Southern Culture Survival Guide For Northerners
Northerners who move to the South are almost always shocked at the cultural differences between a native Southerner and their 'Yankee' counterpart. Here's a carpetbagger's guide to assimilating in Dixie.
So you thought you could escape the harsh winters and economic uncertainty of the old Midwestern Rust Belt by moving down South, did you? You took one look at the endless sunny skies and beautiful Southern women and said, 'Now here's the place for me.' You're in the South, my friend, and assimilation into the native culture will be your only key to survival. Here's a few notes to get you past the rough spots, just in case they run out of tar and you're still here next year.
1. If you are invited to a Southern wedding, don't expect to be driven home by taxi at three in the morning after foolishly having fifteen too many. Southern weddings are conservative affairs, held mostly in the afternoons and catered by the same group of women who catered your grandmother's wedding. Punch, nuts, fruit and mints are about all you should expect for refreshments, and don't go looking for the endless champagne fountain- it won't be there, unless it is thoughtfully filled with the aforementioned punch. Southern women plan their weddings from age 5, so if you are fortunate enough to be the groom at such an affair, keep a respectable distance from anything that vaguely resembles a decision. Any Southern wedding that should happen to feature a band and open bar was probably financed by the bride's uncle from New Jersey. Native Southerners hire a singer or two for the wedding, never a band for the reception. Count your blessings.
2. If you think a Southerner's drawl sounds funny, you should hear how you sound to them. Yankees invariably speak ten times faster than is strictly necessary, and native Southerners do not share the same fascination for Northern accents as Yankees have for the harmonious and charming Southern accent. Never insist that a Southerner say something cute in front of your Northern visitors- for a Southerner, this is a prime opportunity to get some payback for the sacking of Atlanta. A true Southerner's attitude towards Northerners looking for cheap entertainment at his expense varies wildly from simple bemusement to 'I know where you live, Yankee boy.'
3. For a Northerner, a 'Coke' is that refreshing carbonated beverage marketed by the Coca Cola bottling company. To a Southerner, 'coke' is the generic term for any drink fizzier than Yoo-Hoo. If a Southern waitress asks you if you'd like a coke, be specific. Coca-Cola may very well be the default drink you'll receive, but expect a pregnant pause as the waitress gives you that one last chance to narrow down your beverage decision.
Another tip when you're a Yankee just looking for something cold and wet? Order the iced tea and thank me later. Southerners have perfected the art of making iced tea, and it is as commonplace as water in most Dixie restaurants. Yankees who may be used to the forceful bite of instant tea mix will be seduced by the promise of real brewed iced tea with enough added sugar to make the spoon stand on its own. You will have to search high and low for the hot stuff, but the iced tea flows wild and sweet and cold in the South.
4. Everyday conversations with the natives will invariably throw you for a full year or so. Groceries are put in a 'sack', hamburgers are eaten 'all the way', people 'carry' their friends to the store, directions consist of 'Up air a ways' or 'down yonder', and "Y'all" covers everybody. If you are a Northerner eager to assimilate, pick up bits and pieces of the language where you can, and try not to sweat the small stuff. You may actually earn a grudging respect from a native Southerner if you pepper your speech with a few y'alls and howeryew's. Whatever you do, do not launch into an affected Southern drawl until you've earned the right (pronounce 'rat') to have one. Southern hospitality has its natural limits, and inadvertently mocking the natives is one of them.
5. Be respectful of where you've been planted or transferred. Leaving the brutally harsh winters of Michigan or the comfort and security of the Pennsylvania coalmines may have been difficult, but remember where you are and who's paying you good money to be there. The worst conversation starter for a Yankee in the South goes something like this: 'Back in Indiana, we had good public transportation and the water was better and...' You blew it at 'Back in Indiana,...'. You may be absolutely deadon right in your observations, you may have put your finger right on the pulse of the problem, you may have illustrated your point beautifully, but here is the one cardinal rule of engagement you must never break. The battle cry of any Southerner anywhere is: 'We don't CARE how they do it up North!' Remember that rule to your dying day, and enjoy your stay in Dixie. Just don't ruin the furniture.