A Reformed Yankee’s Guide to Dixie

A dear friend of mine is gearing up for a move from the bitter north to the south land. I thought I would put together a little primer for her and for anyone else who needs a little help with Southern culture.

Disclaimer:Β  I’ve been south of the Mason-Dixon for half my life now. I love it here. You couldn’t pay me (well, *maybe* if you paid me) to return to the Midwest. So if you’re Southern, and I upset you, bless my heart, go easy on me. I am, after all, a Yankee by birth. Some things can’t be helped.

  1. Be nice. You’ve heard of southern hospitality, right? So no getting antsy when the guy in front of you in line spends five minutes chatting with the cashier. Here it is common to freely engage in conversation with anyone and everyone.
  2. Beware the Carpetbagger’s Syndrome. No one likes it when you move to their area and tell them what they should do differently, or what back home is better than here. In the South, it’s a cardinal sin. Why?
  3. The South Will Rise Again. Understand the Civil War. Understand that most people here will grant that slavery was not a very honorable business. They want you to understand that the Industrial Revolution had not made it south of the Mason Dixon by the time the whole slavery debate got heated. The slavery issue and the resulting discord and war wasn’t so much about slavery as an institution as it was about destroying a people’s economy and way of life without considering that even slaveholders need to feed their families. Then came Reconstruction, which is when everyone that wasn’t from the South came down here to boss people around and show them how they ought to live. That’s why Southerners can be suspicious of outsiders, and that’s why the Civil War is still important here. You don’t have to agree on all of those points, but it would behoove you to understand and accept the Southern perspective.
  4. Sweet tea. It is the stuff of gods, but if you’re diabetic, you better learn to ask for Unsweetened, because the sweet stuff will kill you in the first sip. The default is sweet. It is a misdemeanor in Georgia not to serve sweet tea in a restaurant. No, I’m not fucking with you. Look it up.
  5. Pace versus Intelligence. Things run a little slower here. Part of it is the talking (see #1). Part of it is the heat. Mostly, though, it just is what it is. Be careful not to assume that a slower pace and a lovely Southern drawl indicate a lack of intelligence. Big mistake.
  6. Respect and deference. Things that don’t happen elsewhere are expected here. Call your elders and your higher ups ma’am and sir until they correct you. Children call adults “Miss Catherine”. People help the elderly, disabled, and the pregnant. People help each other more here, period, due to their willingness to approach strangers, and you will be looked down upon for letting the door close on someone with their hands full.
  7. Rednecks, Southerners, Hillbillies- these are the last group of people that society allows discrimination and bigotry against. Don’t do this. Just don’t. We all wear shoes down here, and we know ’bout the importance of good learnin’. Not cool.
  8. Re: discrimination and bigotry… race relations are a little different here. There are parts of the area and certain situations and company where you will here outright, flagrant, heart-wrenching racism. It will do you no good to argue. I have found that sometimes the victims of this nasty holdover will be more suspicious of friendly overtures than in other parts of the country. This is probably why.
  9. She’s such a whore, bless her heart. People in the South are more open about flying the crazy flag, and they have more of a tendency to call a spade a spade, though generally not to their face. Pointing out someone’s flaws or mistakes is not a sign of a lack of affection, either.Β  Read some Tennessee Williams and some Pat Conroy if you have more questions.
  10. Manners. People will be painfully nice to you here, even if they hate your guts. There are ways to tell, but how you are treated in a social situation is not one of them. Which is nice, at least, in that it makes things less awkward, once you understand what is going on.
  11. DO NOT TURN DOWN FOOD. EVEN FATBACK AND COLLARDS. Food is love.
  12. Buckle your Belt. This is the Bible belt. People are going to ask you what church you attend, or if you’ve found one. You have two choices if you’re not a churchgoer. You can admit that, and realize that it might mean you have to decline invitations for witness, or that you might lose points socially. You can also be Methodist. DO NOT BE UNITARIAN. The Southern translation is New Age Hippy. There’s no point in pretending to be Unitarian. The Methodists are cool.
  13. Buy Booze on Saturday. Most jurisdictions do not allow purchase of alcohol on Sundays. Some places allow it to be served by the drink, some not at all. Watch out for your dry counties, where you can’t buy it at all, even Monday through Saturday.
  14. Casual but careful. At work, the environment will likely be more casual than formal. From the dress code to tolerance of idle chatter and tardiness. Beware- you still need to hold to the rules of professionalism, until you get a feel for the level of tolerance. If your plumber is late, though, don’t expect him to fall all over himself about it.
  15. Honking your horn is pretty much unheard of here, unless you’ve counted to ten and the car in front of you still hasn’t realized that the light is green, or you are about to die in a fiery accident. Blinkers are optional.
  16. A lot of the people living here weren’t born here. So while all of these points are valid in my experience and that of others, as with anything else, they aren’t hard and fast rules without exceptions.

There you have it, lovelies. Most of these points are the reasons I love it here. Where else can you drink sweet tea while some stranger puts your spare on for you and tells you about his drunk of a cousin who can’t hold a job to save his life? πŸ˜‰

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9 Responses

  1. Yes, yes YES I LOVE THIS POST. Sweet tea IS the stuff of gods, I STILL call even my friends ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’ and use both terms with my parents still. Blinkers are SO optional and u-turns can happen ANYwhere.

    “Bless her heart,” is an ongoing joke in my family because you can say ANYTHING about ANYONE so long as you follow it with that, and you didn’t just talk trash about someone or talk behind their back.

    One thing I’d add – terms of endearment. I call people – boys too – “honey” and “sweetheart” and such. Sometimes I’m flirting. Often, that’s just my southern roots. πŸ™‚ I brought a boyfriend from MN down to Memphis with me one summer in college and he thought EVERY waitress was hitting on him when she’d ask “what kind of coke you want, sweetheart?”

    Oh – and Coke vs. Pop. That’s another. I may do a follow-up to this as I’ve wanted to address the “honey” thing before. πŸ™‚

    Yeah, people who bitch about terms of endearment have just not been called worse often enough. Glad you liked my post!
    πŸ˜‰

  2. I thought it was the War of Northern Aggression, or the War Between the States?

    I probably should have seen this list last August to help ease my integration into southern life. Also, I prefer un-sweetened tea, that should have been an early sign.

    I would say I’m a Yankee but I’m from California, so I’m not really anything, haha.

    Yeah, how did you Westerners escape a label?

  3. Very enlightening!

    I worked with a gentleman from Alabama once and he referred to the front desk staff as “hon”… People were MORTIFIED. I understood that it wasn’t meant as anything other than the fact that that’s how people from the South speak and he wasn’t trying to “belittle” or “objectify” women.

    And the above #2… there is NOTHING about where I am now that is better than pretty much anywhere in the South.

    Although I have never lived in the South, I have gotten reprimanded by bosses for calling them “Sir” here. Or Mr. Lastname…. the typical comeback is “Mr. Lastname is my father, you should call me Firstname”.

    I think the only real problem will be the “blinkers are optional” as that drives me absolutely insane. All I want to know, car in front of me, is what your intentions are.

    Will the fact that I refer to soft drinks that fizz as “soda” be an issue? *smile

    Well, the use of sir and ma’am is different down here. I call one of our senior managers by his first name, but if he calls for me, I generally say “yes, sir?”. Or at least I did until he told me I made him feel old, which will happen, but you should let them tell you that.

    Soda won’t get you into near as much trouble as “pop”, which gave me fits when I first moved down.

  4. Oh how true all of those “rules” are. Of course, I have always been on to call those older than me sir or ma’am. And, how true it is that the Southerner’s are a little skeptical of those that are outsiders (I deal with it all the time).

    Love the post, Cat. Wish I would have seen something like this about a year ago when I was getting ready to move down here.

    Yeah, I learned all this stuff the hard way too. πŸ™‚

  5. when my parents came down to visit a few months ago i’d already grown accustomed to being called “ma’am” by the 16 year olds shopping at forever 21 and kind of thoughtlessly started referring to mom and dad as “ma’am” and “sir.” at first my dad was like, “sweet! a little respect!” but it didn’t take more than three or four times before my mom’s obvious discomfort was finally verbalized and she was all, “STOP SAYING THAT. IT MAKES ME FEEL OLD.” and i just laughed and i was like, “HOW DO YOU THINK I FEEL?” i continued anyway, until it started getting to my dad a little bit too, and he was all, “hey. STOP IT. i’m on vacation and you’re making me feel like i’m still at work!”

    i love the south. πŸ™‚

    me too. πŸ™‚

  6. “It will do you no good to argue.”

    I didn’t start to really enjoy my time in the South until I learned and accepted that mantra.

    I still haven’t. Oh well….

  7. I love this! (however, I disagree about the honking of the horns….Atl rush hour is brutal!)
    But you are dead on with everything else! This is great!!!

    Outside of the city, though, you must admit- no one honks in F’ville, ever, now do they? πŸ˜‰

    • Well, now you have a point about the ‘Ville. I don’t think anyone ever has (except for me, with the massive road rage, lol)

  8. @msdarkstar-everything that fizzes is Coke in the South. I don’t know WHY we do it…..but even Sprite is Coke. Drinking Pepsi is unheard of, but if someone dares to do so…..they still refer to it as Coke….lol
    you will love the south. if you are moving close to atl, look me up, I’ll welcome you with a beer! (See, there is that Southern friendliness and hospitality ;p )

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