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8 Unexpected Ways to Learn Who Philadelphians Really Are

Student Work
by Lauren Steffen Oct 28, 2014
1. Ask a South Philly guy how he likes his cheesesteaks.

Girls, if a guy you meet says he’s from South Philly, ask him how he likes his cheesesteaks. If he answers, wiz (cheese), wit (fried onions), extra grease (literally), he could only be from South Philly and therefore is an honest gentleman. Proceed, and ask him where to have one.

If he answers Jim’s, he is discerning and makes cultivated choices. Go for it!

If he answers Geno’s, he prizes loyalty and tradition, but has reasonable sensibilities. Proceed, but with caution. Likely, he will always love his mother more than you.

If he answers Pat’s, fuggedaboudit.

NB: If he tells you he doesn’t eat meat, he is using you to get to your cute brother. If a guy is sensitive and from South Philly, he may sing you a song or even write you a poem, but he will not be vegetarian.

2. Check out Mummers Parade.

In 1975, Rocky Balboa emerged a cinematic phenomenon out of a ramshackle row home at 1818 East Tusculum Street in Kensington. Today, on every day but one, you can see men just like Rocky, hardened and hunched under grey hooded sweatshirts, making their way at the crack of dawn to warehousing or stockyards jobs, maybe yelling a “Yo Jo-ey” to a friend at the corner store under the rambling El (elevated train) that dominates the neighborhood.

On New Year’s Day, however, many of these very same men bounce into the morning wearing rainbow-sequined clown costumes and bopping under tiny, bedazzled umbrellas. Others don full plumage reminiscent of Folies Bergère and pluck songs like Oh Those Golden Slippers on their banjo on their way to Broad Street from where the comics, string bands, and fancy brigades will sing, play, and strut their way to City Hall in the annual Mummers Parade.

Yo! Don’t youz friggin’ laugh. It’s been tradition for over 100 years, and it’s friggin’ awesome.

3. Say “Late night Wawa run.”

If the words “late night Wawa run” light a person up like the midday sun, this Philadelphian had a classic college experience. Ply such people with Yuengling beer to immediately become a part their inner circle and be regaled with the madcap, after-midnight stories of their college days.

Tip for travelers: To bond instantly with a Philadelphian away from home, rave about the singular awesomeness of Wawa iced tea and hoagies, and lament the void outside of the Tri-state area where Wawa is naught.

4. Wear the wrong colors.

Philadelphia may be the City of Brotherly Love, but its love does know some boundaries. The beating heart of the city lives inside Lincoln Field, Citizen’s Bank Park, and The Wells Fargo Center where the Eagles, Phillies, and Flyers respectively play football, baseball, and hockey. Should you enter any one of these sacred turfs for a sporting event wearing the opposing team’s jersey, expect to be shunted into fiery pits of merciless torment.

Warning: Do not test this “just to see.” If Santa Claus can be booed off the field, much worse can happen to you!

Tip for Travelers: There are three major seasons in the city: Phillies, Eagles, and Flyers. Wear red and white for the Phillies, green and white for the Eagles, and orange and black for the Flyers. You’ll be rewarded with high fives and even free beers when the mood is high. Do be aware, emotional currents become increasingly tumultuous the closer it gets to the end of any season, especially one ending in a playoff series when Philadelphia teams famously choke and everyone and their mom wants to choke the players. Don’t worry, it’s still a great time to make local friends, so wear your colors boldly! (See point 6, Learn that bitching is bonding.)

5. Look out for all things Italy.

Philly Italians comprise a class all their own in the city. Staunchly loyal and unwavering, they get cannoli from either Termini Brothers or Isgro’s Bakery, lemon water ice from John’s or Pop’s, and locatelli and olives from DiBruno Bros. House of Cheese or Claudio King of Cheese.

They wear either an Italian boot or an Italian horn on a Gucci or Figaro link chain, do or absolutely do not have plastic covers on their couches, and strictly love either Franciscan or Jesuit priests.

Across the board, all Philly Italians fiercely love their city, their family, their friends, and they all LOVE being Italian…because being Italian is THE BEST!

6. Accept that bitching is bonding.

If you’re going to be part of the Philly scene, there are certain things you’re going to have to love: watching Olde City turn crimson and gold in the fall, kicking off summer with a weekend “down the shore,” strolling Boat House Row by day, and the Avenue of the Arts by night. Everyone loves to eat our really delicious food, which is endless, and to discover the latest amazing mural in some unexpected corner. But also, EVERYONE loves to bitch. Not the bitching type, but want to fit in? See below!

Enraged because the line at the post office or the ACME is way too slow? Bitch out loud and bond instantly with anyone in earshot. Incredulous at the inanity of the news, the mayor, the bag checks at a festival? Bitch with a friend and banish those blues! Feeling too calm and out of the loop? Look to the traffic, the humidity, the failure of SEPTA, the failure of the city to remove the snow, the stupid refs calling the game, and you’ll know what to do! More the “Love Thy Neighbor” type? No problem. Join ladies church group Stitch ‘n’ Bitch, and make new friends while doing good deeds, too!

7. Learn to love Philly Phanaticism.

Even if you can’t tell a shortstop from a pitcher, it’s a fact that the Philly Phanatic is the best mascot in the history of all sports in all the world. For a true Philadelphian, baseball without the Phanatic is like a latte without the milk. The best things to catch at home games are not outfield fly balls, but flying Hatfield hotdogs rocketed into the stands by the Phanatic from his cannon-mounted Weinermobile.

More glorifying than the Phillies dominating the Mets is the Phanatic clowning them as the Phillies crush them into oblivion. To dance with the Phanatic on Fan-O-Vision is to be a rock star, and to be kissed by him in your seat, or to have your bald head polished, wins you bragging rights for life!

Tip for Travelers: Keep your eyes peeled for the Phanatic at city-sponsored events, like the outdoor summer concert series, for extra special photo ops!

8. Discover the real spirit of Philadelphia.

For tourists, the Spirit of Philadelphia is a dinner cruise ship out of Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River. For locals, the spirit of Philadelphia is the 10 days of massive block parties, concerts, parades, Wawa-sponsored hoagie-eating contests, orchestrated fireworks spectaculars, outdoor movie screenings, friends, family, BBQs, and picnics that make up the Fourth of July celebration every year.

The spirit of Philadelphia is how people deck out their homes, their lawns, their dogs, their spouses, and themselves to delight with fright the little kids trick or treating on Halloween.

It’s the way entire neighborhoods come together to transform their streets into Christmas wonderlands canopied with thousands of glittering lights and walled with towering Christmas trees in Miracle on 13th Street and Spectacular on Smedley. So, set sail on the Spirit of Philadelphia, but ride the swells rolling through the streets every holiday, not the ripples of the Delaware River on a tourist’s cruise ship launching neatly on the quarter hour.

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