Not In Portland

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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96 Responses

  1. Murali says:

    I’ve got an aunt who stays in Kirkland, who often says she stays in Seattle.Report

  2. Chris says:

    Until very recently, I always said I was from Nashville, because no one had heard of Franklin. I mean, people from Memphis had never heard of Franklin. Why on Earth would I tell people from Illinois that I’m from some place they’ve never heard of? It just means that I’m going to then further have to explain that it’s a small town about 20-30 minutes South Southwest of downtown Nashville.

    This is not a new thing. Why is someone worrying about this? Do people just have nothing left to write about whatsoever? “What should I write about today? Kim Kardashian? Terio’s health issues? How ’bout how that dude really annoyed me at the dinner party on Friday night when he told me that he’s from Portland when he’s really from Beaverton?”Report

  3. Kim says:

    I kind of understand it both ways. And I kinda don’t care, both ways.
    The “Where are you from” question is best answered by pointing to your hand (many states do this — PA looks like a sideways hand).

    And folks from philly and suburbs are part of Boswash.Report

  4. Mike Dwyer says:

    This conversation is a bit easier for me. Louisville merged with the county government about 15 years ago so if you live anywhere in the county, you’re in Louisville. Now, we have all sorts of little incorporated cities within the county and among the locals you might say, “I live in Middletown,” or “I live in Anchorage,” but if you told someone you were from Middletown, KY the locals would think you were an ass. We all just say Louisville.

    I have noticed though in Florida especially people really care about whatever little community they come from and will never tell you the city name unless they live right in the middle of it.Report

  5. Kolohe says:

    What is not-Portland? Boring.Report

  6. Mike Schilling says:

    When overseas. I usually say “San Francisco”. In the US, most people recognize “the Bay Area”.Report

  7. Saul Degraw says:

    Like Kim, I sort of understand this both ways.

    Americans have a very complex attitude towards the suburbs that we can’t seem to solve. This is also very much a white person problem sort of thing. For the most part, the only people who really care about the city v. suburb distinction are middle class and above white people as far as I can tell and usually ones of a semi-artistic bent.

    I think saying you are from X is partially about giving people something recognizable but also partially about people thinking suburbia is kind of lame and boring. The city is exciting and growing up in the city is exciting. I lived in a suburb that was a thirty minute train ride to Penn Station in Manhattan but didn’t really start going into the city on my own until I was in college. My college friends who grew up in NYC, they had everything on their doorstep. They seemed so sophisticated and worldly compared to somewhat out of it suburban self.* When I was a kid, I thought the college students at NYU were much more cool and mature than the ones who went to some pastoral rural campus.**

    So I can see why kids who grew up in the city would be miffed about kids from the burbs claiming them on your own. A good out/compromise might be if you say “I grew up in the Boston area” or “the Bay Area” or “near NYC”. Though then people will probably challenge you for near.

    My hometown suburb is somewhat interesting because F.Scott Fitzgerald turned it into West Egg in the Great Gatsby so I can use that as a reference. It is also fairly known in the Jewish community because we all know the major Jewish suburbs like Brookline and Newton (aka Jewton***) for Boston. I’ve yet to discover what the Jewish suburbs of the Bay Area are, I think it is more spread out here. Maybe Mike Schilling would know.

    *It took me years to discover this was a facade largely. Also one of the most self-consciously styled and arty and too cool for school people in my undergrad was born and bred in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He pretty much turned himself into an art school stereotype once he got to college.

    **Also a facade but being a kid has a distorting effect and I think kids who go to urban campuses generally dress artier/better than kids who go to school in suburban or rural areas. At my college, people frequently went about in PJ pants and sweatshirts. I’ve never really seen an NYU student do that.

    ***Only if you are Jewish can you use this name.Report

    • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Um. Not Quite. You’ll find a significant number of black folks quite willing to be pretty specific about where they’re from, because a lot of the black folks in the suburbs had to work real hard to get there.
      A lady on the bus with me says, “I went to a multimillion dollar school district” (haven’t heard the exact location).

      More broadly speaking, living in the suburbs versus the urban areas is a class marker.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Kim says:

        I think you just agreed with what I was saying. I don’t see how your comment substantively disapproves my point. Generally the people I know who get pissy when suburbanites talk about being from the city are upper-middle class and above white people who grew up in the city and probably attended fancy private schools and lived in multi-million dollar apartments but still like to think they are more street tough.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      To me it seems like one of those things where you’re on firm ground if you choose to make an issue out of it (whether in conversation or in a click-bait article afterwards), but that if you then go ahead to in fact make that choice you still render yourself a d!ck for a few minutes thereby.Report

  8. Jaybird says:

    Does your hometown produce more meat/dairy/produce than performance artists?

    Then I probably have no reason to have ever heard of it.Report

  9. LeeEsq says:

    In many other English speaking countries, the words suburb and neighborhood are indistinguishable .Report

    • James K in reply to LeeEsq says:


      That comment ties in to something Maribou noted when she visited New Zealand. She made the observation that our suburbs, unlike her local suburbs, were far more organic – I pointed out that a lot of New Zealand suburbs are just villages that were absorbed by expanding cities.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to James K says:

        Many of the suburbs of the three big cities of the North East, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia would count as small cities elsewhere in the United States. They are usually much more densely populated and walkable than a suburb of another city. There is also at least some mixed-use development and relatively decent public transportation by American standards if you consider those important cities of urbanity. Most suburbs of these cities were either farming villages or industrial cities before the mid-20th century suburban boom.Report

  10. zic says:

    Repeatedly, when I’ve told folks, “I’m from Maine,” (town names are pretty meaningless unless you know the lay of the land,) they’ve responded,”Oh, do you know so-and-so,” who’s from some down-eastern hamlet that you can’t get to from here. People who say, “I’m from Boston” don’t get such a response; they’re lost in the madding crowd.

    Place identity is an odd duck.Report

    • Chris in reply to zic says:

      Conversation I had with New Yorker girlfriend this weekend:

      [Looking through Amazon Prime TV show pilots.]

      R: Oh hey, it’s a show about that contagious Tourette’s thing. Where was that?

      Me: In New York somewhere, upstate I think.

      R: No, it was in Illinois or Minnesota or something, maybe Texas up by Dallas?”

      Me: I swear I remember it being in New York. [Gets out phone, starts swyping.]

      Me: “Yup, LeRoy New York. Looks like it’s up by Rochester.”

      R: “See, I told you it wasn’t in New York.”Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to zic says:

      When I lived in New Jersey, and told people I was from Nebraska, I got the same “Do you know so-and-so?” question. Perhaps more disturbing is that two out of the first three times that was asked, I had to admit that the answer was yes.Report

      • gingergene in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Ha! That’s hilarious. I work for a big company in a small town, so I get the “do you know so-and-so” question all the time when people find out where I work. But it’s such a big place that I rarely do. And yet you know two thirds of the people in Nebraska…Report

      • Kim in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I was halfway across the country, hitchhiking, and the people I was hitchhiking with had a son who worked in the same building as i did!Report

  11. Road Scholar says:

    Well the best I can do is to say “northwest Kansas” seeing as how I live at least 300 miles from anywhere you ever heard of.Report

  12. j r says:

    As someone who was born and raised within the five boroughs of New York City, I have absolutely no problem with someone from Nassau/Westchester/Northern New Jersey saying that they come from New York.

    The woman who wrote the TNR piece really needs to get the eff over herself. There is a real epidemic of online writers making up random rules of etiquette that are not actually etiquette.Report

    • Dan Miller in reply to j r says:

      I know, it’s super-rude!Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

      I’m not totally sure about the “real epidemic,” but I’d say +1 to the overall assessment here.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to j r says:

      …That said, within the city limits of NYC it is (or seemed, in my couple of years there), in fact, totally counter-conventional to say that you’re from “New York” if you’re from Westchester, or even Queens. In fact, within the city limits, only THE MOST pretentious/old-school-type people would say they’re from “New York,” which in that context would almost certainly mean, “Manhattan Island, the only entity in the world that is properly referred to as ‘New York.'”

      …And for good reason. If you’re sitting at a bar on outside Wrigley Field, you’re going to get a weird look if someone asks you where you’re from (or where you live), and you say “Chicago.” Even if you were born and raised and live in Uptown (i.e. as Chicago as Chicago gets), you’re not going to say, “Chicago” in that context. You’re going to say, “Uptown.”

      So the issue here is that/if this writer takes issue with saying you’re from a city when you’re from a suburb *in a geographically mixed social environment* where there’s no underlying assumption about where most everyone is from or at least lives. If that’s what she’s saying (and from my recollection of reading it – I read it when it came out and S’dMH – it is), then indeed she needs to get the eff over herself and cut people from slack. If she wants to give the business to people in a Philly bar for saying they’re from Philly when they’re not, well, that’s not my business.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Drew says:


        When people say they are from New York, I assume one of a few scenarios:

        1. They were raised in Manhattan;

        2. They currently live in Manhattan;

        3. They are a bridge and tunnel kid who thinks that people will not get the intricacies of the 5 Boroughs.

        Most people from Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx, and Staten Island will say that they are from their borough and then probably need to explain that it is part of NYC. People from Brooklyn are usually especially proud of being from what used to be America’s 4th largest city. Brooklyn maintains an independent streak which has been amplified now that many outsiders move to Brooklyn when they move to NYC for the first time. I would think many to most young college grads now just start looking in Brooklyn for apartments.Report

      • j r in reply to Michael Drew says:

        In fact, within the city limits, only THE MOST pretentious/old-school-type people would say they’re from “New York,” which in that context would almost certainly mean, “Manhattan Island, the only entity in the world that is properly referred to as ‘New York.’”

        That is not true. New York City is composed of the five boroughs. Full stop. If someone says “the city,” they generally only mean Manhattan, but even people from Staten Island can claim to be from New York in good faith.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:


        I wasn’t saying they’re right. I was saying they’re pretentious and might think that. (It was, after all, once the case. I’m thinking of a kind of prideful revanchist historical denialism masquerading as an innocent verbal tic here.) Who else, if you were sitting at a bar n Midtown with someone and you happened to ask where they were from, would just say, “New York”? Only the most pretentious people, if anybody, I expect.

        The point wasn’t so much that people do this and it’s annoying, the point is that if you’re in Chicago and ask someone where they’re from you’re 99.99% likely not to hear “Chicago” as the answer. In New York, I think the possibility that you would hear “New York” in response is slightly greater, though still tiny, because there are people there who think that it’s the most accurate thing to say to say that they’re from “New York,” by which they mean Manhattan. That’s what I was trying to get at.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:


        First of all, LIC is where it’s at, Brooklyn can go fish itself.

        Second, I think you’re think of what they might say in their dorm at Brown or Cal. I’m talking about what you’d say (or hear said) at a happy hour *in Midtown*. Who would say “New York” there??Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        “I’m from Yonkers.”

        “Oh, Upstate.”Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:


        Right. Of course, wrt Yonkers, I probably thought that way 18 months after moving to Queens from Wisconsin…;)Report

      • Chris in reply to Michael Drew says:

        That’s southern Canada, I’ve been told.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Michael Drew says:

        People from Brooklyn are usually especially proud of being from what used to be America’s 4th largest city.

        And the really undesirable element left in 1958.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to Michael Drew says:


        If Brooklyn was an independent city, it would still be the 4th most populous city in the US.

        Brooklyn’s “independent streak” is personifed by the Nets, which are the only major-league sports team that uses the name of a sub-division of a city in its name.Report

  13. Pinky says:

    I live in “the DC area”. That’s what everyone in the DC area calls it. There are a few areas that do this, Chicagoland for one. Someone mentioned the Bay area: probably the same thing. Southern California seems to mean LA+.

    For suburban versus urban areas, I often hear, for example, “I live in Pittsburgh” or “I live outside Pittsburgh”.Report

  14. For what it’s worth, the problem with New Jersey’s football teams saying they’re from New York isn’t because they don’t play in NYC, but because they’re in essence saying they’re from a different state entirely. If they just wanted to be associated with the city, they’d be called the New York City Jets/Giants.

    As to your actual points, I pretty much agree. I don’t see anything wrong with people saying they’re from a city when really they’re just from the metropolitan area. City limits tend to be somewhat arbitrarily defined, and often times the places outside the city limits are just as much a part of the culture associated with that city as those who live within the city limits. Sometimes even more so, actually – I can think of some cities that are geographically rather small and who tend to attract a lot of young professionals to live within those city limits, with working class and/or permanent residents of the area tending to live more in the close-in suburbs.

    There’s also the issue of shifting migration patterns that probably need to be accounted for here, too, especially to the extent that residential units within major city limits tend to be rental properties rather than resident-owned.

    It seems odd that a young professional who lives in a unit that is built for transient populations can claim to be “from” that city, but someone who’s lived in the close-in suburbs for much of their life and cannot so easily pick up ties and move should be required to think of themselves as only being from the suburbs rather than “from” the city itself.Report

    • So you’re okay with the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.” Anaheim is sufficiently similar to Los Angeles that it’s okay? Locals perceive a difference between Los Angeles County and Orange County. Non-locals, maybe not so much?Report

      • Patrick in reply to Burt Likko says:

        The folks who get their butts in a vice over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are Angels fans who are angry at the Angels for not being willing to put the O.C. label on their product.

        They can solve that problem on their own.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Burt Likko says:

        My understanding is that Anaheim being in the name was a part of the agreement to finance the stadium and the LAAoA was an exploited loophole.

        I’d be kind of pissed off, too.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

        It’s kind of ingenious so I I admire it for that reason, but no one should actually be okay with that name qua name-for-a-baseball-team.Report

      • I’m mostly not okay with that, actually, although I’m not overly passionate about the issue and open to persuasion. The reasons I’m opposed to the name are:
        1. The Angels play about 30 miles outside of LA. For me, that’s the equivalent of a New York team playing smack dab in the center of New Jersey in New Brunswick or even in the eastern part of Somerset County. There’s a huge distinction for me between playing in the close-in suburbs and the exurbs, which are in my experience culturally quite distinct from the core city and close-in suburbs, especially when you’re talking about a densely populated region. Thirty miles outside of Denver and I assume you’re still in an area where much of your life is going to pull you into the metro area’s core. Thirty miles outside of New York, and you might only going into the core a couple of times a year, if that. Hell, go 40 miles outside of New York and you might be just as likely to head down to Philadelphia as New York for a lot of stuff. I assume that the LA metro is more similar to NY than Denver.

        2. The Angels – and here I’m making a huge assumption – seem to draw their fan base almost entirely from Orange County, and it seems like there’s a pretty significant cultural distinction between Orange County and LA, to the point that an average person from Anaheim would be offended at the notion of saying they were from LA.Report

      • Mo in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I’m from Anaheim. I’d hardly call Anaheim an exurb. My dad commuted to LA and judging by traffic, he was hardly alone. There are parts of Los Angeles that are 50 miles from another part of Los Angeles. Anaheim is notable enough that they are fine as a city name, but I would note the LA Rams played in Anaheim and no one seemed to mind.

        My thing with the answer of, “Where are you from?” is what are you trying to convey with your answer. If you’re trying to give people a geographic approximation of where you are from, then saying, “New York” when you grew up in Scarsdale is fine, if you’re trying to make some point about knowing something about urban living based on your experience and you say you’re from New York when you’re from Scarsdale, that’s something different (think Sue from Swingers).Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I’m kind of annoyed on behalf of Oakland that the Warriors call themselves Golden State, but it doesn’t seem to bother their fans, who were incredibly loyal through decades of disaster.Report

    • ScarletNumbers in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      To be pedantic, New York City’s actual name is “New York”. It’s not like Jersey City.

      As for residents of Northern New Jersey, none of us refer to ourselves as being from New York. We say we are from North Jersey.Report

  15. dragonfrog says:

    Where you from?

    By [nearest place with more than one hotel]

    If (Oh really? Where specifically?)
    [name of town]

    If (blank stare)
    By [nearest place with more than one hardware store]

    If (blank stare)
    Kinda by [nearest place with a serious concert venue]Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to dragonfrog says:

      If the conversation happens in the next province, start one level down, at the place with the multiple hardware stores; if it happens more than one province away, start at the place with the concert venue.Report

    • gingergene in reply to dragonfrog says:

      I have this stupid habit of following up the “where you from?” question with a specific “Oh, where is that exactly?” and then realizing that, most of the time, if they’re not from the state capital or large (1,000,000+ city), I have no idea what they’re talking about. So why did I ask in the first place?

      And it happens to me, too:

      Q: Where are you from?
      A: Michigan.

      Q: Oh, near Detroit?
      A: No, the other side of the state.

      Q: Oh. Where exactly?
      A: A suburb of Grand Rapids.

      Q: Oh. [Blank Stare] Where is that?
      A: Here. *Points to location on hand.*

      Thank goodness most Michiganders are naturally blessed with 2 state maps. (Ok, one if you need to include the UP, but then you have to point with Alpena.)Report

  16. Damon says:

    Most of the people I meet and have this convo with don’t know where I live. I tell them I live between two major cities that everyone has heard of and that’s the end of it. On the rare cases I meet someone who doesn’t know where those cities are, I just pick one. But I’ve never given a damn where people lived, unless it was someplace I’d never been and then I only cared and I wanted to learn about that place in particular.

    The whole article smacks of elitism or urbanism or such. This same stuff goes on in places like DC. Oh, you live in Georgetown? I live in Adams Morgan. I met a guy who lived in a really expensive section of Baltimore. When I didn’t recognize the name, he was visibly put out. Like where he lives means anything significant….Report

  17. dragonfrog says:

    Before the greater Toronto area got amalgamated into the mega-city that gave us Rob Ford’s voter base, I think people from the GTA tended to say they were from Toronto. Because, really, it was all Toronto even before it was all Toronto.Report

  18. Citizen says:

    Where are you from?
    I come from out in the middle of nowhere.Report

  19. Michael Cain says:

    I’ve ended up compromising on “outside of Denver.” Everyone seems to have at least a vague idea where Denver is, and I’m not actually claiming to live in Denver. Although in a big picture sense, Denver and its inner-ring suburbs do a lot of planning together, as well as funding for light rail, fine arts, and sports facilities.Report

  20. gingergene says:

    There’s a funny part in The Autobiography of Malcom X where Malcom (who’s not yet Malcom) is in Harlem and is repeatedly asked, “Where you from, Red?” (His hair was a bit reddish at the time.) So he explains, again and again, that he’s from Lansing, Michigan.

    Outside of the Midwest (and possibly outside of Michigan), the only people who know Lansing are college sports fans who actually know *East* Lansing, home of Michigan State University. And since most people from New York don’t know any city with fewer than 1,000,000 people, even ones with Big Ten Schools in them, they all look at him blankly.

    Eventually, he gives up and just starts telling people he’s from Detroit, so they all call him Detroit Red.Report

  21. Michael M. says:

    This is really only something I’ve thought about at times in my life when I’ve moved from one place to another, and it becomes somehow important to define for other where I’m from (or where I think of being from). I guess I see a major distinction, not dealt with explicitly in Will’s article or in the excerpts from other articles he includes, between the questions “Where are you from?” and “Where do you live?”

    The latter is a simple question of geography and I suspect most people will answer it with the degree of specificity they think is appropriate for the situation, depending upon their perception of the questioner’s knowledge of the geography of wherever they live. And that seems just dandy, I can’t see an issue with that.

    But the former is more complicated, especially if you one of the millions who grew up in multiple locations. When I went to college 3000 miles from home, I would answer that I was from “outside Portland” because most people wouldn’t have known where Hillsboro is, but also because that’s where I finished high school. I moved to NYC directly from having lived in Hillsboro, so in that context I was “from Hillsboro.” But I’d only lived in Hillsboro 3 years, and before that San Jose for a few years, and before that Sacramento, and before that Texas, and before that at least 4 other towns in 2 other states, back to birth overseas, in a country I had no memory of.

    So when people ask “Where are you from?” I have to figure out what they want to know, I have to figure out how much I feel comfortable talking about (which means figuring out how comfortable I am with the questioner), and I have to figure out where I really feel like I’m “from,” since I lived in a lot of places. It can get complicated and confusing (for me, anyway), though it isn’t if the cues are clear and I’m feeling secure. It’s a lot easier right after I’ve moved somewhere because I can just re-frame the question as “Where did you come here from?”Report

  22. Burt Likko says:

    So apparently in Portland even the snobby a-holes are locally sourced.Report

  23. Anne says:

    I lived in WV for a bit I would tell people I lived in Harper’s Ferry. But my TOD forbid if I said that around any of the locals. See I lived at the top of the hill on Washington street the main drag though town. but I lived two tenths of a mile on the wrong side of the line between Harper’s Ferry and Bolivar WVReport

  24. Kazzy says:

    For me, it was weird. I grew up 10 minutes from Manhattan. I was closer to much of “the city” than people who lived in the outer areas of the city. Yet because I was from NJ, I would *never* claim the city as where I was from. That was NY man. I’m from NJ. So I’d say, “I’m from northern NJ. Just outside NYC.” It’s what you had to say. The only time I said, “I’m from NYC,” is when I travelled internationally, where you couldn’t even assume people had heard of NJ.Report

    • Plinko in reply to Kazzy says:

      When I go overseas, best case scenario is that I can explain that Wisconsin is the part of the US above Chicago.
      Sometimes, even “Chicago” is meaningless and it just has to be “in the middle, kinda toward the top”.

      For Americans, I can usually say ‘Oshkosh’ and they’ll say ‘Oh! The overalls?’ to which I can say ‘yes, the overalls’ and call it a day.Report