I've read a lot of articles and blog posts about other cities and what to expect from them. I thought to myself, "Why not write one about Pittsburgh?" and so I have.
1. Pittsburghers have a strange mentality. If you tell a Pittsburgher that you have just moved to Pittsburgh and they are having a good day, they'll look at you as if to say, "How could you live anywhere else and be happy?". On a bad day they'll look at you as if to say, "Why would you want to live here?". The truth be told, if they really disliked Pittsburgh so much, they would have moved away 65 years ago. They're just in a bad mood. Some people move away not because they want to or dislike Pittsburgh but because they find a better job somewhere else. We're working on this issue.
2. Sports. Pittsburgh may seem like a sports obsessed city...and it is. However, it's more of a bonding experience than a macho thing. Men, women AND children can be heard commenting on last night's Pens and/or Steelers game. It never hurts to buy a Terrible Towel and/or Polamalu jersey when you get here. It doesn't even matter if you watch sports or not, it's just a way to bond with people around you. Even the musicians at the symphony will pull out their terrible towels. Fareed Zakaria came to town to give a lecture and at the end, he was presented with a Steelers jersey with his last name on the back of the jersey. Really. Smile and nod and you'll be just fine.
3. There's a lot to do here. Don't listen to people who tell you that there's not. There is a lot to do. A little bit of googling and some scheduling and you can go to museums, art galleries and new-ish things. ("ish" is a common way of thinking in Pgh--and I don't mean the bad version of "ish". Something can be "new-ish" meaning that it actually moved in 5-10 years ago. But it's still new-ish). Websites like I Heart Pgh are always writing about stuff to do here.
4. Housing. Live in the city. Depending on whether you are a student or post-student, 20-something, 30-something or 40 something, you will probably be looking for something different.
*If you're a student looking to be near your campus, Southside and Oakland are the usual college areas- frat houses included.
*Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, and Polish Hill are all hip and affordable neighborhoods sans the frat houses. They often have 20-30somethings. Meeting your neighbors in these areas is always a good idea. As my friend J. Pitts once said, "if you're my neighbor and not crashing the party, then I have to wonder whether you're calling the cops."You will get a more artsy fartsy crowd in those three. Friendship is nice and artsy but a bit more residential and a bit more expensive.
*If you're looking for the law school and med school yuppies, Shadyside will provide you with as many as your heart desires. Northside is cool, too. Basically, each neighborhood in the city has its own personality and population. Do a little research before you rent.
*If you're looking for a more residential area for a family, Friendship, Highland Park, Squirrel Hill, Point Breeze, parts of the Northside, Greenfield, maybe Garfield, Polish Hill, Morningside and Lawrenceville are great, too. I'm sure I'm missing a bunch of neighborhoods.
5. Public Transportation is okay. It's not as great as it could be and should you feel like complaining about this, you can always find someone willing to listen. You don't have to have a car like some other cities in America. Comparatively speaking, our public transportation is pretty decently. Don't count on cabs unless you're at the airport. Well, that or you're going out with a bunch of girls at Duquesne University (possibly Pitt, I have no idea). I have never seen so many cabs as I have seen at Duquesne University on Friday and Saturday nights.
6. ASK. About anything. Hair salons, nail salons, restaurants, where to get your dog's hair trimmed, a good vet's office, the best running trails, how to get involved in a bowling league, whatever. People are your best resource in Pittsburgh. Don't rely on google maps. Ever. It's always good to have a basic knowledge of where you're going but never be afraid to ask. Sure, the directions you get from people may not be any less confusing. Still, people will usually try to be helpful. I get asked for directions almost daily. The urban planning (or lack thereof) that mapped out Pittsburgh was pretty awful. Also, Pittsburgh has grown in spurts due to industry changes.
4. Making Friends. Join something: sports leagues, bowling leagues, reading groups, neighborhood groups, whatever. Don't bring up more than once about how you're new here because people don't really understand why you'd want to live somewhere else. Just explain why you're in Pittsburgh (job, student, anarchist who's too poor to go back to SF and/or NY) and then start talking about whatever the topic of interest is: basketball, bowling, the book, whatever. People tend to forget that other people aren't from here. Just pretend like you've always lived here and you'll be fine. As a native Pittsburgher, I find it hard to remember where people are from. All I know is that they're in Pittsburgh now. I hate it when people say, "When I lived in (wherever) we did (whatever)." Unless it's a great new mode of public transportation, a group that we could form or better environmental things, it's hard to care. If it's a good idea, find some people who are interested and make it happen here.
5. Jobs. We have a lot of people in medicine, non-profiteering, technology, the universities and law. Actually, we have TONS of people in non-profiteering. Non-profits are to Pittsburgh the way tech start-ups are to Silicon valley. That said, we do have a lot of tech start-ups because of Carnegie Mellon University ("CMU"), The University of Pittsburgh ("Pitt") and the cheap cost of office space.
6. The Music & Art Scene. The music scene is not so good but we have some venues. The art scene- we have tons of official museums and galleries with many indie art galleries springing up around the city.
7. Characters. You may have lived in NYC or San Fran and think you've met a lot of strange characters. We may not have the same music and art scene but we do house an equal amount of eccentric characters. I'm not sure why this is so but there are a decent amount of nice but slightly strange people in Pittsburgh.
8. Politics. Parts of Pgh are really liberal. By "liberal" I mean that they give a lot of money to Obama and feel happy having had "Bring the Troops Home" yard signs in their front lawns for the past four years. Don't take your kid to a playground with a fake gun.
However, other parts of Pgh are really more along the lines of straight party ticket, pro-union democrats. The Labor Day parade is a biggie here. Franco Harris' son, Franco Dok Harris, recently ran for mayor and said, "Pgh is a high-tech town with a blue collar spirit." This is very true. Local politics is...*shakes head*. We have some trouble getting "progressive" people into office. Looking to complain about it? A lot of people will be happy to not only complain about it but to also tell you the story of Pittsburgh's local politics dating back 100 years. Certain people take great joy in telling you stories about past mayors. Let them. Even if you have absolutely no interest and don't really listen, it's a great way to bond with someone and to get really useful information from them in the future. Looking for some random obscure thing and can't find it anywhere? That person who told you the 100 year history of local politics will be able to tell you where to go. We have the youngest mayor in America. Unfortunately, he's not a very bright lightbulb. C'est la vie.
9. Schools. If you're talki ng about schools for kids, this really depends on where you live. Once again, talk to other people to get a good sense of which schools would be a good fit and which wouldn't be. Do your research, too. As for higher education, we have a ton of colleges and universities.
10. The weather & the outdoors. The weather is not so great. But actually, it's not as cold as Minnesota or Alaska. So at least there's that, right? Recently, it's been pretty mild. Don't expect sun very often. Enjoy it when it's around. We have great big parks and little lakes outside of the city. They're great for biking, hiking and camping in/on. Skiing and snowboarding are hit and miss but camping and hiking in the summer, spring and fall are often great.
Perhaps no one will ever read this but maybe they will. Who knows. I hope it helps.