Lucy: The Southern Tradition

As someone in an intercultural marriage, I spend a lot of time thinking about how our culture shapes us. It’s often through the foil of my partner that I’m able to see my own culture through clearer eyes—its predictability, its surprises, its insanity, and its joys. Our cultures are never as simple as stereotypes: my WASP family is infinitely more boisterous and loud than David’s Jewish one. But there are ways that our cultures are often inescapable (even as we try to modify them). It comes out in how I worded my feminist wedding invitations, and in the moment where I fed our kid his first solid food out of family baby Wedgwood. (Yes, that is china specifically for babies. I have two sets.)  Here, Lucy explores the for-better-or-for-worse influence of culture on our relationships. How does your culture come out in unexpected ways in the context of your own marriage? Meg

Thousands of Northerners and foreigners have migrated to it… but Southerners they will not become. For this is still a place where you must have either been born or have “people” there, to feel it is your native ground. Natives will tell you this… It is a loyalty to a place where habits are strong and memories are long. If those memories could speak, they would tell stories of a region powerfully shaped by its history and determined to pass it on to future generations. –Tim Jacobson, Heritage of the South

I remember the first time I hid my accent. It was in the seventh grade, as I was headed to class in the trailers that sat behind the school. My backpack was nearly my size at the time, so when two girls stepped onto the path in front of me I stopped so short the weight of it almost sent me flying to the pavement.

“Can you say yellow?”

Well, obviously. Most seventh graders understand how to say yellow. But they wanted to hear me say it. The person who they apparently knew from hearing in the halls could produce that telltale vowel slur. I concentrated very hard on emphasizing my consonants. A fit of laughter was my reward.

“And girl! Say girl!”

I said girl as flat as I knew how, but still they laughed. I pushed past, left them to their laughter, but the moment stuck with me. Now, when folks meet me for the first time, they’re disappointed. “I thought you would have more of an accent,” they sigh. I can understand the disappointment. It’s expected, as a part of what people believe it means to be Southern. Which is not at all what it means.

Being Southern does not equal the personality type associated with the gun-toting redneck, the Southern belle, the Honey Boo-Boo. If there’s anything that the academic world can tell us about being Southern, it’s that no one can agree about how to define Southern identity. It is a mashup of disparate cultures, a paradox held together by the inseparable burden of history—slavery, civil war, segregation, and even more violence that cannot be categorized. Thinking about it makes your brain want to wander off in two different directions most of the time.

It’s believed that because I identify as Southern, it’s easy to know the rules and traditions that I have been raised on and come to live by: I must value manners and my elders above all else. I cannot, under any circumstances, give away something that has been passed down to me, because my grandparents’ china is sentimentally worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox. The same goes for giving away family recipes, unless they’re being added to the local church cookbook for a charity drive. Don’t even think of dressing down for church, no matter how casual the members are. Cotillion and Junior League are required activities. The drink of choice is always sweet tea, and a love of pork jowl and collard greens is never optional.

Though a person’s public identifiers don’t equal what the whole of their life looks like, it’s certainly shaped my relationship. Bryan came to Georgia by way of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Florida. While he’s been here since grade school, he’s not from here. Our regional differences, like so many others, change how we navigate the traditions within our life together. Sometimes it’s silly things, like how much sugar is appropriate for one gallon of sweet tea or whether or not making pomanders can be described as a fun family activity for the holidays. Other issues require more serious discussion: whether I should change my last name and whether I should change my middle name to my maiden name (a Southern custom that’s also rarely thought of or brought up in the name change debate). In these discussions, our family backgrounds and traditions must serve as the context that we base our decisions on; as much as being Southern can act as a way of life, it is not a rulebook that I can follow any more than feminism is.

By seeing people’s backgrounds as the context of their lives, and not necessarily their rulebook, we can begin understanding more about how they choose to shape their future. Stereotypes might give us the shorthand account of a person’s identity, but it doesn’t always predict their choices.

Photo from Lucy’s wedding by Angelina of Asterisk Photography

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  • Manya

    Thank you for this post, Lucy. It really made me smile. I got my undergraduate degree in Anthropology and had a spectacularly unsuccessful first marriage to a man from Cote d’Ivoire. I also spent some seriously formative years in the South, so it resonated on a lot of levels. I know firsthand that there is a lot of joy to be discovered in reaching across chasms of difference (even as it can make certain things feel extra hard).

    My husband and I come from pretty similar cultural backgrounds but all the same: I’m a little bit country and he’s a little bit rock n’ roll, and it makes both of our lives richer.

    • I studied anthropology too! Anthropologists unite!

  • I worked so hard to get rid of my awful Wisconsin accent and would certainly not choose to have it back (though it does pop out at times, particularly when I’m tired or upset) but I find it endearing and comforting in others. The longer I’m away from the Midwest, the more I realize how much being a Midwesterner shaped me. It’s especially obvious in contrast to my Southwestern-raised Indian American husband. The more I understand his culture, the more I see where his relentless drive comes from. Quite honestly, Mindy Kaling’s book helped me understand this better, though I’m sure she didn’t intend for it to be educational. We joke a lot about our cultural differences, but it’s been really important that we’re aware of them and can talk about how we were raised and our expectations, especially now that we’re considering becoming parents. It’s looking likely that we’ll have pretty different approaches to a lot of things, but hopefully in ways that will balance. Any kids we have will likely be pretty rootless, geographically speaking, as Navy brats, so it’ll be interesting to see what they get from each of our backgrounds.

    • The funny thing is that, in Wisconsin, we like to pretend that we *totally* don’t have any accent. Except for the part that we totally do. :)

      Might I ask whereabouts, originally?

      • Lindsey d.

        Yeah, the Wisconsin/Northern Illinois accent is particularly strong…. My grandmother got rid of her after leaving the farm to get married in her 20s, but her twin sister stayed and so did her accent.

        Of course, this is said by a girl from Louisiana. (I can do a whole run down of Louisiana accents; there are four distinct ones).

      • I’m from Janesville, how about you? And yes, my mother maintained for YEARS that there is no Wisconsin accent. Mine particularly comes out on anything with potential to be nasally. The word “on” is especially bad. And it took me a long time to smooth out “bag” from “bee-ag”. A friend who moved away called everything a satchel for a while to escape the mocking.

        • My language patterns were set in Milwaukee (bubbler, soda.)

          And apparently my sister and I say the word “bagel” funny, just like Britta on Community:

          Wisconsin Accent challenge seems interesting:

          • I didn’t think that guy had much of an accent. It was pointed out to me that I put an L in both, as in “bolth”. Also an extra syllable in school, “schoo-el”. I almost asked if you were a bubbler person. I’m a non-Milwaukee person, so I say drinking fountain and pop. I used to say water fountain, but all of the bubbler people at college would tell us that a water fountain is the thing outside a fancy building. I gave up saying pop as soon as I moved out of the state. Also, I don’t know if the ATMs there are still TYME brand, but I got really funny looks the first time I told someone in DC that I needed to go to the TYME machine. For good reason, once I thought about it. I just pinned a recipe for kringle. It’s a lot of work, which is probably good or I’d make it too often. I do miss kringle. And cheese curds. And Culver’s, Rocky Rococo, and Cousins Subs. Ah, Wisconsin.

  • Cass

    “Other issues require more serious discussion: whether I should change my last name and whether I should change my middle name to my maiden name (a Southern custom that’s also rarely thought of or brought up in the name change debate)”

    Really? To me this seems to be very common all over the US. I know tons of women who have done it. I don’t think it’s a strictly Southern custom.

    • That could very well be true, I didn’t do any research on it. I say it’s a Southern custom because that’s how it’s been been presented in most places where I’ve looked or read, and that’s what I’ve always been told.

      Speaking only from what I know of personal family history and names, it feels like the maiden name as middle name is a custom that’s gained more popularity and weight with the progression of women’s rights and the feminist movement, but perhaps started in the south much earlier than that. Most of the women in my family tree, as far back as the early 1800s, were only given a first and last name, and then kept their maiden as a middle name after marriage.

      • I think it speaks back to the custom. My fiance’s sisters were only given first and last names and they live in PA. It’s a family tradition though. None of the women in that family are given middle names at birth.

        When I first heard that his sisters didn’t have middle names, I really disliked it. I hate the overtly implied “you must get married to be a complete human being” statement that comes with it. However, it’s tempting to change my middle name to my maiden last name (I’ve always hated my middle name). I’m trying to figure out if I can do it while maintaining my stance that although we are equal partners in our relationship, I am a whole person in my own right. Am I reading too much into this?

        • I think you’re allowed to read as much or as little into your own name and naming decision as you like. Names have ridiculous amounts meaning, but everyone values it differently with respect to their other views.

          Interestingly, I chose to drop my maiden name entirely in favor of my middle name, because my middle name is actually my grandmother’s maiden name. Because there’s also a tradition in some families that mothers will pass their maiden name on as a middle name (not sure if that’s southern or not), which is what my grandmother did, giving my father her maiden name as his middle. My father then did the same, passing his mother’s maiden name to me as my middle name. Long story short, our family is more tied to my grandmother’s side of the family than any other, so it was more important to me to keep my middle name as an homage to that. Talk about reading too much into it. ;)

          And, as if there needed to be more naming customs in my family, on my mom’s side every first born girl has a name that starts with the letter L, going back at least 6 or 7 generations. Crazy pants.

          • Passing along the maiden name as a middle name is definitely not just Southern. My aunt did the same, and she’s Irish. So a tradition practiced a little more widely.

        • Sarah NCtoPA

          I am changing my last name and keeping my middle name, as my family calls me Sarah Beth. Since I got my last name from my father, I like to joke that I’m already a by-product of patriarchy and as such have no problem trading men’s names. I am from PA and live in NC and I think the birth name as middle name is Southern too. Interestingly, PA does not allow a woman to change her middle name when she gets married (along with a few other states). However I learned this “fact” in a “Miss to Mrs.” name change kit I got on Groupon so it’s not really verified.

          • One More Sara

            I’m guessing your “product of patriarchy” joke is meant to make light of a heavy decision (and perhaps to put an end to unsolicited advice/opinions), but it really aggravates me when people say well “I’m just switching from my dad’s to my husband’s name, so it doesn’t matter!!” It implies that neither name is your own, that you will never actually have your OWN last name. Sure, my last name came from my father, a man I love, and it belonged first to his father, a man I never met and from what I hear, was a huge asshat. BUT my name is my own. If I were to change my name (which, spoiler alert: I’m not), my new name would still be MINE, it would just be new.

            (I also use humor to deflect too-personal questions about my name-keeping. My partner’s name starts with an H, so I say that I’ve been trying to get people to leave H’s off my name [Sara] for 25 years. No way am I going to throw one in voluntarily. I don’t think using humor to deflect is bad, but this particular joke really gets under my skin)

          • Sarah NCtoPA

            Sorry Sara, not my intention to offend. I truly thought my insight was original–I never heard anyone say name change “doesn’t matter.” Name change is a big deal. My genealogy-loving partner is very big on traditional name change (mainly for record-keeping/research purposes), so I’m happy to take his last name. For me, name is just one of many parts of my identity. And you’re right–my new last name will become my own.

      • Jashshea

        I’m a New England transplant in the South who did the maiden-to-middle switch. I didn’t know that it was a Southern tradition until reading that previously on APW. I just really identified with my maiden and my middle was take-or-leave.

        That being said…As someone who was raised amidst/amongst Catholic culture (I rarely “practiced” but did all the kid sacraments) it makes sense to me that changing the middle name wouldn’t be a more popular option in Catholic cultures. Seems to me that middle names are often the Confirmation name or the name of a Saint (or both if you’re like me) and maybe have a bit more meaning/weight.

        To be clear, this is all anecdotal. Not implying that I’ve studied/read up, etc. Food for thought.

        • I was raised Catholic, and your confirmation and middle names are different. In my experience, middle names are given by your parents at birth and are legal names, and confirmation names are chosen, usually from names of Saints, and usually not legal.

          Also, I really like my middle name, so I elected to keep it. It’s the most unique name that belongs to me.

        • Megan

          I’m Irish Catholic, family has been in New England since the famine – all the women in my family that I know of (on both sides) have changed their middle name to their maiden name. This is also what I will be doing in a couple months. Just thought I’d add to the anecdotes!

      • Seraph

        This is something that actually bugs me–it feels like erasing *even more* of a woman’s name in favor of a married name. I knew a family at church growing up who gave their daughters “throw away” middle names that didn’t have any meaning to them because they would lose them anyway when they got married. If I was one of those girls, I’d be pissed when I learned that’s why my parents have me that name. I’m North Carolinian, by the way–and the idea that this might be kind of a Southern thing makes sense? Because every time I see the maiden-as-middle thing come up on APW as some brilliant new feminist alternative I’m just bewildered, because it always seemed the opposite to me.

        I’m struggling with the married name issue now–I’ve always said I’d keep my name, but suddenly 8 days out from my wedding I’m not sure. But giving up my middle name seems especially weird.

    • My Southern mother internalized this tradition so completely that she didn’t *give* me a middle name, because I was just going to drop it when I got married. (In the meantime I had to spend my life with a weirdo first name and no alternatives, thanks Mom.)

      I think it’s still regional – when I got married the first time, in Arizona, (where last-to-middle is a Latina custom too) I had the option to change my entire name, but the second time, in Washington, the woman at the DMV looked at me like I was nuts when I said I wanted to change my middle name, and she eventually agreed to let me drop it altogether since I didn’t use it on my marriage license. (I was going to use my mother’s maiden name instead of my own, for reasons.)

    • meg

      I actually don’t think it’s a Southern tradition, I just think it’s a more old fashioned tradition (old fashioned, formal sort of tradition, hence used a lot in the South, probably). This is what my mom did (she’s since dropped her maiden middle, for a variety of good reasons). Half my family is Southern, but my mom is from the formal northern WASP side.

  • Having lived in Tennessee my whole life, I find it interesting that urban, college-educated women are practically old maids if they’re not married by 25 only in the South. THAT was a fun inner-narrative to fight when I was 27 and on the heels of a just-ended five-year-long relationship, and yet if I’d lived anywhere else I may never have had that voice in my head :)

    • I think it depends on your family/community. I started feeling pressure to get “settled down” i.e. engaged/committed/ serious when I was 23. I’m going to be married by 26… which my grandmother is very excited about because apparently I’m nearing my expiration date…

    • meg

      This is the bit I’ve found FASCINATING over the years with readers. Having lived in NYC for years we felt shockingly young and slightly irresponsible getting married at 29. In the South it’s a whole other ballgame.

      • H

        Tell me about it. I moved from Atlanta to another part of the South when I was 22, and I was SHOCKED by how many people were married in my age bracket when I got here. SHOCKED, I tell you. I’m 26 now, and just got married, and realize that I’m still young to get married.

      • Kat

        I’m glad you find this interesting because it has been my life since I was 17. I grew up in Texas with a good southern family who exclaimed, “Oh no! You’re going to marry some Yankee, aren’t you?” when I left for college in the Northeast. Fast forward seven years, and all my high school friends married straight out of college while I was still in law school, and I will be the FIRST of any of my college friends to get married (at what I consider a staid and respectable 26) next year. My wonderful college roommate (a Manhattanite who thought I was crazy when I showed up with monogrammed pillowcases and still lovingly thinks I’m crazy today) will stand with me as my bridesmaid, although she thinks my to-be-husband (also a Texan hooray!) and I should take some more time to decide.

        I think the early marriage thing comes down to a few competing desires (although this list is not exclusive): (1) wanting to be considered an adult (which I am not in my family, despite the fact that I am a licensed attorney who pays her own bills and has her own household), (2) wanting to live with/ travel with one’s partner without the stigma, and (3) an incorrect perception that getting married is the answer to having a fulfilling, complete life – that it is the finish line, rather than the starting line. It took me a while to get to the right place, and I certainly wasn’t there at 22 (although I am sure there are people who are).

        • That last paragraph entirely. I’m going to add another point though.

          4. To give your relationship validity in the eyes of family. We have a long term relationship (a multiple of years) but his family never saw me as a part of the family. It stung when his brother’s fiance was included in family portraits and was called family just after the engagement, when I’ve always been classified as an “other.” It was definitely a factor in our engagement.

          It’s weird to see how society values weddings in different areas.

      • Angry Feminist Bitch

        I’m from the South (like, Jamestown Colony), went to college in the South, have mostly Southern friends, and everyone in my peer group thinks marriage before 29 is rash and possibly immature. We’re in our early-mid-30s now, and almost everyone has gotten married in the past three years, very few before age 30. But we’re also all equal- or primary-earners in our partnerships, have graduate degrees, etc. So I think the “upper middle class” markers are overpowering the “Southern” markers, at least amid the women I know.

    • Moe

      It may not be entirely southern. Coming from a Mexican-American culture women unmarried at 30 is a tragedy of sorts, AND without children?! Aye dios mio!!

    • It’s the same in my religious culture, regardless where you live. I was 31 when we got married and he was 34. A lot of people had given up any hope of us ever getting married.

      • Yep. Having living in the south and in another region with a strong religious culture (Utah), it’s the same. Case in point: A very nice, well-meaning woman’s response to hearing I wasn’t married at 27 was “But why not?! You’re so cute!”

        • Yup. Utah is exactly where I heard all sorts of comments like that. At least I’m a woman. The comments to the men aren’t so “nice.”

  • Samantha

    I feel like I’m in the middle of a culture war with my Southern future-in-laws. I’m from Indiana (although it is much more country where I’m from than Memphis where the FI is from). I’m actually having a hard time distinguishing if cultural differences are the problem or if his family is just nuts. His mother freaked out about our recent engagement. Told him she doesn’t want either of her sons getting married. I’m wondering if southern mothers cling particulary hard to their sons or if she’s just out of her mind (leaning towards the latter). But also his family is very matriarchal with the grandmother controlling absolutely everything- down to what each family member puts on their plates at the dinner table. She and I got into a “debate” where she tried to force me to eat polk salad at dinner. I refused. Where I’m from it’s not okay for someone to dictate what a 24 year-old eats. I make the choice of what I’ll eat- not somebody else. Again, is this southern cultural or just crazy family cultural? I’d hate to blame the whole south for their problems.

    • I grew up in Memphis. Memphis is a whole different kind of bag of crazy. :)

      That said, it sounds like a very serious case of Momma’s Boy (on the MIL’s behalf, not your fiance’s necessarily). I’ve encountered it myself. Maybe it IS a Southern thing and I just have no outside context, but I don’t believe it is.

    • I’d chalk that up to just his family. Maybe it has roots in a twisted version of Southern tradition, but it sounds pretty particular.

    • KE

      Yeah, a complete and total lack of boundaries isn’t a regional thing. That sounds specific to your future in-laws.

      • Samantha

        Ha yeah, lack of boundaries, well said.

        • KE

          Ps- I realized that sounded a little snarky, and I didn’t mean it to. Thanks for taking it as I meant it. And good luck! (again, said in a non-snarky way)

          • Samantha

            No problem, and thank you!

      • meg

        Or specifically, total lack of boundaries isn’t specific to a *particular* region, that kind of crazy shows up in all regions now and then, alas.

        • Samantha

          Yeah, I think the only reason I was kind of attributing it to regional differences is because if it was a regional issue then it’s not so much of REAL issue. Like if it’s just how they are because of where they are from then maybe it’s not as bad than if it’s due to things like lack of boundaries and just plain bad behavior. I’m officially out of denial. They are very problematic and I/they can’t blame it on where they are from. I feel a therapy session coming on soon…

          • meg

            Indeed. Fist bump lady. That stuff is hard serious work, because you really do have to live with it forever, so you have to come to terms with what it means.

            Marriage, man.

    • Carrie

      Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and say that’s just crazy family. I was born and raised in North Carolina and neither one of those things (clingy moms or over-controlling grandmothers) is something I’ve encountered much of.

      A (stereo)typical Southern grandmother might well try to push food on you, but (a) she’d do it with extreme politeness and (b) once you said “No, thank you” to the salad, she’d switch to offering you a different dish. “Oh, honey, would you like some salad?” “Oh, no thank you.” “Are you sure? Can I get you some casserole instead?”

      Weird family dynamics can happen anywhere. I think this is a “weird family” thing, not a Southern cultural thing.

    • Vera

      I’m from North Carolina (admittedly the urban-college part but still) and in the South food and family are really big deals. She could feel like you were insulting the cook by refusing the food.

      • One More Sara

        My German-immigrant great-grandmother would always insist that my mom needed to eat more (esp when pregnant). Two hilarious things would happen. When Oma was sitting next to my mom, she would just serve my mom more food when the plate was empty. After my mom stopped sitting next to her, Oma would still offer her more food and if she refused, Oma would ask “What you don’t like it? Are you sick?” So, I think it might be more of an old-school grandma thing from the times when people weren’t so worried about carbs and saturated fats (not to mention a lot of these grandmothers were young during war rations or the depression, so their habits are to eat what you are served)

  • Emily

    “I cannot, under any circumstances, give away something that has been passed down to me, because my grandparents’ china is sentimentally worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox.”

    Thanks SO much for this cultural insight! A couple of years ago, I sent a thank you note to the aunt and uncle of a friend from New Orleans, whom I stayed with for a few days before my friend’s wedding. It was kind of a janky card my grandmother made, with “Thank You” cross-stitched on the front. This seemed like a “practice” peace of grandmother, who normally makes much more elaborate and high-quality embroidery pieces and woven fabric. I also didn’t feel bad about giving it away, since it was intended to be stationery, and I have lots of other stuff from her.

    Several months later, I received the card back from the aunt and uncle! (Just the outside; there was an insert I wrote my note on.) They said they couldn’t possibly keep something my grandmother made (I mentioned it in my note since I thought they’d appreciate it more), and they were sending it back to its rightful owner.

    I was a bit upset that they didn’t seem to value my offering. My long-winded story, though, is a long-winded way of saying that your explanation now makes me understand the sincerity and root of their return. Thank you!

    • Oh they totally appreciated your offering, I bet. But I would have done the same thing. I can’t possibly keep something your GRANDMOTHER gave you! That belongs to you and any kids you might have!

  • Angela

    Slightly off topic, but since I’m currently working on the invitations step of wedding planning, I’m really interested in what Meg mentioned about the “feminist wording” for wedding invites. Was there a post about this? If so, I’d love to get the link.

    • meg

      We’re talking about it THIS AFTERNOON! Open thread, though I think we’ll round it up too.

      • YES. Because I have just been addressing STDs (no, I will never not call them that) and I absolutely refuse to ever write “Mr and Mrs Man’s Name Here” and even threw a fit that I had to write John and Jane Doe (if they had the same last name) because I felt like that robbed both of them of their individual identities.

        It’s POSSIBLE I’m choosing to worry about this in the face of worrying about shizz I can’t control right now, but I still think it’s an important discussion to have!

    • Catherine B

      I think it’s this one:

      Vaguely related: we received our first piece of mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Fiance’s first Fiance’s Middle (the name he goes by) Fiance’s Last yesterday. The wedding is Saturday! And so it begins.

      • Marcela

        We got one on Saturday and I straight up said to the guy, you better open it because there is no Mrs. HISFIRST HISMIDDLE HISLAST here.

        • Slightly unrelated, but as I organised all the phone/electricity accounts when we moved in together, they’re all in my name. So now we get telemarketers calling up all the time, and if the man of the house answers, they’ll say “Oh, is this Mr HerLastName?” to which he’ll reply, “There’s no-one here of that name, mate, sorry.” and hang up :)

          • Not Sarah

            I used to get telemarketers looking for Mrs. MyLastName and I’d say “There’s no such person at this number.” because, hello, that’s my mother! I’ll never be Mrs. MyLastName unless I marry someone with my last name! I love it too much, haha.

  • Catherine

    Love this post! I’m a Southerner as well, from North Carolina :) But now I’m in LA, but I will always be a Southerner ;)

  • Class of 1980

    I think the south can be impossible for outsiders to decode. It’s full of paradoxes and it’s probably the most misunderstood region in the country.

    A lot of things people think are “southern” only exist in a certain class and it seems the southern lower classes represent the south in people’s minds for some strange reason. (Hello Honey Boo Boo)

    One of the biggest cultural gaps is that people relocating to the south from the north misunderstand the role of politeness here. That a southerner will still be polite to you even if they don’t like you, confounds them. They usually decide it means southerners are “fake” and say they prefer the more blunt style of the north so they know where they stand.

    They don’t understand that to a southerners way of thinking, you don’t need to add unpleasant behavior to a bad situation … life is challenging enough as it is. Politeness is highly valued as a way to make daily life more pleasant for everyone.

    A southerner will never care how smart you are, as much as they care how polite you are. ;)

    • Justanotherblue

      I was trying to exactly your comment on my stupid phone and hit the report link instead. I am so sorry, and strongly agree with your comment.

      • Class of 1980

        Do I have to go to the principals office now? ;)

    • KE

      Well put. I briefly attended college in the north and vividly remember wailing to my high school friends, “Why can’t they just be nice to my face? I don’t care if they like me, but at least say hello in the hall!”

    • My mom always says, “Hatred is no excuse for rudeness.” So no matter how much I dislike someone, I will still politely ask them to pass the salt. Drove my New Jersey-bred ex-husband nuts.

      If we already don’t like each other, why compound the issue by being rude? Plus I think the whole South deep down really believes you CAN kill ’em with kindness. :)

      • But if you can’t kill them with kindness, you can gossip about them in private.

        I think that’s what I find most interesting about the idea of southern hospitality. It’s extremely important to be polite (and/or proper) in public. However, “gossiping” about people when they aren’t around, privately, is not considered rude. You’re just relating your bit of news about the community, which is typically composed of whoever recently misstepped or embarrassed themselves publicly. If you don’t want to be a part of the town gossip, then you better be proper when you’re out. Or don’t, but know you’ll be talked about (which is fine too). The circle continues.

        Kathryn Stockett (author of The Help) wrote a great piece about it for Atlanta magazine that I think is hilarious and spot on.

        • meg

          Or as my southern grandmother used to say constantly, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Her steely silence was somewhat legendary. She was always perfectly polite, but what she didn’t say was often where the message was.

          • Class of 1980

            Oh yeah … the SILENCE. ;)

        • Yep, the gossiping often begins with the classic, “Well, bless his heart, would you believe….”

      • As a Jersey girl myself, I will be civil to people I don’t like. I understand the necessity of it. But I will never be warm to them, or go out of my way to talk to them. I would consider it a waste of my time and energy.

    • SusieQ

      I’ve found that my Southern accent brands me a “nice girl,” which can be handy. Although I’m not actually nice, I’m just polite.

    • Joy

      I’ve had this problem in reverse. Last year, we moved from Charleston, SC to Providence, Rhode Island for my husband’s residency and I’ve been a little shocked at how strangers talk to each other. I’ve gotten used to it now that I realize it’s more a cultural thing rather than outright rudeness, but it’s not a way that I feel comfortable speaking. I also think my SC resume and politeness have affected my job prospects. At every interview, I’ve been told they were shocked that I don’t have an accent and asked if I could handle the personalities I may meet and have joked about hunting/guns/marrying cousins/conservatives/Confederate flags. On the plus side, we’ve both had numerous people explain confusion and delight at our manners. In the south, we would just be normal.

      On an unrelated note, are there any APWers in Providence?!

      • Brittany

        Welcome to New England :) My DH grew up an hour from Providence and went to college at JWU in the city. We live in NH now but visit Providence often.

        I’ve lived in New England my whole life so this is all I know, but you all are making the South sound so nice! I try hard to be a polite person, and I’m often amazed at how rude strangers can be, but I assumed it was an American thing, not a regional thing. So its interesting to think that this isn’t the case in other parts of the country.

        I haven’t ever visited the South and travel isn’t in the budget right now, but I do hope to someday!

        • Joy

          Thanks! My husband has family in NH and MA. Despite the initial cultural shock, we like it here. The lack of giant bugs alone was worth the move. Also, being able to drive/ride a train to about seven different states in a reasonable amount of time is fantastic.

    • Aubry

      I am Canadian, and I am always shocked at how rude northern Americans can be! And not intentionally, it is just their way. I have lived in Vancouver all my life (a strange mixture of Canadian “niceness” and big city yuppy rudeness) but my family is all from Alberta – the wild west! Albertans, as described by my newly minted fiance (yay), suffer from a “glorious lack of sophistication.” I have never been to Texas, but I would love to visit and compare my loved and familiar cow-boy hat and oil money Albertans to the Texans!

      As a Canadian, I agree that adding rudeness to the situation doesn’t help anything. I definitely encounter it, but try not to send it back.

      • I am from Texas (hello!) and work with people from Calgary. We polite-talk ourselves to death, but then they frustrate me when they don’t want to actually ever talk business. Texans are polite to a point, I think, but when it’s time for business, it’s time for straight talk. (Or maybe that’s just the Engineering world, I don’t know!)

        • Meagan

          Haha- from Texas as well and in Finance. The first 10 minutes of every meeting is getting caught up, chatting and niceties. But then serious business- we may cloak a harsh comment in sweetness and “well I can see your point, but” as well as the famous bless your heart. But fundamentally the point will get expressed. Texas has always been quasi-southern, quasi Wild West. I think the combo stems from that.

          Niceties aside, I do love men opening my doors, please and thank you, ma’am and sir. (My husband is working on all of that – he just has the boots.). To confirm above, I had two grandmothers that were ahead of their time, both serious businesswomen. Both would sashay and flirt with the best of them and deliver killer blows with a smile, some nice words and a joke. Wit and manners could get you out of any problem. There was never steely silence- they would change the subject or the venue and you would know that you were dismissed. In my family, you knew you had messed up when you were asked if you needed a drink- soon enough you would be up and getting yours and hers and cut out of the conversation!

          Sidenote- I had no idea I was being southern when I moved my last name to my middle. But how else are people supposed to know where you are from? I was hired in 2002 at a major bank because , and I quote, ” you are from good people”. Ha!

          • Ris

            Oh my goodness yes. I’m from the Deep Coastal South (from five generations of bay fishermen), and I replaced my middle name with my maiden name after I got married. Gotta keep that family name visible!

            And yes, I could get a job at our local bank in a second. And yes, I’m kin to the sheriff. And yes, all the public school teachers are nieces and nephews of school board members. Some small-town Southern stereotypes really do hold true in the right communities.

        • Class of 1980

          Erin, I hear that.

          Yes, even southerners get down to business and are straight-talkers compared to Canadians and Europeans. We just lay it out there, but I think that’s just plain American business behavior.

          We get down to brass tacks and try to hammer out everything ahead of time. They negotiate and then sometimes come back and renegotiate the whole thing a few months later.

          And then there’s the speed issue. In Europe they feel Americans are demanding and want everything yesterday. We do, but we can’t change it because our fellow Americans expect service yesterday. Completely different standards for returning phone calls and e-mails too.

          I tried to not be that American, but I gave up. Now I just tell my contacts that I can’t slow down the culture here. We laugh about it. And probably it helps that I freely admit the things about the U.S. that are bonkers.

          My contacts in the U.K. admit we have better customer service here, but some of them think it’s all robotic fake niceness. We don’t see it that way; we see it as them doing their job.

          It’s all what you are accustomed to and a sense of humor goes a long way.

    • As a NJ native who moved to Texas, one of the things that astounds/bothers me is the need for strangers to talk to you. All the time, every place! It’s like…I don’t know you, we’re just sharing a bit of sidewalk, let me go about my business. Back home, we just had that little head bob that says “I see you and acknowledge you exist.” Doesn’t exist here.

      Also, the sheer amount of random men telling me to smile here. I got catcalled back home, but no one acted like it was my responsibility to be cheery. And I’m not frowning dammit, this is just my face when I’m not expressing any particular emotion.

      Texas was seriously a bigger culture shock than London or Paris, for me.

      • Heh, that bothers me even as a southern native, possibly because of being an introvert and being terrible at small talk when I don’t particularly want to be spoken to. Elevators are the worst. I carry around a small book to stick my nose in because some days I just really don’t want to deal with pleasantries. Which means I’ve reread Fahrenheit 451 about 20 times, because my copy of it is conveniently purse-sized.

        • May I suggest investing in a kindle? Conveniently purse-sized, ergonomic, and holds lots of reading material at once. Mine was my best friend last conference I went to, where I had two long flights each way with some sitting in the airport in between. I ended up reading about 4 books that way and it was so much lighter and easier than lugging around a pile of paperbacks.

          • Oh I have Nook, but I’ve noticed that a fair amount of people still seem inclined to small talk despite the fact that I am looking at a screen, as compared to when I have a real book. That, or my office building is just filled with people who don’t understand what boundaries are. Possibly both.

          • Not Sarah

            Like Lucy, I’ve had people on planes ask me what I’m reading despite the fact that I’m reading on my Kindle. It has all the benefits you mention (purse-sized, lots of reading material), but people still ask me what I’m reading. I really don’t want to talk about it! It’s personal!

        • Ah, books are so fantastic for many reasons, not least of which the ability to non-verbally communicate “Leave me Alone” very clearly to 98% of the population. You don’t even have to physically be reading them, just open one up, and eavesdrop on everyone around you. . .

        • Oh, but then you get the people who think that sticking your nose in a book is an invitation to talk about the book. “What are you reading?” and other such variations, by people I have never before met, is the most baffling and annoying question ever. If I wanted to talk I would not be nose deep in book.

          • Good point, I’ve gotten that a lot when I pull out my DS on public trans/planes before, too.

        • I know I am commenting on an old post, but I am behind and as as Southern, I got a kick out of it. I will add that I think the worst people to make small talk is when you are in a bathroom stall and the person in the adjacent stall- who you do not know- starts chatting. This has happened to me more than once… haha.

      • Sarah NCtoPA

        I’m bothered that men think it’s not OK for women to be anything but happy and smiley. I bet a Texan dude would never say that to another Texan dude!

        • Class of 1980

          They do say it to men too! See my post below.

      • Not Sarah

        My ex-boyfriend is from Texas and wow, culture shock! I’m Canadian through and through (fourth generation!) and moved to the Pacific Northwest after college. His entire upbringing was just so different from mine and it wasn’t really possible to break through it.

        I can’t get over how much driving you do there. I was raised in suburbs too, but we were in a walking or biking everywhere part of the suburbs.

        • That’s another issue I have! I was raised with some of the best public transit in the US-imagine how astounded I was to find out that no, there are no trains or buses that will take me to the airport!

          Also, want specialty groceries? Drive at least an hour. Concerts? Drive at least an hour. I’m used to being able to get anything I could want within 30 minutes of my front door.

          Another thing I’ve noticed is that things here close really early. Most of the stores downtown are closed by 7…in a toursity area! Most restaurants close by 9 PM, some even earlier. One place closes from dinner at 7 PM! Drunk and hungry in the middle of the night? Better have a stocked freezer cause the only other option is whataburger. Same goes for getting food delivered, almost no restaurants seem to offer it outside of chain pizza places and Jimmy John’s. I being able to order wraps and milkshakes at 11 PM. I miss the constant stream of people everywhere. It’s just not the same here.

          • Class of 1980

            Are you in a small town? Because cities in the south aren’t usually like that.

          • Class of 1980, I live on a barrier island/tourist trap about an hour from Houston. It’s not exactly small town, though it feels that way compared to where I grew up.

            On another note, Houston doesn’t feel like a city to me. It’s not built high enough and it’s not walkable. It’s closer to a large suburb than any city I’ve known before.

          • Class of 1980

            Oh yeah. Houston was known for not having zoning laws either. Wonder if that’s changed?

            It sounds like you got not only a culture shock, but a big city vs. small city shock. There are places in the south where you can find more of the things you’re used to.

      • Emily

        This is hilarious to me, because I’m from Texas and I drove through NJ a few weeks ago. I tried to chat with the guy who was pumping my gas and he was having NONE OF IT. haha

      • Class of 1980

        This reminds me of a girl I knew from Texas who moved to Ohio for the one year her husband worked there.

        She cried every day of that year. She was used to walking into shops and having people talk to her, but when she tried it there, people looked at her like she had lobsters coming out of her ears. ;)

      • The Head Nod is possibly my favorite greeting of all time. It doesn’t force conversation on someone who doesn’t want it, yet still acknowledges another human being’s presence respectfully. Can be delivered curtly, knowingly, with a cheerful smile, with your game face on. . .the possibilities are endless.

      • Class of 1980


        On the smiling … you’ve run into the Texas spirit. The word “discouraged” is not in their dictionary. They consider themselves a “Can Do” kind of people and expect nothing less than total enthusiasm from everyone.

        They are southern, but with their own twist on what that means.

        I lived there 17 years and never resonated with the place myself. Guess what? They tell men to smile all the time too. My ex was from Michigan and hardly a week went by when he wasn’t told to smile.

        I’m in Georgia now and never hear this. It’s very Texan to me.

        • But I’m not acting discouraged, or usually even interacting with someone! I’m usually just walking someplace with my brain focused elsewhere (meaning “not actively making an effort to smile) when I hear it.

      • Joy

        I got the smile command in SC, too, but it was always from dirty old men. And as an introvert, I like the fact that I’m no longer expected to small talk all the time now that I’m in New England. But when I do get the urge, mostly in the farmers market, people are usually polite.

      • When I moved to Texas from DC, it freaked me out at first that people were smiling at me everywhere when I didn’t know them. I kept thinking maybe I spilled coffee on my shirt or something. I get that they’re being friendly, but as an introvert, I love that in DC, there’s no pressure to even make eye contact, much less smile or speak. And I HATED being told to smile. I’d be walking down the hallway at work and have someone say, “Cheer up! It’s not that bad.” Um, I’m not upset, just not giggling my way down to the supply closet. This is my regular face.

        • Class of 1980

          You should see the really small towns in the south. Drivers on country roads wave at you even if they’ve never seen you before.

          • Ris

            It’s true. Small-town southerner here – I absolutely feel compelled to smile, head nod, and lift my hand to passing drivers whenever I’m going slower than 25 mph or so, particularly on neighborhood or dirt roads. I also do the same for police cars, otherwise I just feel rude.

          • Yep! Over Christmas, my husband and I went to visit a friend who lives in a small town in South Carolina. (To give background, I am from a different southern state and he is from Québec.) We were driving in her neighborhood and a man in his yard waves at us. My husband says, “Do you know him?” And I had to explain this southern habit to him…

    • “A southerner will never care how smart you are, as much as they care how polite you are.”

      And a Northerner will always be wary of someone who might be hiding a knife behind their smile. *shrugs* And so it goes.

    • Vera

      I had a friend move to the South and her family was from England and she didn’t get a lot of the things people said. Once thing was “Isn’t that just precious!” or “Bless his heart” both used in the passive aggressive Southern way.

      And I feel you on accents Lucy. If I get tired or angry I sound move Southern (Sidenote: there is no such thing as Southern accent. People from Louisiana sound different from Alabama sound different from people from Atlanta.)

      • Class of 1980

        Yes, there are many many southern accents. My maternal grandparents were from Virginia and hardly had any accent at all except for certain words.

        People thought they were Canadians because of the way they pronounced “out” and “about”.

  • Last summer as part of our vacation we spent one day in the town I lived in from ages 9 to 13. After just that one day my husband said he understood me better. It’s amazing how the places we live become part of who we are, weaving threads into our tapestry that add a distinct flavor all their own.

    • meg

      Growing up in a particularly difficult and odd place, it makes a lot of sense that I married someone also from there. We speak in a sort of code half of the time, and we get stuff without discussion. We’ve got a cultural difference to bridge, and a financial difference to bridge (we grew up with different amounts of money), but the very ingrained hard to describe part of ourselves that comes from growing up where we grew up, we’ve got.

      When touring daycares we’d have these conversations that would weird people out. I’d point to something and say, “Like pre-school,” and David would say, “Oh, right.” Because we went to the same preschool. So there is that.

  • Justanotherblue

    I have a thick Southern accent that I’ve never tried to hide. It’s even worse when I’m drunk or excited, and when I’m together with my parents and brother, my ex husband used to complain that our combined patois was near incomprehensible. I’m about to marry a “Yankee” from Mass. Obviously our upbringings were different in that I grew up in a rural area on a farm and he grew up in the suburbs of a city. And his family was much more stoic and reserved than my loud, sarcastic, talk about everything family. But our socioeconomic status was similar and because of that we have more in common than not. Much more than I had with my ex, who was Southern from four counties over but who came from “money” and therefore shared little common ground and plenty of superior feelings for my “Honey Boo Boo” style family.

    I was not immune to the cultural stigmas of growing up southern. My maternal grandma and her sisters are all Junior League queens and many of the stereotypes that people have about southern womanhood apply strongly to them and my cousins through them. I’m the black sheep, and that side of the family lets me know it and blames my mom for marrying a redneck. :) it’s surprising to travel and see the stereotypes people associate with mah cute lil accent…that all Southerners are racist, that I grew up without plumbing, that I am uneducated. I enjoy surprising them by having an accent AND a brain and that I was raised to treat everyone as equal no matter what. My fiances best friend is from NYC and he was terrified to meet me because he’d been told that all Southerners hate Yankees. I love most things about the South I grew up in, and am proud of the good aspects of my culture, but just like any other American I pick and choose what works for me and what needs to be discarded.

    • Well-said. I’m a Yank, myself, but it makes my blood boil whenever I hear people automatically fake a Southern accent when they’re (sarcastically) saying something stupid or trying to pretend to be someone stupid.

      Somehow, it’s still okay to think that just because someone was born south of the Mason-Dixon line, or because they live in a rural area, they must be uneducated and “backwards”?! No. People are still people. Learn about the prevailing culture, but reserve judgement on individuals.

      I get just as upset when anyone describes agricultural land (farms or ranches) as the “middle of nowhere”- excuse me, but I think you’re actually in the middle of someone’s LIVELIHOOD, not to mention your own food system.

      • That’s a really good point, and I’m going to be more thoughtful of that phrase, “middle of nowhere” and say something like “far away from x” instead. Far away from civilization seems equally deluded, so I’ll have to think on that.

        • May I suggest: remote, undeveloped (carefully plowed, seeded, and cultivated, yes- but undeveloped still seems neutral to me), with only corn for company (or insert appropriate crop/animal), extremely rural, or just a literal description: in the middle of a cornfield, in the middle of smalltown America, in the middle of the breadbasket, etc.

          My (suburban-born-and-raised) partner has slowly learned this, but I still pointedly remind him. Thoughtfulness is a major first step, and the most important one :-)

      • “Well-said. I’m a Yank, myself, but it makes my blood boil whenever I hear people automatically fake a Southern accent when they’re (sarcastically) saying something stupid or trying to pretend to be someone stupid.”

        Yes to this. And…in a weird twist, I am a southerner who now lives in Québec. And I have noticed that people from here when speaking in French (their native language) they will occasionally fake an accent of a native English-speaker speaking French. I have heard it happen numerous times and have asked my husband (who is from here) about it to see what the implication is exactly, and he says he’s never noticed that. But I am acutely aware when it happens (since I have my own Anglophone accent when speaking in French). Maybe one day I will figure out what they mean when they do that. And perhaps it’s just a few individuals I know and not a widespread habit. It’s too early for me to know…

  • Excellent post. And funnily enough, at 12 years old, I also moved from a southern state (TN) to a non-accent state (Arizona). I completely changed my accent after being encircled by friends at recess, but can still y’all with complete authenticity.

    And yes, to the stereotypes and choices. Having a southern-born and raised/ career woman/lesbian for a momma, I have developed rules about wearing white and house cleanliness AND feminism. Not usually what people expect!

  • I’m Texas-raised from a loud, large Mississippi family, and am marrying a guy from Surrey. SURREY. (I mean, people who are from Surrey can take this time to laugh at this cultural exchange.)

    Here are the cultural (Southern-based) problems we have already dealt with, and are dealing with:

    – I never want to be critical or a situation or a person when people (aka strangers) are around to hear. I will not send my food back, I will not be rude to strangers, even if they are rude to me, and I will smile calmly at people when they express different political opinions than I hold. (Notable exception there being anyone who is outwardly racist, sexist, homophobic or sizest to my face. Those people will feel my wrath.) This baffles my fiance, who has no problem telling people exactly how they have misstepped.

    – My daughter, who is nine, was raised to call anyone who could be considered her elder (18+) “Miss” or “Mister” {insert name here}. Just as I have. I still call my fiance’s grandmother Miss Edna, and will until such time as she requests I call her something else. Apparently this is seen by my fiance’s family as strange. I don’t get it – what the hell is she supposed to address adults as, if not by a title?

    – My family is loud, and we shout and we argue, but we never, EVER discuss things like politics and religion in a group, and if we discuss them one one one, it’s not a very heated debate. Our reasoning (on all sides) is that we are unlikely to convince anyone else to change their opinions, and we certainly aren’t going to get rude about it. My fiance’s family is not loud and would never shout at each other, but yet they seemingly have no problem talking about heavy things like politics and religion. I never know what to do in those situations!

    – I feel like a lot of people who didn’t grow up in the South are sort of racist in ways they don’t understand? Like, the South is racist, yo, this isn’t me pretending we’re all peace, love and pecan pie. But sometimes people from the northern part of America, or, hey, my own Surrey-raised darling, will say things that they don’t think are racist BUT THEY TOTALLY ARE. And when I call them out on it, they’re all like “ha! A person from Mississippi thinks *I’m* racist?!” Which has nothing to do with weddings at all but it happened just this morning with someone I work with and I’m still mad about it.

    • “I feel like a lot of people who didn’t grow up in the South are sort of racist in ways they don’t understand? Like, the South is racist, yo, this isn’t me pretending we’re all peace, love and pecan pie. But sometimes people from the northern part of America, or, hey, my own Surrey-raised darling, will say things that they don’t think are racist BUT THEY TOTALLY ARE.”

      Oh man. I could go on a tear about this, but that’s for another place and time. Fistbump of solidarity for you, dear.

    • Totally agree with your last point. I commented above about it, too, but nothing irks me more than someone in the same breath calling the South whatever-ist, then proceeding to use a Southern accent to sound “stupid” on purpose. Um, hello, you just judged a whole region of people based on a stereotype, just like you were just chastising this region of people for doing!!

      • Class of 1980


        When I hear that, I know they have no real familiarity with the region except what they see on TV.

    • Rachel

      I moved to Texas a few years ago and I was sort of blown away by the lack of discussion on politics and religion here! Like, you know where everyone stands and we talk about it with likeminded folks, but there’s never any debate, which I LOVE! I think everyone here is very, very independent and respects that in others and we all just kind of mind our business. I’ve also since noticed that the super right and super left have more in common than it might seem, so I’ve noticed when we DO talk about these things, it’s coming from a place of genuine discussion and not just a flame war. It’s been super refreshing.

      • Yeah, I think in some ways we feel SO passionately about those things that it’s very hard to discuss them with strangers or not-like-minded folks, because, again, politeness.

    • MDBethann

      I’m from eastern & central PA (moved from one to the other when I was 11; it was also a suburban to rural move so LOADS of cultural changes just moving about 60 miles within one state). The “Miss” or “Mister” FirstName thing is strange to my family because we were taught that children should use Miss/Mrs/Mr in front of the LAST name, not the first. It still bugs me when my friends have their kids call me “Miss Bethann.” First, I’m not a “miss” anymore and if they are trying to be formal, then please make it Ms. MyLast.

      My dad is a pastor and he does not like the trend of Pastor FirstName and still introduces himself as Pastor LastName, though many people call him Pastor FirstName anyway. He’s a professional – it’s not like you call your physician Dr. Bob – usually it’s Dr. LastName – so why should the pastor be any different?

      I’m not a fan, but I’ve just decided to go with whatever people want to be called if they express a preference (if they don’t, then I’m going with the formal name until I get to know them better). I haven’t had the guts to do it, but in this line of thought, I really should let my friends know I’m okay with their kids just calling me by my first name (we called my parents’ closest friends and their cousins by first names only) or if they want to be formal, it can be Mrs. LastName. To the friends of my future children, I will be Mrs. LastName.

  • Not Sarah

    It’s interesting how where we come from shapes who we are. After meeting my parents, my ex said that I made a lot more sense.

    I’m Canadian, grew up in BC in religious suburbs (without being religious), went to college back east, and moved out west to Seattle post-college. So lots of different cultures going on.

    I’m not friends with anyone from high school anymore because they’re all married and have multiple children, less than ten years later. I went to college, which was an abnormality.

    Walking around my Seattle neighbourhood, I forget I’m not in Canada because random people smile at me while they’re walking their dog or say hello when I’m running. People don’t always notice my accent (depends on what I’m saying) and forget I’m not American. While at the same time, I am an immigrant, though I feel like a false one since I’m white and Canadian and never really saw Washington state as another country growing up. (I still don’t really and neither do my parents.)

    My last boyfriend was from Texas. Texas! Such a different culture. As a Canadian, I’m pretty against guns and I’m also a lot more liberal than his family. I don’t really understand the American concept of buying boxed goods from the store when you have a kitchen at home or driving around everywhere when you have two feet. He didn’t understand how outspoken I was. If something was wrong, I would want to talk about it and fix it, but he seemed to just ignore things. Bad food? Just eat it. Unhappy with your parents? Don’t tell them. What’s the point in getting married without sharing a last name? I dunno, getting married.

    I’ve pretty much decided that Americans from Minnesota, Michigan, and Washington are the least likely to be culture shock going forward. That’s at least been my experience with friends anyway. But, good communication at least can turn cultural differences away from being fights and into discussions.

    • “While at the same time, I am an immigrant, though I feel like a false one since I’m white and…” I can relate to this since I immigrated from the US to Quebec. I was at a dinner with a group of colleagues, and the person sitting beside (who is from here) said something negative about how all the funding was going to immigrant support organizations, only he said it with clear disapproval and distaste for immigrants. I looked at him and said, “Hey, I’m an immigrant.” And he looked surprised. I know he knows I’m an immigrant, but I think he had just forgotten and spoke freely without taking that into consideration. Though I speak differently (cause I have an accent in French), I guess that since I look “the same” as them, they forgot I am an immigrant? Or maybe they just feel like I am not a real immigrant since I come from the US and don’t look visibly “other”? I don’t know, but it’s frustrating to (ocassionally) hear negative commentary about immigrants. When that happens-despite my southern politeness- I am pretty quick to speak up and call it out…

      (I should also add that this also happens in the US. People will make negative comments, forgetting that I am an immigrant to Canada. I quickly remind them that when they are talking about “immigrants” they are talking about me too!)

  • oh man, as someone who grew up with a VERY Californian identity, but not one but two Southern grandmothers, there are so many parts of this that made me smile. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized how many of my family’s customs, ideas, and attitudes are straight-from-the-deep-South, which makes sense when you take into account the fact that both of my parents came from families headed by strong Southern matriarchs (my paternal grandmother left Alabama at age 22, but kept her accent, and attitude, until she died at age 87.) Only in the past few years have I been aware enough to question if many of these now incredibly old school ideas really make sense (sometimes: yes! sometimes: definitely not.)
    Semi-related: I eat off of one grandmother’s china and the other’s silver plate every day (like all the other women in my family, I save the *actual* silver for special occasions, although I’ve broken rank by not doing that with the china), and it’s one of my favorite ordinary joys in life.

    • Good for you for using the china and enjoying it. I don’t have china, but I am trying to do that more with other things. (Thanks to my husband’s positive influence to appreciate and enjoy the moment I’m in, instead of saving it for some later time.)

  • Rachel

    A little late to the party but a friend shared this article with me a few months ago that I really enjoyed and thought I’d share:

    Not only did it help me understand my grandmother better (she was born and raised in Alabama), but it helped me understand the parts of her southern identity that she has passed on to ME (including being a caretaker and not wearing sweatpants).

    • Class of 1980

      Now you have to explain that Garden and Gun magazine is actually an upscale southern magazine, despite the name.


    • Interestingly, I read the same article a while back and hated it.

      They certainly touch on things that I consider to be a part of Southern identity, but I feel like G&G tends to hold these things up as a paradigm of what all southern women should be like, with very little room to include southerners who don’t follow their rules to the letter. The jab that someone like myself is “low-rent” because they don’t spend much time fussing with their hair/makeup/outfit/accessories is also upsetting. The whole second paragraph reads with the “have it all” mentality that makes me bristle.

      Garden & Gun depicts a certain kind of South (read: typically white and upper class), but it’s certainly not THE South. The same is very true of Southern Living. Now I’m going to stop, before I get on a tear about depictions of southern identity in media.

      A slightly less rosy article was published about southern belles in the Oxford American that is also worth a read. I enjoy the juxtaposition of the two.

  • Can I just say a big thank you for this comment thread. I’m Australian, and although I’d say my awareness of American culture and the diversity that exists within it is more extensive than most other Aussies, it’s still very limited. These comments have been absolutely fascinating to read!

  • This post comes at the perfect time for me as I’m working on understanding the two very different halves of my own family. My dad is from the South and my mom is Northeast all the way. I grew up in the Northeast.

    My dad purposefully got rid of his accent because people kept assuming he was stupid while getting a PhD at Harvard in biochemistry. *facepalm* It makes me really sad that he felt like he had to do that.

    I’ve just spent a week in South Carolina and I’m feeling conflicted about the things I love about it versus the things I don’t. I can never quite put my finger on the slippery cultural differences, yet I feel them very deeply.

  • It may not be entirely southern. Coming from a Mexican-American culture women unmarried at 30 is a tragedy of sorts, AND without children?! Aye dios mio!!

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