Pittsburgh
10:50 am
Wed June 19, 2013

New to the 'Burgh? Here's 8 Handy Do’s and Don’ts

It can be hard to jump into a new location without understanding the local customs, and Pittsburgh, friendly as it might be, is wrapped in layers of seemingly impenetrable culture.

But do not fret: As part of our, well, new web series, "New to the 'Burgh," here’s a handy guide to circumventing the trap doors and pitfalls of life in Pittsburgh.

1. DO be aware of the Pittsburgh Left

A common source of confusion for new-to-Pittsburgh drivers, the Pittsburgh Left is a turn that, by all conventional wisdom, makes no sense. The Pittsburgh Left refers to making a left turn just as the light turns green, cutting off oncoming traffic and ignoring traditional laws of right-of-way and common sense. Though it may seem like a dangerous practice, many Pittsburghers allow for the turn and encourage the behavior.

2. DON'T ask to “hold the fries” at Primanti’s

If you’re looking to watch your weight at a Primanti Bros. restaurant, you are probably in the wrong place anyway. Say what you will about the healthiness of the Primanti’s hulking Italian dressing, French fry and grilled meat sandwiches, but the restaurant has ascended to cultural icon status. Primanti’s has been included Patricia Schultz’s “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” series, as well as in an episode of Adam Richman’s popular Travel Channel series “Man v. Food,” and for good reason: the sandwich’s winning French fries and coleslaw combination is mouth-wateringly unique. The easiest way to avoid an inadvertent insult is just embrace the French fries, the grease and all of the sandwich’s girth. The worst-case scenario has you eating leftovers the next day, and really doesn’t that sound more like a positive than a negative?

3. DO leave the parking chair in its space

Say you are driving around the city struggling to find a parking space, and you happen to come across a parking space occupied only by a plastic lawn chair. Do you move the chair and take the space? Nope. Pittsburghers regularly save themselves parking spaces using chairs. There are definitive rules of engagement that could fill up their own article, but until you get used to the practice, just let the chair stay in its place.

4. DON'T insult the Bethel Bakery

This particular rule has had its time in the spotlight recently. Visiting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stopped by the bakery during his 2012 election campaign and ran afoul of many Pittsburgh locals. When he disparagingly compared their cookies to those from convenience store 7-Eleven, he unintentionally sparked what the media referred to as “CookieGate.” While this only resulted in an amusing anecdote and a boost in business for bakery, who offered a “CookieGate Special” in reaction to the “scandal,” Romney might have lost himself some supporters in the city with his gaffe. In short: Do your best to respect the cookies.

5. DO learn your Pittsburghese

Speaking or understanding Pittsburghese — the homegrown dialect of the Steel City — is a skill that takes years to cultivate. Until you have the time to dedicate to poking through this glossary, you can get started by learning the pronunciations to some of Pittsburgh's most famous and most difficultly-named locations. Carnegie (in its many occurrences around the city) is pronounced car-NAY-gee and not CAR-ne-gee; Allegheny is pronounced ah-leh-GAY-nee; Duquesne is pronounced du-KAYNE  (the “s” is silent); and the toughest one, Monongahela, is pronounced mah-non-gah-HEY-la.

6. DON'T acknowledge the 1989 Browns game

If the game existed, which most Steelers fans would be unwilling to admit, the 1989 51-0 loss against the Cleveland Browns would have been the worst loss suffered by the team ever in its history. The fact that the game was against the team’s bitter rivals made the loss all the more tragic for the city’s sports fans. While mentioning this maybe-fictional event might not invoke anger from the masses, it will certainly draw some tears and open up old wounds.

7. DO keep the "h"

Just one little letter can cause a sizeable amount of backlash from the right people. When writing or typing out the name of the city, be careful not to ditch the “h” at the end of the word. While many other cities and towns in the country dropped their h’s upon moving into more modern times, Pittsburgh has stuck with its old-time spelling. Respect that choice, and keep the “h” on Pittsburgh.

8. DON'T use Hunt’s Ketchup over Heinz Ketchup

While this rule might seem like a small one (who is really going to care what type of condiment you use?) this is a surefire way to anger Pittsburgh natives. The company’s founder, Henry J. Heinz, was born in the city, and ever since the Heinz Company began selling ketchup in 1876 from its Pittsburgh headquarters it has been one of the city’s main claims to fame. Choosing to use the rival Hunt’s brand over the homegrown Heinz is comparable to telling an American in the 1960s that the Soviet Union had some good ideas. Stick with the local product and you’ll be just fine.

Are you new in town? Or are you a Pittsburgh lifer? Either way, share with us your Pittsburgh Do's and Don'ts on Twitter and Facebook: #new2theburgh