Out on a tour today, someone asked me an atypical but poignant question: “Are Portlanders as pretentious as people say they are?”
It’s very true that they, whoever ‘they’ are, like to say that Portland is the land of hipsters–of mustache donning, skinny jean wearing, pretentious hacks. This is the reputation that we’ve been blessed with as a city. I didn’t really know how to answer this question because I had never really thought about it before.
I would say: no, Portlanders are not nearly as pretentious as people say. In fact, most locals that I’ve encountered do not possess an ounce of pretentiousness. Portlanders are particular. Everything we are surrounded by is high-quality(food, beer, coffee, handmade Ouija boards, you name it) and, not only that, it is generally affordable in addition. So, we tend to opt for quality over the alternative. This is where the pretentious label comes from. In my opinion, it’s simply a misunderstanding of intention and of culture.
The people in this city are extremely easy-going and non-judgmental. When you’re at a restaurant with a Portlander and you offer them a PBR, and they say, “no, thanks”, what they really mean is “I don’t want PBR because there’s a micro-brewery across the street that sells pints for the exact same price”. You would never find a Portlander asking, “Why do you drink PBR?” or, “Why do you eat meat?”, or “Why don’t you eat meat?” because they genuinely do not care about the choices of others, especially if it doesn’t affect them at all. You want PBR? Fantastic! Drink it up. But I don’t feel like drinking it. Do you know who will respect that answer? Most Every Portlander you encounter.
Additionally, most people in this city are overly educated and very immersed in their particular communities: cycling, burlesque, knitting, playing the clarinet, dragon boat racing… there’s something for everyone, and most will be very immersed in their particular cultures. Thus, they’ll have a plethora of knowledge about their particular interests. On top of that, a lot of us are overly friendly and socially awkward. These combinations of things can be easily misinterpreted.
In contrast, I’ve never seen someone call an automobile-aficionado pretentious; but, as soon as bikes come about, the word is suddenly tossed around. I’ve also never heard someone call a driver self-righteous, but I hear cyclists described as this very often. I’m beginning to think that the Portland ‘pretentious’ label really comes from any deviation from the status-quo: if you’re interested in artisan coffee or beer or bicycling, you challenge the vast majority of American culture of mindless consumption and are thus immediately demonized.
Portlanders are interested in quality and affordability, but are also some of the nicest folks you’ll encounter in a large city. If you’re standing on street corner, looking confused while staring at Google Maps, someone will ask if you need directions. Actually, multiple people will ask if you need directions. If you ask a stranger for dinner recommendations, they’ll jot down all their favorite places(and the quadrants they’re in) for you. Additionally, the cycling community is always welcoming. If you’re new to the community, people will invite you to group rides, and they’ll make sure not to leave you behind if you can’t keep up.
So, forgive us if we are picky and sometimes seem uncouth–it is only because we are blessed with a community of entrepreneurs that pay great attention to quality. The fact is, if there’s good, local coffee right around the corner that is far cheaper than Starbucks, why would you go to a chain? So, no, Portlanders are not pretentious, we are just into what we’re into and sometimes our interests and preferences might seem a little odd. There’s good beer–so we drink good beer. There’s great coffee–so we drink great coffee. There’s plenty of bike infrastructure, and culture to match –so we bike. That’s pretty much all there is to it.