Getting ready to make the move to Pennsylvania? Congratulations! You are about to live in the best state in the nation.
We are excited that you’ve come to the realization that you must live in this wonderful place…but there are a few things you probably should know before you pack up the moving truck. To introduce you to your new soon-to-be home, we’ve put together a list of 14 things to give you a crash course in “Pennsylvania” that will make life easier once you get here.
1. Seasons. We are famous for our amazing fall foliage, but we really do have all four seasons here.
They are all beautiful in their own ways…but we will be the first to admit that Autumn IS our favorite.
2. Potholes & Road Construction
You’ll have potholes and road construction, no matter where you live in the country, but our potholes are ridiculously bad.
Some people will argue with #1 on this list and tell you we really only have two seasons: winter and road construction. They aren’t wrong.
3. The complex alcohol sales laws will take some getting used to. Prepare to be frustrated.
Here’s a basic rundown, but, honestly, there are so many oddities that we suggest doing your research, as they are considered some of the strictest in the U.S.
In Pennsylvania, wine and spirits are only sold in state-owned stores. Pro: all of the prices are consistent throughout the state (county sales taxes will cause them to differ slightly, but for the most part, it’s pretty standard). Con: Monday through Saturday, these stores can only be open from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and on Sundays, liquor can only be sold between noon and 5:00 p.m. Many stores are not open at all.
Beer can only be sold at restaurants/bars, licensed beer stores, or directly from the distributor. Distributors typically only sell kegs and cases, so you can’t just run to the supermarket for a 6-pack (although some markets have begun to sell beer through restaurants attached to their building, but there are specific conditions for this as well). You CAN, however, buy 6-packs and 12-pack cases from bars and restaurants.
4. Taxes here are a bit confusing.
Pennsylvania has a flat 3.07% state income tax…but it's a bit more complicated than it sounds. Where you live makes a big difference in how much you pay.
Statewide sales tax is 6%, but the local sales tax in Allegheny County adds 1% and Philadelphia adds 2%.
Property taxes are determined by local governments, and rates vary between areas; Allegheny County’s average effective rate is 2.16%, but Philadelphia County averages only 0.92%.
5. Pennsylvania is a commonwealth, not a state…yes, there’s a difference, but only to history teachers.
Ok, that is not entirely fair. The name has historical meaning – it’s a holdover from Revolutionary-era colonies that helped established Pennsylvania’s independence. For the rest of us, it’s just a little confusing: the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a Department of State that is officiated by the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
There are some minor common law and legal concepts that differ between commonwealths and states, but for all intents and purposes, they are the same. It just makes us sound fancy.
6. Counties, Cities, Boroughs, Townships...and our ONE actual town.
The hierarchy of our municipalities can get a bit confusing. There are 67 counties in the state (oops…Commonwealth…) and 56 cities, which are classified by population as first-, second-, or third-class.
Boroughs are smaller than cities. There are 958 of them, and this can make navigating difficult for newbies.
Townships are also divided into first- and second-classes depending on their population density. There are 1,454 second-class townships and 93 first-class townships. If you’ve grown up here, this all makes sense, but it takes some getting used to.
...and then there is Bloomsburg: the ONLY town in Pennsylvania.
7. The gun laws here are quite relaxed.
Although the basics are standard (background checks, licensed dealers, etc.), there are no known firearms outlawed in the state. For the most part, Pennsylvania is an "open carry" state, but it’s illegal to carry firearms in courts and around schools (also pretty standard)…but also in Philadelphia…and in your car.
Concealed carry permits (“License to Carry Firearms,” or LTCF) are easy to obtain and allow you to carry guns in Philadelphia, as well as in your vehicle. An LTCF is not required for open carry, but helps get around the whole “how do I transport my firearms if I can’t drive with them?” issue.
8. If you are moving to Pennsylvania from the West, the biggest surprise might be how close everything is.
You can drive to New York, Washington D.C., and Tennessee in six hours or less.
9. If you’ve never lived near an Amish community, it can be a bit of a (fascinating) culture shock.
Pennsylvania has the second largest Amish population in the country, primarily in Lancaster County. At first, it will surprise you to see their horse drawn buggies travelling down the highways; slow down when you see them!
Amish food is amazing. Seriously, you have never tasted anything like this before. Their handmade baked goods and desserts are spectacular, and you will often see them selling these treats in roadside stands.
The large Amish population also means Pennsylvania has some of the most incredible farmers markets and farm stands. You can find freshly-picked, locally-grown produce almost anywhere, and it’s pretty cool to know that you are investing in small local businesses when you shop outside of the supermarkets.
10. You will never see ALL of the national treasures and historic sites in the state…there are just too many.
While not truly impossible, it would take a lot of dedication (and time) to even try. On the bright side, this means there is always something new to explore.
In Philadelphia alone, you will find Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were born), Carpenters’ Hall (where the First Continental Congress met), Declaration House (where Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence), The Betsy Ross House (birthplace of the American flag), Congress Hall, Franklin Square, The Liberty Bell Center, the National Constitution Center…the list goes on and on.
There are 166 National Historic Landmarks in Pennsylvania, and every single one deserves a visit. Gettysburg National Military Park is a good place to start, but prepare yourself to be bombarded with national history no matter where you go.
We have incredible museums here. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Franklin Institute, The American Civil War Museum, The Carnegie Science Center, Please Touch Museum, The Andy Warhol Museum, Mutter Museum, The Rodin Museum…again, there are way too many to list.
11. We have some major state rivalries. Prepare to take a side.
Sure, you will find sports rivalries everywhere, but you can tell exactly which part of Pennsylvania someone is from by the colors they wear. The West, dominated by Pittsburgh, is all about yellow and black – both the Steelers and the Pirates wear these colors.
The East, Philadelphia’s domain, is a sea of red (for the Phillies) and green (for the Eagles). If you are a Baltimore Ravens or Dallas Cowboys fan…watch out!
The most important rivalry, however, is the great Wawa vs. Sheetz debate.
What, you might ask, are Wawa and Sheetz? Both are combination convenience store-gas station-fast food chains, but you will not truly understand their greatness until you experience it first hand.
Pennsylvanians declare loyalty to either Wawa or Sheetz with unmatched passion. While you can find both Wawa and Sheetz stores outside of the state, once you cross the border, you must declare your alliance. It’s pretty much an unwritten law.
12. Pennsylvania has the best snacks. You might think you know what a pretzel is, but you have no idea.
Sure, they’ve been around (literally) longer than we can remember (many place their origin date around 610 A.D.), but Pennsylvania perfected the art of pretzel-making. The Pennsylvania Dutch introduced handmade pretzels to the “new world” in the 18th century, and Philadelphia has become renowned for their incredible soft pretzels, which have an iconic S-shape and are served with brown mustard.
Pennsylvania is the cornerstone of the American pretzel industry – we produce 80% of them – and the average Pennsylvanian eats 12 times as many pretzels as the national average. You can find pretzels of all shapes and sizes (and both hard and soft varieties) just about everywhere…prepare to have your mind (and taste buds) blown by their deliciousness.
Just don’t ask what Scrapple is.
13. What is Pennsyltucky?
The larger cities in Pennsylvania occupy the opposite East and West edges of the state. The large central portion of the state is much less developed and rural. Some have named this region “Pennsyltucky” for its umm…”backwoods”…feel, but we don’t think this is quite fair.
Central Pennsylvania has some of the most beautiful natural forest land in the country, and is one of the best places to get out and explore, especially if you love to hike, bike, backpack, or kayak. Although the name makes us giggle, the jab at this part of the state is a little harsh. We love ALL of Pennsylvania!
14. You’re going to learn new languages.
Technically, they are all English, but once you hear them, you might disagree. We don’t blame you. Pennsylvania is the most linguistically diverse state in the nation – we have five distinct regional dialects and each follows unique rules regarding pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. You’ve heard the most widely used ones (Philadelphian and Pittsburghese) on TV and in movies…but once you are immersed in it, you’ll be adding many new words to your vocabulary.
This goes way beyond the “soda” vs. “pop” debate (as well as “subs” vs. “hoagies.” We warned you about the rivalries!). In fact, it’s impossible to try to even write out the different pronunciations here, so we’re just going to provide you with these videos as an introduction to these (not) foreign languages.
First up: non-Pennsylvanians trying to pronounce Pennsylvanian names. Youse guys / Yinz sound ridiculous.
This one’s a little trickier. Here’s what a auctioneer sounds like speaking in both English and Pennsylvania Dutch:
Whoa. Even we can’t keep up with that one.