Quirky, fun and progressive are just a few words that have been used to describe Portland, Oregon. If you’re thinking about taking a trip and want to blend in one of the world’s most unique cities, here is our guide to Portland Etiquette…
How to dress
Dressing like a Portlander goes deeper than just external appearances, Portland shoppers are heavy on sustainability and local pride. Unpredictable weather and a predilection for cycling means that a look shouldn’t only be stylish but durable and adaptable too.
We are talking about a rainy cycle to work, lunch in a vegan cafe and an evening event or gallery opening. Portlanders love a vintage-inspired layered look which encompasses casual plaid shirts, chunky printed Pendleton cardigans and good solid boots from Danner Boots in trendy Burnside.
Throw these items together with laid back sustainable denims or vintage dresses and add a touch of local pride with a piece from Portland Gear and you’ll be well on track to blend in with the locals!
What to eat and drink
Ok, well we are talking about Portland so we have to start with its legendary food cart scene. There are hundreds throughout the city, like Gumbo in Northeast Portland, which churns out exquisite Italian dishes to rival any restaurant!
Locals love to head for one of the numerous food cart pods to enjoy a tasty lunch before going back to work, you can find anything from Bao to Fro Yo and Waffles in these little culinary havens.
Portland’s food scene prides itself on local, sustainable and high quality produce. Morning coffee can be grabbed at one of the prolific artisan grinders such as cosy 3 Sisters in the Pearl or Australian run Proud Mary who roast their own beans out back.
For a grab-and-go locals love La Perlita, a tiny stand situated in the Natural Capital Buildings.
Beer follows the same trend with local brewers and craft ales favoured over bland mass-produced booze. Pioneers of the farmhouse brew trend Upright are still a firm favourite along with cool stripped back brewpubs like Breakside or popular al fresco gem Wayfinder.
Portland’s brewing craze doesn’t stop at Beer, Portlanders also consume 78 times more Kombucha than the rest of the USA. This gut-friendly tea has become a city staple with companies like Oregonic producing all kinds of home-brewed varieties.
In general, whether you’re fine dining or grabbing a snack it is about keeping those food miles down and caring about what goes into your body, eating seasonal, sustainable and organic. Vegans and Veggies will fit right in!
How to speak
Like any city Portland is rife with colloquialisms and here are a few to help you blend in from the off! If you need some shopping you go to the ‘Grocery’, not the ‘Grocery Store’ and you enjoy relaxing on the ‘Cooch’ not the ‘Couch’ …when addressing a group of pals be sure to use ‘you guys’ not ‘y’all’, which will blow your cover instantly!
When people refer to ‘The Mountain’ in Portland, they mean Mount Hood and a common phrase I enjoy is ‘The Mountain is Out’, meaning it’s just peeping through the clouds.
Shorten Columbia River Gorge to simply ‘The Gorge’ and Fred Meyer’s to ‘Freddys’. As Portland sits at the confluence of two rivers traffic is dictated by bridges and ‘the bridge is up’ becomes the perfect excuse for tardiness!
Be sure to ask lots of questions about food; is it grass-fed, local, vegan, or sustainably sourced? Order Crawdads as opposed to Crayfish and Car’ml not Caramel, Jojos not Wedges, any scraps can be thrown in ‘the compost’…Portlanders compost everything!
Also remember it’s Semi’s not Lorry’s, PyJAMas not PyJARmas OR gun not Or A gone and just over yonder is ‘the ‘Couv’ not Vancouver!
Also, it’s quite common to refer to the city itself as PDX, not just the airport! There are many more but this little collection should get you started!
Level of politeness
Portlanders are a pretty polite breed and perhaps the epitome of polite responses is ‘No Worries’, this phrase is used constantly in the city, regardless if it is attached to an actual feeling… it’s pretty much the equivalent of a gentle ‘bless you’.
It’s also polite to let people know you’re overtaking when you’re running or cycling, calling out ‘On The Left’ is common practice and always appreciated. Instead of ‘ have a good day’ Portlanders will say ‘have a good rest of your day’ and sometimes politeness can become a fault.
For example, if you’re crossing someone’s path and they say ‘go ahead’ you’re expected to say ‘go ahead’ and this little exchange can rack up the minutes on your way to work.
In general, like anywhere, approaching folk gently and with kindness is expected!
Level of friendliness
“Portland is a place where you can find a community as a feminist, a vegan or a fat activist. Artists, musicians, knitters, and filmmakers can all meet like-minded souls. It’s proved the perfect place for me and all my punk friends.” – Beth Ditto
Portlanders are a friendly bunch in my experience, especially if you get them chatting on something they are interested in. I had some great chats with shop assistants in the vintage stores on Hawthorne and the barman in the cocktail place we visited chatted to us all evening.
Restaurateurs, Roasters and Brewers are usually glad to get chatting about their wares, people take a lot of pride in their businesses and praise is usually appreciated and rewarded.
On the whole, folks are quite non-confrontational and this can sometimes tip over into passive-aggressiveness that comes across a little condescending. On the whole, if you approach the city with good energy it will welcome you with open arms.
How to greet others
A casual ‘Hey you guys’ is the most common greeting in Portland, followed by a firm handshake, hug, kiss on the cheeks… much like the rest of the world this really depends on who you’re greeting!
Where to hang out
There’s no shortage of great hang out spots in Portland and, whilst it attracts tourists, the whole scene is pretty laid back and local so you’ll likely always end up with plenty of natives to chat to!
The foodie scene is massive, as is the craft beer scene so it makes sense to head somewhere that combines the two!
I’d say pick a District and do a bar crawl punctuated with food and you’re onto a winner really! I loved the cocktail bars in Hawthorne and The Baghdad Theatre, but laid back Bye and Bye in King is a great vegan hangout for lunch and dinner and coffee roasters like Proud Mary are great spots to kick back and soak up the vibes.
Basically look for good coffee, good beer, good food and you’ll find good Portlanders too.
Subjects never to mention
Portland is pretty liberal, so probably wise to keep Trump and the Republicans firmly out of the conversation! Unless you’re slating them of course! Never utter the words ‘Climate Change Doesn’t Exist’ unless you want to be thrown in the compost!
Portland is a pioneering green city and takes environmental issues very seriously! Don’t mention things in a flippant or general way, if you raise a subject, BLM for example, be prepared to get into it properly!
Portlanders aren’t into vagaries, be specific if you can. Other sore subjects are California, with many Oregonians feeling that an influx of Californians has driven housing and living costs up beyond what is affordable for local people, and Seattle, the rivalry between the two proximate cities is very real!
Finally, it’s probably best not to start a conversation with ‘I watched Portlandia on Netflix, it was SO funny… the show apparently cut a bit too close to the bone for Portland residents!
How to get around like a local
The short answer to this is don’t drive! Environmentally aware Portlanders have put lots of effort into alternative transportation, staging highway revolts and rallying against new roads, instead installing one of the best light railway systems in the country.
The MAX light rail will ferry you pretty much anywhere you need to go in the metropolitan area and combined with Streetcars will easily get you around the wider city limits.
In addition the WES commuter rail will take you out to the suburbs. The cycle routes around the city are excellent and to really fit in I recommend you get on yer bike! Come rain or shine, two wheels are considered imminently better than four in Portland!
General Etiquette and local laws
Like most of the US it is polite to tip Waitstaff between 15-20% of the bill and for hairdressers, taxi drivers and others in the service industry anywhere between 10 and 20% is acceptable.
Speed Limits are pretty straightforward, if not otherwise marked the law is 20mph in a business district, 25 mph in residential areas, you can go 65-70 on rural roads and highways and on interstate highways they are usually between 55 and 65mph.
Take the lower speed if you are within Portland City Limits. If you are turning into a one-way system you can ignore the red light, providing you give way to pedestrians.
Finally cell phone laws are that drivers under 18 years of age mustn’t not use a cell phone whilst driving under any circumstances, this includes hands-free. Drivers over 18 may use a cell phone with hands-free accessories only.
Recreational drone flyers must pass the FAA TRUST certificate and get their equipment properly licensed, commercial drone flyers must take the FAA multiple-choice test to become a certified drone pilot.
Even with these licenses in place it is illegal to fly drones in almost all metropolitan areas in the city of Portland, including parks. Obviously, it is illegal to fly drones over other people’s properties.
The best places to head if you are a drone enthusiast are outside the city limits where you’ll be able to get some great aerial footage in class G uncontrolled airspaces such as Pittock Mansion, Lost Lake and Little Crater Lake and, with permission in Class D spaces such as Molalla River State Park.
Just remember if your drone weighs over 5lb get it registered and always keep it within your line of sight.
Smoking tobacco is illegal in any communal space in Portland, including workplaces, bars, restaurants and other businesses. It is also illegal to smoke outside within 10 ft of any building unless it is a designated smoking area.
Recreational Cannabis is legal in Oregon but it is still illegal to smoke it in a public place or to possess more that 1 oz on your person at any time.
Quirkier Portland laws
Don’t be tempted to hitch a lift on your skateboard or roller skates by hanging onto a moving vehicle, this is absolutely prohibited!
There are also boundaries around where you can skate or rollerblade on sidewalks, these are to keep pedestrians safe, worth checking out if these are your favoured means of transportation.
No communal toilet visits allowed! It is an offence to use public bathrooms in groups… just one at a time please! It is also an offence to block the entrance of public bathrooms.
Portlanders love to compost but they could find themselves with a hefty fine if the compost begins to smell putrid, so composting is great but keep it fresh!
Be careful where you open your car door and be sure not to leave it open for too long or you may get slapped with a fine!
Possibly the best law in my opinion is the one that says you can issue a traffic citation to anyone, including a police officer if you feel they are parked illegally! These are known as “Citizen Citations” and although rare they are occasionally invoked!
These are just a few of the quirkier Portland laws, you’ll also fine some fun ones around RV’s, the size of murals and the insistence on doors in doorways!
The city of Portland is uniquely placed within a stone’s throw of the stunning Pacific Northwest scenery and many Portlanders take full advantage of this whenever they can.
Before you put on your gear and head out towards Mount Hood or Haystack rock for a nature hike it’s good to be mindful of the general etiquette!
It is polite for those coming downhill to yield to those going up and if you’re on a mountain bike you should always yield to walkers. Absolutely everyone should yield to horses and if you have faster walkers on your tale then just step aside and let them pass.
If you are the fast walkers then make folks aware of your presence with a friendly hello and thank them when they yield. Finally, when you stop and refuel make sure you get off the main thoroughfare and take all your litter with you!
We love taking our furry pals out into the wilds but it’s important to follow rules about dogs when you’re hiking. Keep dogs on leads and don’t let them roam around terrorising local wildlife and fellow hikers.
Please please don’t ruin the ambience by subjecting everyone to your favourite playlist on your Bluetooth speaker… earphones were invented for a reason and really what’s the point of being out in nature when you block out all her beautiful sounds.
Always stick to them, even if you’re tempted to dive off track. Remember trails are there to keep you safe and also to protect the surrounding wildlife and countryside!
We also have posts on…
- Hipster and cool spots in Portland
- Parking in Portland
- Hawthorne district Portland
- How to get to Portland
Beth was born under a wandering star, with drama in her veins and ink in her pen. After stints studying theatre in Dublin and Utrecht she used her creative streak to see as much of the world as she could on as little money. She toured Italian Schools with a children’s theatre troop, lived as an au-pair in both Rome and Washington DC, explored the British countryside, worked her way through much of Europe, Salsa danced in Cuba and road tripped down America’s west coast where she discovered her spiritual home; Portland, Oregon. In between adventures she resides peacefully with her family, cats and ukulele.