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A Northerner’s perspective after a trip to the South

December 30, 2010

Whenever I’d say that I’ve been to Florida and Texas, people would respond, “Oh that’s not the South!”  Well, now I can say I’ve been to the South.

I visited Boyfriend’s family in Smalltown, Louisiana over the holidays.  One of the few positives of the fourteen hour drive is that I really bulked up my “States Visited” list, adding Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  The other positives of the drive are being able to throw anything you want in the car and not be charged a checked bag fee, and… well, that’s it.

Upon our return to Chicago, I chuckled to myself as I felt like I did upon our return from Europe this summer; what strange customs these people have, some ridiculous, what are they thinking?, and some enlightening, why don’t we do this?

The South wins:

  • Friendliness.  The accent, the instant love of strangers, the hospitality.  On one of our three Chick Fil A stops, as we were buckling up and about to pull out of our parking spot, a guy knocked on our window.  Of course my initial thought was what is he selling and how do we get rid of him?  Turns out he’s part of the Metropolitan Biking Association or something to that effect; he saw our bikes on the back of the car, and invited us to come sit with him so he could tell us the best trails to try.  And what could’ve been an awkward, painful, and long experience, staying with Boyfriend’s parents and being with his family 24/7 for five days, was anything but that.  They were the ultimate hosts, cooking us delicious food, taking us out to eat, letting us use them for their Sam’s Club membership, planning activities like excursions to Moon Lake, the Coca-Cola museum, Antique Alley, and Christmas Eve mass. [Yes, I went to church!  And yes, I enjoyed it!  Probably because it was heavy on the singing and light on the sermon, and I didn’t have to stand and sit and kneel and stand and sit and kneel – learned that Baptists don’t move as much as Catholics.]
  • Dress.  Jeans and tshirts.  Was sure I’d have to wear ruffles and taffeta to church, but no, jeans and a sweater!  Wardrobes based on comfort are wardrobes I can get behind.  I often felt like the most dressed up, which never happens, and that was just because I had on a shirt that didn’t have a collegiate or professional sports team monogram.
  • Waffle House.  Like an IHOP but better.  You order hash browns smothered, covered, chunked, diced, peppered, capped, topped, and/or country. And they’re everywhere.  I usually hate chains but this is a chain I can get behind.
  • Y’all.  C’mon.  Miss _____.   Miss Sue Ann.  Miss Alice.
  • Incredibly strong bonds of friends and family.  Sunday night, Boyfriend’s mom got together all of Boyfriend’s childhood friends and their parents at Johnny’s Pizzeria.  Even though lives have taken many divergent paths, everyone acted as if they had just been playing mudball in the yard just days previous, instead of thirty years previous.
  • Subdivisions.  I hate them, but I like that kids can play in the street due to lack of traffic.  And many of the subdivisions we drove through had houses that were all different, as opposed to the cookie-cutter ones you often see.
  • The Big Green Egg.  A better way to grill.
  • Dessert pizza.  Cinnamon pizza, pineapple pizza, brownie pizza.
  • Sweet tea.
  • Biscuits.  Specifically Sister Schubert’s rolls.  Serve these at your next soiree!  Instant hit.
  • People’s names.  Crew, Bishop, Madison, Jackson, Cameron.
  • Integration.  While Chicago is diverse, it’s segregated diversity.  It was cool to see restaurants and stores filled with different races.  Though neighborhoods seem to be segregated, like it is here.
  • Option to flavor your pop with syrup [chocolate, vanilla, etc.]
  • Straws in drinks.
  • No tolls!  We didn’t pay any tolls the entire trip.  I can’t cross the street in Chicago without paying a toll.
  • Green bean bundles.  Green beans wrapped in bacon and covered in brown sugar.
  • Everywhere you go, someone knows you.
  • Chick Fil A.  The food was fine, but it was more the culture that enamored me.  The employees seemed to genuinely mean it when they said, “My pleasure” after each interaction.  And they were old and young, black and white, male and female; the most diverse fast-food employee range I’ve seen.  There was a woman dedicated to walking around to tables asking if people wanted free refills [see below for thoughts on refills].  Free mints and cheerios.  Uber-clean.  Soothing background music.  Closed on Sunday for God.
  • While I think I would miss snow and seasons, I think I could get used to sixty-degree December days.
  • Bayous.  More exotic than ponds and lakes.
  • No one wears bike helmets [much like Amsterdam].  Though no one bikes either [see below; not much like Amsterdam].
  • People in general.  We could use some of their warmth up North.

The South loses:

  • Must. Drive. Everywhere.  No sidewalks.  No bike lanes.  We saw three bicyclists and boy did they stick out.  We had to bike on the highway to get where we wanted to go.  No train.  A bus but it doesn’t seem to go many places.  I would feel incredibly suffocated, isolated, dependent.
  • One car per person per household.
  • All pop is Coke.  “What kind of Coke would you like?”  “A Sprite.”  That’s weird.  I could handle it being called soda.
  • Confederate flags.
  • High fives.  They high-five everything.  My wrist still hurts.
  • Subdivisions.
  • Car choices: SUVs, mini-vans, and pickup trucks.
  • Rotel dip.  It’s not that I don’t like it, I do.  But isn’t it just cheese dip?  Why the need to call it something so exotic?  After all that hype, I was disappointed not because it wasn’t good, but because it was something I’d had but with a different name.
  • Instances of stereotypical man as the dominator and woman as the submissive.  Cringed a few times upon hearing husbands talk to wives or wives tell stories of big life choices being made by the male with little if any input from the female.
  • Lack of blocks, lack of a grid system.  I like being able to say, “Go two blocks east and one block south.”  There you’d have to say, “Go to the first Waffle House, turn left, and go until you see the Love’s gas station, then take the first right.”
  • Strip mall central.
  • Yards are too big.  The vastness of the yards bothered me.
  • Animal heads in the living room.  In the bedroom.  Anywhere but on the body of a living animal, really.
  • Pepper jelly.  A greenish-yellowish jelly with peppers, spread on cream cheese, as a cracker dip.
  • Spitting tobacco on the floor of a bar.
  • Most houses are ranch-style, with only one level.  They have the space to build out, as opposed to us who must build up.  I like me some stairs.  Same for schools, malls, etc.
  • Grown-ups getting mad at kids who don’t say “Sir” or “Ma’am.”  I felt bad when I asked an eight-year old a question and she got in trouble because she didn’t Ma’am me in her answer.
  • Driving stick for the first time in eight years in Memphis, Tennessee, which is basically a clusterphuck of clogged highways.
  • Camouflage clothes.
  • Christmas ribbon.  Common to frame your home’s entrance with bright ribbon and plastic balls.
  • Lack of coffeehouses.
  • Caked-on make-up, bleach blonde hair, fake tans, and the most unnatural looking highlights.
  • Gravy.  On everything.
  • Not being able to buy ice [or anything for that matter] after 10PM.  Used to our 24-hour stores.
  • Obsession with sports, high school, college, and professional.  If I never see the color purple [LSU’s color] or a fleur de lis [the Saints’ symbol] again, it’ll be too soon.  Lawn signs like “Connor, Neville Panthers basketball” and “Haley, River Oaks cheerleading” are everywhere.
  • Pizza cut in long rectangles.  Pizza should first be in triangles and if necessary, in squares.

Things that don’t win or lose, but that stood out:

  • Free Refill Culture.  People make decisions based on refills.  Servers at fast-food restaurants come to your table, ask if you need a refill, and if you do, take your cup up to the machine.  Boyfriend once got up and got his own refill, the server looked horrified.  It’s common to ask for a To Go Cup and as you’re leaving, to fill up one last time; we’d finish our meal and all line up at the machine.  If the machine is behind the counter, it’s natural to ask the cashier.  People carry around Styrofoam cups everywhere.  I had more Diet Coke in the past week than I’ve had in the past year.
  • Hugs.  I like to hug.  But I like to hug people I’ve known for at least two minutes.  I’m not a hugger of strangers.  The South is a hugger of strangers.
  • Churches churches everywhere.
  • Cats and dogs roam free.  Tons of them wandering the neighborhoods.  We had two dogs follow us a mile when we went out for a walk; ended up having to drive them home.  I guess it’s cool that they don’t have to be chained up like in Chicago, but it still seemed odd.
  • Carports instead of garages.
  • Hunting is king.  I would never do it [I almost died cooking last year’s Thanksgiving turkey] and don’t like the concept, but I guess I could tolerate other people doing it.  Couldn’t believe how prevalent it is.  We had a car filled with deer meat on the way back, courtesy of Boyfriend’s Dad.  The first thing I was shown at their house was the as tall as me gun safe.
  • They love to talk food!  Eyes lit up when I said I’d been to Magic Grill, the Creamery, Johnny’s Pizza, Waffle House.  They excitedly wanted to know what I had, what I thought of it, how it compared to Chicago.  If you ever want to break the ice quickly, talk restaurants, grilling, or sauces.
  • Garages used for boats, lawn mowers, and freezers [to hold the deer you just shot]; cars parked in driveways.

A wonderful trip.  I appreciated how I was raised and the perks of big-city life, and I appreciated small-town ways and Southern culture.  I would definitely like more South in my future – the Carolinas, Alabama, Georgia.  Sounds like Nashville may be next on the list for a wedding, though I wonder if it’d be more fun for Boyfriend [and me?] sans moi since it’ll be his gaggle of closest friends, from college, with tons of inside jokes and references I don’t get and having to explain this and rehash that, but that’s another post for another day.  As a true Louisianan would say goodbye, Go Tigers! [high-five]

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Shannon permalink
    September 29, 2014 10:21 AM

    almost 4 years later, this was a fun read! I am from SC and my husband is from IL (not Chicago) so I can certainly appreciate your review!

  2. March 26, 2014 2:01 AM

    Lol. Born in cherokee north carolina and live in myrtle beach. Never been past virginia. I think it’s cool to see other places. Just can’t get around to it in the south. Lots of poverty here and ruined towns and people’s transplanted from up north so I don’t really have a good point of view on the subject. Both places I’ve lived got ruined by people from up north. So my opinion is rather that of a person who’s only seen the bad in you all. It’s not the direct attitude or dialects or fast pace but rather both places got swarmed by yanks taking the government of the town profiting and moving back while replacing their seats with good olé boys from up north. sorry guys.

  3. February 14, 2014 2:37 PM

    You’re basing your perceptions of the region based on the small part of it you spent time in. Sorry, but that would be like me basing my views of the Northeast based on the part of NJ I lived in for a year. And that would be a bad thing, b/c that part of NJ (near Philly and Camden) stinks.

  4. Tom permalink
    January 5, 2011 3:59 PM

    I’m not from the south, but I’ve spent enough time there to love the food and the people! FYI- Chick-fil-A is officially coming to Chicago!!! woohoo

    I grew up eating lots of Rotel dip – it’s just called that because it’s cheese dip made with Rotel brand canned tomatoes and chilies. Velveeta and Rotel actually joint market the recipe (and by recipe, I mean melt cubes of Velveeta in the microwave and stir in Rotel). I haven’t had it in years, but now I want some.

  5. Becky in Atlanta permalink
    December 31, 2010 11:39 AM

    I enjoyed that…good summing-up of some of the north-south differences.

    I live in the south–Atlanta–although it’s a bit different from the rural south. We have lots of coffeehouses; dogs and cats don’t run free; people ride bikes and wear helmets; not many people hunt or hang animal heads in their houses; not many confederate flags around (thankfully). The citified quasi-south?

    Come visit us in Atlanta! We might not be quite as friendly as some rural folks but we do have Waffle House! In fact, Waffle House was “invented” in a suburb of Atlanta.

    • January 2, 2011 2:46 PM

      Hi Becky,

      Thanks so much for your thoughts, very interesting to read!

      Atlanta is definitely on my list of places to check out. You had me at “lots of coffeehouses.”

      Hope you have a great start to 2011!

  6. December 31, 2010 9:01 AM

    This is a really cool article. Found thru twitter follower. Although, I would say gravy on everything is a positive:-).

    Good job!

    • January 2, 2011 2:44 PM

      Thanks DK! Your comments are much appreciated [including how you found the blog, always interesting to track].

      My nose-wrinkling at gravy means more for you, so win-win!!

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