully I’m armored with white-privilege (in spite of being from CA), so I should be fine.
      That area of the Columbia River is an amazing and fantastic place that potentially holds some fantastic people; but it sounds like it is still best for the local-born-white-people. It appears to me that it hasn’t changed in over a generation. At least it can be counted on for it’s consistency.
      (No hatred, disgust, or snarky tones; but also no disillusionment). Peace.

      • White privilege isnt something to be grateful for. its something that is your personal responsibility to dismantle. If you are using it to shield yourself, you are just as much part of the problem as your racist counterparts.

  6. Thank you for writing this. I am from CA (SF area) and my boyfriend and I have been considering moving to Portland for a while. It’s sad to hear that we could potentially be treated like this simply because of where we were born and raised.
    Totally get Portland’s take on this, ESPECIALLY being from CA. are you kidding? we definitely get what’s it’s like for our rent to be so damn high because of how many people move to California, specially LA or the Bay. It often takes over an hour to go a few miles, we get what overpriced/overpopulated feels like. I absolutely adore Portland, I love the rain and I love the overall culture of Portland.

  7. 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.

    • Thank you for writing this. I was born in California, raised in central valley and attended college in bay area. I moved to Portland for a job opportunity. I lived there for 4 years. My husband is Mexican and was mistreated by a good amount of people he worked with, in food and beverage. I worked for a company that had no latino or black employees. When we first moved to Oregon, we were constantly honked at, had rude notes left on our vehicles, and just never felt like home. Somebody actually kicked in the side of one of my car doors. To add, the summer weather is awesome, but the rest of the year is poop. I would never recommend people from California to move there. I would say it is a great place to visit as it is beautiful and beer is amazing. We moved back to California back in October and have been so happy since. Nice waking up to sunny mornings most days and away from the unwelcoming Oregonians.

  8. 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

    • 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.

  9. 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 🙂

    • 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! 🙂

  10. 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 🙁

    • 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. 🙁

  11. 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.

    • 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. 🙂

  12. 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.

    • 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.

  13. 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.

    • 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.

  14. 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.

    • 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.

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