When my husband told me that a headhunter called him about a job in Pittsburgh, I asked (in all seriousness and sincerity) if he was kidding. Like many New Yorkers, I didn’t know much about this vibrant city that consistently ranks among the best places to live, and is home to world-class universities, sports teams, shows, museums, concerts and quite a food scene. Most of us live in our sheltered worlds and communities (regardless of how well-traveled we are) and make assumptions based on stereotypes. These characterizations and misconceptions of what’s real, despite frequently consisting of a few grains of truth, should be taken with a grain of salt. An entire salt shaker and one open mind later, here are five things that I adjusted to and now embrace:
1. Judaism Is Still An Enigma Outside City Limits. Although there is a Jewish presence in the suburbs surrounding Pittsburgh, Jews are a minority. I am surprised to learn that I’m the first Jew many people around here have ever met. This honor comes with the responsibility of appropriately representing the tribe, which is just too complex and varied to be boiled down to one marginally observant, ethnic woman. (Oy! The pressure.) I can’t begin to count the times I’ve had to explain why we don’t go to church on Sunday, that unfortunately our holiest holidays often fall in the middle of the school week, and that that schedule changes from year to year. As the supposed Chosen People, you’d think we could’ve worked that last one out.
2. Football Mania Takes On A Whole New Meaning in Pittsburgh. After a long few days of unpacking and setting up our new house, I ventured to the food store on a Sunday morning during football season. Rookie mistake. I’m fairly certain that every human within a ten-mile radius had the same idea, and I was lost in a sea of black and gold. Who knew that Pittsburghers timed outings around sports schedules, and that virtually everyone, babies included, would be wearing team jerseys? It also wasn’t until years later when my own child participated in high school cheer that I understood the appeal of Friday night lights. Before moving to Pittsburgh, my high school football perspective was limited to Tom Cruise’s All the Right Moves, so some reeducation and thought-reform were in order. Now I look forward to pregame happy hour and time served on the bleachers.
3. I Need A Handbook to Decipher Expressions. I’m the first one to admit that a thick New York accent (which I, of course, don’t have) is unique, to say the least. And we have our share of expressions. When New Yorkers say “the City,” there’s only one in the universe that we mean. Is there another? In Pittsburgh I had to learn that “yinz” means “you guys,” that it really does make sense to put fries inside the sandwich, and that Pierogies are so revered they have their own mascot at baseball games. Sometimes my learning curve came at a price. A neighbor once shared that she had just “drug her son all over the mall.” Appalled I whispered, “You drugged your son just to get him there?” She was shocked and confused by my stupidity. Apparently, she dragged his ass to the mall against his will, and I drug my sorry ass back into my house in shame.
4. “New York” Has A Much Broader Definition Outside of New York. When I first met other New Yorkers in Pittsburgh, I assumed they were either from the City or one of the suburbs. Apparently, in my journey over the George Washington Bridge, I forgot how vast and diverse New York State is. “I’m going to New York for the weekend,” can easily mean a visit to Buffalo or Rochester – not necessarily a weekend in Manhattan. And while we’re at it, many Pittsburghers are vocal about their disdain for that messy, smelly, disorganized Big Apple, but don’t you dare criticize Pittsburgh. This place has heart and pride like nobody’s business, so back off and don’t even begin to mention the bleak weather.
5. Pittsburgh’s Climate Is Dreary, To Put It Mildly. I’m pretty sure that had I moved to Seattle or Cleveland, the subject of the sheer number of cloudy days would’ve come up at least once during the extensive interview and consideration process. Although everyone here knows that Pittsburgh rivals some of the cloudiest cities in the US, it’s just not enough of an issue to be a thing. Sure, we talk about how much we miss the sun when it’s March, and we literally haven’t seen it since December, but Pittsburghers are scrappy and resilient, and love their hometown. So what if we have to take massive doses of Vitamin D? The sun will be out by Mother’s Day.
Moving away from home is tough, and all new places take getting used to. On any given bad day, I default to pining for my home state with all its traffic, congestion and high-octane lifestyle. But Pittsburgh has soul, and the friends we’ve made, who are the proverbial family we got to choose, make every day here worth it.