People new to Portland tell me that our city is very passive-aggressive compared to other places. I’m sorry to say that I agree with them. What gives Portland this reputation, and what, if anything, can be done to curb it?
Any Portlander who’s ever seen a four-way stop turn into a white-knuckled battle of wills to get the other guy to go first can appreciate the unique way that we in the Rose City have managed to turn politeness into a win-at-all-costs blood sport.
People everywhere are competitive. The goals may vary—New Yorkers butt heads over money, Texans over land, Kansans over who can produce the most poorly educated children—but the desire to one-up the next guy is universal.
Portland is unique, however, in that we appear to have collectively agreed to compete over who can be the least competitive. “I’m going to defeat you by proving that I am so not the kind of person who goes around trying to defeat people at stuff!”
If that sounds like an unwieldy Möbius strip of paradox to wrap around our civic genitalia—well, perhaps that explains the irritability lurking beneath our veneer of mellowness. Inside every Portlander is an alien of hatred waiting to burst out of our OPB-hoodie-clad chests screaming, “Recycle this, motherfucker!”
But when your entire self-image is based on believing you’re the nice-guy love child of Tom Hanks and Mahatma Gandhi, you can’t let that monster free. You can only let your assholery leak out in little Bill Lumbergh-like dribs and drabs, like an old person’s urine. Frankly, it’s pathetic.
It would be one thing if we really were all genuinely nice, but since we’re human beings, that’s not really in the cards. So, Portland, if you could just go ahead and say what you really think once in a while—that’d be terrific.
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