All about the infamous culture of Portland, Oregon

All about the infamous culture of Portland, Oregon

by Adriana Stein

Updated November 7, 2022

You may have heard of the weird reputation the city called Portland where people keep pigs as pets, host the Naked Bike Ride, and have the world’s smallest park. As a former resident of the city, I can confirm that all the rumors are true and you will most certainly become more weird just by visiting there.

Is Portlandia accurate?

Portland, Oregon, USA became internationally recognized with the 2011 debut of the Netflix series “Portlandia”. It featured a feminist bookstore, a mayor who swam to work, and a couple seated at a restaurant where they learned the life story of the chicken they were about to eat. While the series has gone on to exaggerate the weirdness of Portland in later seasons, the first episodes were pretty accurate. Many people are vegans, obsessed with organic products, and mostly wear either hemp or secondhand clothing. It’s a city where the 90s trends are basically permanent and buying new things is frowned upon.

The city motto “Keep Portland Weird”

I moved to Portland from rural Oregon in 2011 for my studies and stayed there for over 5 years. It was truly a whole new level of weird. In fact, if you weren’t “weird” in some manner, you probably wouldn’t make a whole lot lot of friends there. Being normal was considered suspicious.

There is one day I was sitting in the campus park area and I remember seeing: a person yelling bible verses, a person walking their pig, a protest about the need for more organic food, and hipsters blasting Nirvana all in the same place. And you just go “yep, that’s Portland”.

The city’s motto “Keep Portland Weird” is clearly visible when you hear about things like vegan strip clubs, a museum for vacuums, UFO festivals, and the world’s largest Naked Bike Ride. Portlanders love to be different, are proud of it, and strive to become weirder by the minute.

A craft beer and foodie mecca

One thing that has permanently stayed with me after living in Portland is a huge love of good food combined with innovation. Because Portlanders love all things natural, the food there is incredibly delicious and highly authentic. They don’t try to “Americanize” the flavors of foods from foreign countries. My senior thesis was about this topic (I studied Anthropology). I went all over Portland interviewing Indian restaurant owners about their food traditions and asked if they needed to change them for Portland’s taste. It was an overwhelming “no, not at all”.

The same goes for craft beer, too. For German standards, a lot of beer in Portland isn’t even beer anymore. But when you live in Portland, the typical bar has 20-30 rotating craft beers on tap at any given time (some dedicated places even have 200+). There are mixes with every flavor imaginable, some good and some bad. One of the largest Christmas festivals even showcases about 1000 new craft beers every year.

Lovers of all things arts, poetry, and theater (the weirder, the better)

Some of the strangest theatre performances I’ve ever seen also take place in Portland. As lovers of the arts, it’s quite common on a Sunday to watch a “Poetry Slam” where local and national poets come to read their poems on stage and compete for the winning title. Attending your first one is a rite of passage that can’t be missed, especially when you can drink a nice craft beer while watching.

Come one, come all – even with strange man buns, ripped jeans, and fully clashing textures that you couldn’t wear anywhere else.

An emphasis on the alternative and punk music

Portland is a city that’s heavily leftwing, LGBTQI-friendly, and lover of all things punk. That’s often why they get a lot of transplants (people from out of town) from California, where hipsterism as alternativism originated. Along with those people also came a love for indie and punk music. No Portlander ever listens to anything on the top 100 hit list. If you do, you’ll likely be publicly shamed. I was quite happy about this, as it made all the local radio stations have really high quality music.

If you’re a fan of these music genres, you’ll likely recognise names like The Decemberists, The Dandy Warhols, Anatomy of a Ghost, The Shins, Portugal. The Man, and my personal favourite, Modest Mouse. Some of my fondest memories from Portland was when I was sitting in a park next to their house and listening to their jam sessions for free. Btw, I was at this park for a huge game of adult tag, another thing I’ve only ever seen in Portland.

More weird pit stops

In case you aren’t fully convinced of Portland’s weirdness or are already planning your next trip there, here are a few other weird pit stops that show how weird things get there:

  • Mill’s End Park: the world’s smallest park. It even has its own address.
  • Voodoo Donuts: donuts at a whole new level and also vegan.
  • Powell’s Books: the world’s largest independent bookstore with a cafe inside. Be prepared to spend an entire day there.
  • The Annual Soapbox Derby: a real life version of Mario Karts that takes place on an extinct volcano named Mount Tabor in the middle of the city.
  • The Kennedy School Hotel: a school that was converted into a quirky hotel and restaurant with a public pool.

Oh and one more tidbit: even though Portland has immense amounts of rain, true Portlanders never use an umbrella. Those are only for the tourists.

If you’d like to learn more about American culture and learn English while you’re at it, visit the Lingoda website and sign up for your free 7-day trial today. Want to learn another language? We also offer German, Spanish and French!

Related articles