Tag Archives: pittsburgh

Same-Side Queers

James Santelli

Los Angeles, California

April 22, 2012

Folklore Type: Joke, Phrase

Informant Bio: James Santelli is my boyfriend. He is a twenty year old Broadcast Journalism major with a minor in Sports Media at the University of Southern California. He is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; he has lived there his whole life and is very proud of it. James is the youngest of three siblings.

Context: Last Spring of 2011 a friend tried to convince a group of James, our friends, and me that the wife of a jazz musician always wearing a blue dress to a concert is a thing. James’ response was it’s not a thing, not like same-side queers. Everyone just looked at him and said huh. James then found out that no one but him knew what on Earth same-side queers was, and tried to explain it to us. I asked him to try to explain it again.



J: Same-side queers is when you have a booth or table like with booth seating, and you’re eating. And there are more than two people overall at a table and you have two people sitting on the same side of a table and there are no people at the other one. This will occur if there’s only two people sitting at the table, or if there are more and one person gets up to go to the bathroom or something. And you are left in the situation where both people are sitting on the same side of the booth with no symmetry to it. And they are thus same-side queers.

A: And when did’jou learn of this terminology?

J: It was either late middle school or early in high school ‘cause our high school cafeteria had all these booth seatings um like throughout the whole cafeteria. (Alex holds up pinky finger implying James’ school was fancy) So… yes fancy indeed, but usually people would not purposely sit same-side queers together. But if there were three people and one would go to the bathroom they would be left as same-side queers, and labeled as such.

A: Why is it not same-side queers with three people sitting next to each other in a booth?

J: Well it could be, but the booths usually only sat like two people in each like little long chair.

A: Ok?

J: So there wasn’t really the space to sit three people on one side, (sweeps hand as if gesturing to other side) zero to another. There was really only room for two.

A: Oh, ok. I understand. All right so, uh who’d you learn it from?

J: I don’t know exactly. It was, it had to have been like some guy or group of guys in probably late middle school, just learning of this fact that sitting two on the same side would be considered same-side queers.

(Portion of interview cut out and placed into Informant’s Analysis)

A: So when would you like say this? Just whenever you see it or (gestures downward while spinning hand in circles)?

J: It would usually be when you had three people or four people, and one or two people would get up to go to the bathroom from the same side.

A: Yeah, I mean just like now? Like when would you; like same situation?

J: Nowadays it would be just yeah when I see it day to day in Parkside or in a restaurant or something, but the most fun part and I can give you this anecdote is when you have four total people. And you have two on each side, and let’s say one person on the inside had to get up to go to the bathroom. So the person on the outside would have to get up as well, but for that little period of time (both laughing) you’d still be labeled same-side queers because there’d be two on one side and not on the other. And then in some instances one of the people on the opposite side would get up so that they would not be labeled same-side queers because they would technically not be sitting two to a side until the other person got back.

A: D’, do people plan this out?

J: It’s just a thing you react to. (Alex laughs) You know the person on the other end is getting up to go to the bathroom so if you’re on the outside of the other side, you don’t wanna be same-side queers, so you gotta get up for a second til the other person whose getting up to allow the other person out gets back in. (Alex stares a little) This is a thing that happens! (Alex laughs)


Informant Analysis:

A: How is this experience important to you, and/or how has (laughs) it affected your life? Why do you do it? (Both laughing)

J: It’s, it’s somewhat humorous, if you look past the possible framing of it as homo-phobic. (Laughing) Just that there is this very idea of, you know, two people sitting on the same side and none on the other as being humorous in some way. But it kinda gives meaning to this thing that we all kind of notice in our day to day lives like even if you’ve never heard of same-side queers you’ve seen people sitting on the same side of something with nobody on the other side, and probably’ve been made uncomfortable by it. No matter if its two guys or a guy and a girl or whatever (slight laughing). You just think canchu sit opposite sides? Even if you’re on a date it’s kinda, kinda weird and off-putting. And for some reason we have a name for it and other people don’t know about it. (Laughter from Alex).


Analysis: On the one hand yes, the joke is somewhat humorous, but on the other it is an unsuspecting reinforcement of societal norms. The joke is learned and told mostly during the awkward teenage years of later middle school to high school. Boys are uncomfortable with their changing bodies and identity at this time. James specifically mentioned how two people sitting on the same side of a table alone makes others uncomfortable because it is unconventional. Sitting same-side queers is considered what is different than what is considered the societal norm which would make a person doing such a thing odd or even an outcast. A teenage boy struggling to figure out where he fits in most likely will not be trying to break the societal mold. By noticing same-side queers one is singling out those people as queer, or strange. (I also find the idea same-side queers interesting because that is how people sit on couches and talk, usually with a coffee table in front of them)

Alex Williams

Los Angeles, California

University of Southern California

ANTH 333m   Spring 2012

Pittsburgh Cookie Tables

James Santelli

Los Angeles, California

April 22, 2012

Folklore Type: Tradition

Informant Bio: James Santelli is my boyfriend. He is a twenty year old Broadcast Journalism major with a minor in Sports Media at the University of Southern California. He is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; he has lived there his whole life and is very proud of it. James is Catholic and has three siblings. He likes cookies.

Context: James’ sister Katherine got married right before this Spring Semester of 2012 started. I attended the wedding with him, and before I went we talked about what would happen during the wedding as I had never been to a Catholic wedding before. During this he mentioned how excited he was for the cookie tables. I had never heard of cookie tables before especially not at a wedding as I am an avid cake fan, and that is all people eat for dessert at an average Texas wedding. We got into a heated debate about cookies versus cake, in which he tried to explain to me the merits and tradition of the cookie tables. Much later, I asked him to re-explain the cookie tables to me.



J: So if you’re a Pittsburgher that’s having a wedding or you’re having your wedding in Pittsburgh you still usually have a wedding cake, but it’s a small cake. It’s not a huge cake, and instead of everybody having cake. They would have tables of cookies all different kinds of cookies. Your basic chocolate chip or sugar cookies, and then you have other ones, you know, peanut butter blossoms or snickerdoodles or pizzelles. All sorts of different kinds of cookies. So much so that at Katherine’s wedding (sister) What did it end up being? Like…ten cookies per person? And there were so many left at the end.

A: Oh my god. Boxes and boxes. Um all right, who makes the cookies?

J: The cookies are made by the family of the bride usually, a lot of it is done by the mother of the bride which is why my mom was working like almost (laughs) tirelessly making cookies in the few weeks before the wedding. (Still laughing) And like baking them and freezing them like all day, and then doing it another day. But she also got help from, you know, family friends that baked cookies as well. And, you know, cousins, sisters of my mom, or sisters in-law that baked some cookies themselves and froze them. And then it all has to get transported to the, to the site of the wedding reception.

A: Who does the transporting?

J: Uh, it depends on who can take them, like I know in this case my mom stored a lot of the cookies as much as the freezer can hold. And then Mrs. Bacala, our family friend, she like people would bring her the cookies, and she’d freeze as much as possible. And then some of them they would just order, and they would be catered. But I gotta think a majority of them were homemade.

A: Um, ok, um so it’s mostly like mother of the bride or like family of the bride I guess who pays for all of that?

J: Well their paying for the whole wedding anyway so they probably save money baking their own cookies rather than buying them.

(Portion of interview cut out and placed into Informant’s Analysis)

A: So when, when do you get to eat the cookies?

J: Get to eat the cookies after dinner unless you sneak some cookies before. It depends on if the like, if they bring out the cookies like right after dinner and place ‘em out on the tables, or the cookies are already sitting there. And you kinda know you shouldn’t eat them until after, but there are so many cookies so you gotta at least have one or two before dinner just to make a dent in them.

A: Is there not a cookie baron that gets mad at you (James laughs) for eating cookies too soon?

J: Nobody’s really guarding the cookie table (Alex laughs) so seriously. Everybody knows that those cookies have gotta get eaten, so it’s kind of with a wink and a nod that you (begins winking on every word) shouldn’t eat them before dinner.


Informant Analysis:

A: So how does the cookie table make you feel?

J: I like cookies! (laugh) So the cookie tables are definitely a plus in my book, and I also think it’s good because if you have just one wedding cake, and it’s the kinda cake that uh some guests may not really like they don’t really have a choice. They’re not eating the cake, but in the case of the cookie table then there are dozens of different kinds of cookies, myriad cookies. Even if you don’t like peanut butter cookies or whatever you’re bound to find a cookie that you like, and you can eat those for your dessert instead. Plus it’s just a Pittsburgh tradition to have cookie tables at your wedding. It’s something cool to have. The best guess (to how it started) is that it came from European immigrants, you know, either German, Polish, um Slovak, Irish, somebody that people are guessing that’s what they did in weddings back in the homeland. If they like didn’t have real big cakes. It was just people who were coming to the wedding but bringing cookies instead.

A: Ok, so it just stayed through tradition supposedly?

J: Probably. That’s what they guess.

A: And why do you think it’s still a thing today? Just because it’s…easy and tradition and..?

J: Well it kinda makes sense for me. It’s like I said to have the cookies that you have the variety of things, and I dunno it’s just Pittsburgh can be a very regionalistic place that obviously we’re all more nationalized and we have like wedding magazines that everybody reads all across the country. And like things that are the same amongst all weddings, but then you have things that are unique to the area that you live in. And just ‘cause they kinda develop that way, and if I’m a person that grows up and sees at all the weddings I go to that there are cookie tables that’ll probably continue when I get married or Kara (sister) gets married or Andrew (brother) gets married. And just passes down along that way.


Analysis: I agree with James about why the cookie tables are important to him and how they probably came into being a tradition. What is interesting is the fact that the mother of the bride is the one that makes all or the majority of the cookies. It is the mother’s matronly duty to prepare an important and beloved food item for the last time that her child will be seen as a child and in her care. A wedding is usually where a girl transitions from her family to creating a family of her own. The importance of the cookie tables seems to be a last attempt for a mother and other adult female figures to do something while the daughter of the bride is still acting as a child. The other aspect that connects to this mother and child mindset about the cookies is that people steal them before dinner. The common occurrence that almost acts as a joke refers back to the practice of children stealing cookies before dinner when they are not supposed to. Whether or not there was the same association between matrons and cookies among older European generations is unknown, but that association is alive today in early childhood and again in a Pittsburgh wedding.

Alex Williams

Los Angeles, California

University of Southern California

ANTH 333m   Spring 2012

The Legend of Joe Magarac

My father remembers learning about the legend of Joe Magarac in school. Although he doesn’t remember the exact grade he learned about Magarac, he remembers it was in elementary school, and he does remember learning it from one of his teachers as part of a lesson that included other tall tales like that of Paul Bunyan.

The story of Joe Magarac that my father remembers is that he was a hero to steelworkers in Pittsburgh, and a local legend. Legend has it that Magarac often performed near impossible tasks protecting other steel workers. My father remembers the particular story about Magarac’s death, which as I have learned is one version of the legend, there is another version where Magarac lives. The version that my father told describes how Magarac sacrificed himself by jumping into a Bessemer furnace in order to melt with the steel and make the steel, which was being used to make a new mill, stronger.

My father grew up when the steel mills were still a prominent force in Pittsburgh, and even worked in the mills himself in the 1970s. The area where my father grew up, Munhall, PA, is just outside the city and close to many steel mills, some historical landmarks in the neighboring town, Homestead, PA.


Annotation: Mention of Joe Magarac and his Pittsburgh Origins were mentioned in an article by Jennifer Gilley and Stephen Burnett in The Journal of American Folklore Vol. 111, No. 442. (Autumn, 1998), pp. 392-408.

Kennywood Russian Festival

Every year at the local theme park in Kennywood, Pittsburgh, there would be a Carpathian-Russian festival to celebrate heritage and go to the theme park. My grandfather often took his family because of the celebration involved and because of the community they were a part of, which was largely Slovakian.

My grandfather cannot remember if it was the park that started these festivals or if it was his community that decided to have the festival. They would be held at the picnic tables at the park, and there would be polka music always played by a live band and traditional polka dancing. The food that was often cooked was kielbasa, perogies, which are similar to ravioli, but have potatoes and cheese inside of them and foods more traditional to the Slovakian population. My grandfather also mentioned that they had poliopkis, similar to pigs in a blanket.

Other groups that would have similar picnics at Kennywood were the Italians and the Polish. The Irish did not as much, as they had a separate festival during the fall that they gathered and celebrated their Irish culture, although it became more commercial and was held at an amphitheater just outside the city. Kennywood festivals were special in that many people usually didn’t even ride the rides, they just paid the general admission fee to get in, (you could purchase single tickets to ride the park rides), and eat the good and participate in the celebrating.