Ambience, Family, Meta, Nontraditional, Traditional

Yinz privileges.

Almost seven months in Pittsburgh now. I’m still new. It’s my city but it’s not my city.

As much as I have embraced this city and it me, I am not of this place. I still have something to earn, something to prove.

I don’t yet have yinz privileges.

Some of that’s about language. Pittsburghese. The dropped infinitives, the flat vowels, downbeat instead of an upbeat at the ends of questions, the n’ats and gum bands and yinz-guyses. Maybe I know how to get from the South Side to Bloomfield without a map, but those aren’t words I get to use yet — mockingly or otherwise. Even if I wanted to, I could never out-Greg & Donny the actual Greg & Donny.

Living in Philly a decade ago, I inadvertently started occasionally dropping my Rs in words like “yesterday.” I did — to my mother’s heartbreak — say “wudder” for “water.” What I never did pick up was the “yous” — the Philly version of yinz or y’all. Not out of a feeling of respect or otherness, it just never felt like it fit in my mouth.

I do find myself saying y’all. And I did spend more than three years in the South. That’s when it came back to me. I had a high school teacher in Oregon who came from northern Louisiana — he said y’all. A lot. And I started saying it to poke fun.

Said it enough that it kind of stuck for a while. And there I was, Oregon kid from Southern California, saying y’all for no reason except I liked to be an idiot and make fun. That went away until I’d been in Arkansas a couple years and then it just seemed expedient. Saying “you guys” or some such just took too damn long. Always a chance I was going to need those syllables later for something more important.

There are different ways of getting to know a place. I’ve read plenty about Pittsburgh. The H, the Hump, the flood in 1936, the Hill District and jazz, Carnegie and Frick, Andy Warhol, Gene Kelly, that — holy crap — the Pirates used to be good.

But that’s not the same as experience. I’ve walked around where Forbes Field used to be. Been down to the Block House to touch it for myself. Seen shows at the O’Reilly and the Benedum. Spent time in the Heinz History Center archives for research. Happened across little things that tell something about this city.

A friend even got me in to see the CMU steam tunnels. Which was beyond cool.

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And I’ve done a lot of learning with my tongue. The traditional. The new. The people trying to make something special. Those who have taken the time to help me, show me around, teach me something, give of themselves.

They share their food, their beer, their insights, their lives. With me.

Before I moved here, I heard a lot from other transplants about how hard a city Pittsburgh was to get inside. That it could be difficult to win acceptance or find the right guide. Natives would look at me skeptically, they told me. Connecting with people would be hard.

Utter crap.

Maybe I just found the right people faster than I should have. Luck. Fluke.

I don’t think so.

My brother came through Pittsburgh a little while ago to play a gig in Polish Hill. We got to talking about Portland. That place can be a true closed society. Hard to meet people. Hard to know who your friends are. Hard to break into whatever club everyone else is a part of, the insouciant but vicious coolness of already living there.

I told him about Pittsburgh. The people I’ve met here. Jennie and Rob and Mike and Kelly and Abby and A.J. and Derrick and Gwen and Andrea and Andrea (two people) and Beth and Emily and Kim and Claire and Arthur and (another) Mike and Perry and Chris and James and Mindy and Hart and Adam and Cara and Dana and Amy and Tim. Yeah, not every one of them would get on a plane to post bail for me in another state, but they and a bunch of others have made this feel like home for me. And in not that much time.

I like it here. Think I’ll stay a while. Might even pick up those yinz privileges somewhere along the way.


10 thoughts on “Yinz privileges.

  1. I love this post. Not just because of the obvious reasons 🙂
    It’s awesome to read your take on my city, since I’ve never known what it’s like to “learn” Pittsburgh. I am always delighted to hear what new thing you guys have tried or new place you’ve discovered.
    Next on the list (and right around the corner) the Three Rivers Arts Festival. Lunch date.


    I’ve been here for over 4 years and still don’t feel like a Pittsburgher, but I’m sure that’s at least as much my fault as any. I feel like a visitor as I get lost on the crazy barely-marked roads. But I’m getting better about it and getting more involved (as much as I can do)…so maybe it’ll come with time.

    I am glad you’re here. I would totally hop on a plane and post bail for you. I wouldn’t even make you babysit or anything.

  3. My biggest frustration was someone who moved to Pittsburgh a few years ago told me how “hard” it was to make friends and the difficulties in “breaking in” to certain groups.

    I NEVER found that to be true, which I suppose says more about THAT person in particular, rather than Pittsburgh as a population. I freakin’ love this city — and get so excited with each day about the new things I discover here. And everyone I’ve met has been nothing short of welcoming, amazing, helpful… add all the extra warm, fuzzies here you need here. Yinz awesome, n’at. 😉

  4. The one thing I’ve always tried to tell newcomers about Pittsburgh: If you come in with an open mind, an upbeat attitude, a general curiosity and a willingness to chat, the city will embrace you. Yinzers love to talk, show and share their city/neighborhoods. You will find tons of out-of-the-way, interesting places. Pittsburgh is a city where its strengths are the hundreds of dive bars and mom-and-pop restaurants/businesses. They don’t advertise, because they don’t have to — everyone KNOWS what they are about.

    However, if you come in with an attitude: Why isn’t Pittsburgh like [insert city here]? You guys don’t have [this and that]. It’s better back in [insert city]. That’s when Pittsburgh feels uncomfortable. Yinzers flat out hate pretentious, boorish behavior. Yinzer thinking is pretty straightforward: If everything is better someplace else, then go back to that other place. We know we’re not NYC or LA or Chicago — we also don’t want to be like them, either.

    I’m happy you’ve taken the time to explore Pittsburgh, and laugh along with its bazillion quirks. Yes, it can be frustrating at times — but the more you explore, the more you understand … and the more and the more it will feel like home.

    And I’m happy that I made the list!

  5. Dr. Dredd says:

    I miss Pittsburgh. I moved there from NYC in 2001, stayed for 5 years, then left in 2006 because I couldn’t get a job in my field. I want to come home! 🙂

  6. I’ve lived here for ten years, and I learn something new and wonderful about this city all the time… It’s got so many pockets and layers to discover.

    And I have totally found myself dropping infinitives like they are bombs (boom).


  7. Great to read your take on Pittsburgh. Living close, but always just outside Pittsburgh, I’ve had similar experiences as you’ve had. I have several Aunts and Uncles in town, and they way they ask questions is almost Canadian! It was great meeting you at the Pam Brickner sponsored Pirate game!

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