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A taboo is a social rule embedded in a culture that serves to guard against activities that are considered harmful or detrimental to the culture. A taboo tends to be unspoken and region specific. It is sometimes indicative of someone who is foreign to the region they are in.

The value of a taboo can probably be assigned to behaviors that are considered colloquial or provincial. Most taboos tend to bring with them a form of punishment for breaking them, though the punishment can often be as subtle as the taboo itself.

The term can be used as an adjective or adverb which can describe multiple or single. As a noun it describes a single instance.

Types of Taboos

Safety Taboo

Since a taboo can incur a punishment, it probably can't be viewed as completely altruistic. Nevertheless, a taboo can exist as a way to protect and/or create a level of safety. Sometimes a taboo exists first, which is followed up and reinforced by law. A taboo can therefore be considered noble to a particular culture. Characteristics of an altruistic taboo can include:

  • Personal assault
  • Theft
  • Deceit and/or misrepresentation
  • Robbery
  • Kidnapping

Provincial Taboo

Though by definition, a taboo is defined by the region it exists in, there are times when a taboo serves to define and/or identify those unfamiliar or foreign. It is possibly a tribal defense mechanism, since ignorance can often be the original cause of injury or conflict. Unfortunately, a provincial taboo can be so esoteric and abstract that no clear reason can justify its existence. Characteristics of a provincial taboo can include:

  • Pronunciation of local geography
  • Forms of greeting and social engagement
  • Clothing
  • Religious and political beliefs
  • Criticism and censorship
  • Visibility of race and/or identifiable ethnicity.


One thing that tends to be irksome to Portlandians is communicating in generalities. To discuss ideas and concepts in a manner that does not translate to action. This stems from a general pattern that Portlandians require specifics out of interaction.

Pattern: If while speaking to a Portlandian, you are interrupted by them in lieu of a different and seemingly unrelated conversation topic. It is because your topic is too generalized and vague, and a Portlandian would prefer to discuss a new specific topic than to continue discussing a vague one.

Reaction: Better to simply follow where the conversation is going, but if you must return to the original topic do so, by voicing details that may affect the listener personally.


Often referred to as a Portland newbie. Those who have recently moved to Portland, and/or have lived here for only a short time bare the brunt of much animosity. The feeling of suspicion seems to stem from the fear that new inhabitants will bring with them their own culture and sensibilities. This will cause an inherent shift away from social behaviors that originate in Portland.

This is reinforced by an infamous quote from Oregon Governor Tom McCall said to a CBS reporter:

"Come visit us again and again.
This is a state of excitement.
But for heaven's sake, don't come here to live."

Sadly, this is not a unique taboo. Truth to tell, the animosities and suspicions against newcomers exist in probably every part of the world. Reactions differ from region to region. In Portland, the animosity can produce passive-aggressive-like actions. A newcomer might get over-charged by a trade skill, or get slower service at a restaurant. Jobs might be difficult to obtain.

Why did you move to Portland? (Good Answers)

  • It was always our plan to move to Portland, when it was time to settle down.
  • I moved here for a job, but then I got laid off

Foreign Origins

Another taboo unfortunately pervasive in Portland as a natural animosity toward those who do not originate from Portland or the state of Oregon. It is a difficult taboo to overcome since by definition it is impossible for someone who is foreign to over come it. The only bandage to this is to not appear foreign, to conform to native appearances and behaviors. While there is a general distaste for those not from Portland, there does exist a small set of origins that are hated more than others. They often fueled by some kind of skewed justification. Some include:

Regions Spoken Justification
California because they are taking jobs from locals, and increasing real estate costs
Seattle because they want to make Portland like Seattle

Mispronunciation of Local Geography

This is one of the more troublesome types of taboo, since there is no clear or helpful way for a foreigner to learn without breaking it. It is also tied to the Foreign Origin taboo, and causes the same kind of punishment. The following is a list of common mispronunciations with their correct pronunciations

Geographical Name Proper Pronunciation Mispronunciation
Oregon OR-gen OR-A-gon or OR-EE-Gon
Couch Street COOCH Street Cowch Street
Sauvie Island SOH-vee Island or SAH-vee Island SOW-vee Island
Deschutes Brewery duh-SHOOTS Brewery DESS-shoots Brewery
Glisan Street GLEE-son Street GLIS-sen Street
Willamette River Will-AM-et River WILLA-met River
City of The Dalles City of the DALZ City of the Dallas
Coquille River co-KEEL River CO-quill River
Town of Scio Town of SY-oh Town of See-OH
Town of Tualatin Town of Too-ALL-uh-tin Town of Tool-UH-tin

Impatient Customers

Particularly at bars and restaurants, servers attend to customers at a lower frequency than other parts of the U.S. Sometimes this is because a server is forced to cover a larger part of the floor. Other times there is a concerted effort by servers and bartenders not to hover or press customers into orders. It is expected therefore that eating-out moves at a slow relaxed pace.

Those unaccustomed to this (usually because they are foreign) sometimes become frustrated and agitated. Often times they will attempt to physically override this pace, by calling to the server, or visiting the cashier area. This seldom produces the desired affect. Most times it simply annoys the server who is following a set routine.

Dress Code

Though boasted as being casual in nature, the truth is there exists a set of strong taboos related to formal attire. These forms should be generally avoided when possble. Some include

  • Business suit
  • Business Slacks
  • Tie
  • Expensive dress shoes
  • Belt holstered smartphone

External links

  • For more terms including regional pronunciations in Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, see Steven Sauke's Northwest Pronunciation Guide