The Difference a Smile Can Make

highway image

Credit: Gillian Reimann

When we think about different cultural perspectives, the regions of California versus Oregon, the Bay Area versus Portland and its greater area, rarely come to mind, but to me, they’re vastly different. Four years ago, I made a twelve hour drive up to Forest Grove, Oregon from Concord, California, to start my college experience and Pacific University, and I didn’t really expect anything to be that different. Well, I did expect more rain. But, a funny thing happened as I started to go to my classes and talk to local Oregonians, and I realized, there is a difference.

Back home in the Bay Area, everything is fast-paced. We don’t sit outside, reading books or listening to music as we take in the sunshine; because it’s always out in California, and there’s so much more to do. We don’t walk to restaurants in town, even if they are ten minutes away. And we certainly don’t stop and smile at people we vaguely recognize. Instead, we bustle along on our busy paths, we keep our heads down, we drive to get dinner, and we do our best to avoid the sun (since it’s always out and it’s always hot).

Honestly, life back home is abrupt, which has made the past four years in the Portland area a bit of an eye-opener for me. To be honest, not all of it is grand, starting with the rain—the endless downpour is annoying, and for a self-proclaimed sun-hater, even I’m happy on days when it’s out and there’s no precipitation in sight. The constant rain was a bit of a shock to try to adapt to, especially since I was going back home every few months for break. But even with the rain, when I’m in Forest Grove, I’m more likely to see people out walking around town and campus, stopping to talk and smile with one another, even in the rain. Back at home, I’d be hard pressed to see that kind of simple friendliness, and while I’m not saying that we’re all rude, there’s just not that level of comfort involved. Making the transition between the two states is difficult, especially because as soon as I get into the swing of smiling at people and asking how they are, I have to switch, going back to the head-ducking, antisocial attitude. And when I finally get used to sitting in traffic for hours and blaring music to entertain myself, I get thrown back into the fast lane where I’m constantly avoiding being cut off and going at least fifteen over the speed limit.

As a junior editor at Silk Road for the past three semesters, I’ve had the privilege of reading unique cultural perspectives and see various diverse tales across several genres, and so it’s difficult to see how my experience translates in comparison. But then, I remember that ‘unique’ and ‘diverse’ are subjective words, and they vary from case to case. My experiences from city life in the Bay Area and Portland, to the town life of Concord and Forest Grove illustrate a distinct gap in human contact and comfort. Back at home, people rush about, avoid eye contact, and set out for themselves. Contrastingly, when I’m here in Forest Grove, or the larger Portland area, people stop and start up conversations.

At a bookstore in Beaverton a couple weeks ago, I was stopped by an old man in the Science Fiction section who asked my opinion about some books. I stopped my perusal of the shelves, smiled at him, and offered up a few titles that I had read that were similar to the books in his hand. He grinned back at me and thanked me for my time, and I watched him go on to grab one of the books that I recommended, adding it to the pile. It was a

For me, the difference in culture between the Bay Area and Portland is just enough of a shock so that alternating and adapting between the two is difficult. Twelve hours of driving and a few mountain ranges separate the two states, making their differences subtle but certainly there, at least for this college student.

By: Gillian Reimann