As of February 28th, I will have lived in Alabama for ten years. Wow. Its amazing how time has slipped away from me. When I got out of college, I moved back to Vegas and lived with my mom while I got a job. Started working for the company I work for currently (although the name's changed a couple times). By the end of 2000, we'd lost the contract I was working on and I was given a choice of switching to the new contractor and maintaining the status quo or taking a chance, staying with my company, moving cross country and getting a decent raise for my trouble. It was scary, but I went with the latter. Hadn't set a foot in the state of Alabama until the day my mom and I (who was much more enthusiastic about moving out here than I was) drove across the state line with two cats howling in the backseat. But I'd been in Vegas a long time and to be honest, it was getting old.
Ten years later, I think I've adjusted pretty well. Don't get me wrong, it was rough. Rough for maybe three years or so while I got my bearings. If I hadn't met DB that first year, I probably would've bolted. I was way too liberal for even Huntsville, the most progressive area in the state. It was years before I didn't curse trying to buy beer for football on a Sunday, eat out on a Monday night, or try to do anything after 9PM. Fortunately, Huntsville has grown with me and mellowed me out. When I first came here, we didn't even have a Target and my neighbors told me the best place to eat in town was Shoney's. (*gasp*) But now, we have several Targets, great shopping, and lots of good restaurant choices. It's not Atlanta or Vegas, by any stretch, but it also doesn't have the traffic, the crime or the general hassles of a big city, so it's a trade off I'm happy with.
But, alas, I find that even 10 years later, I doubt I could pass the test to get my "Southern Lady" license. Its a good thing there really isn't one, cause I'd get booted out for sure. Here's my list of reasons why, most of which are food related since its such a large part of southern culture:
1. I don't like sweet tea. I don't know how many events I've gone to where this is the only option aside from unfiltered tap water they serve me with disgust in their eyes. If it wasn't for a nation being swept by diabetes, I doubt they'd have added unsweet tea as a choice in the last few years. Personally, I prefer hot tea. I can tolerate iced tea with splenda, but I'd really rather not go there at all. Thankfully, I can make sweet tea if I have to, so maybe that earns me back some points.
2. I haven't mastered the use of 'bless his/her heart.' If I'm going to say something ugly about someone, I just do and always forget to invoke the southern caviat. That's why I have to keep my mouth shut unless I'm in the company of people who understand my southern handicap in this area. I also lack the skill of being able to tell someone to go to hell and have them offer to send you a postcard when they get there. I'm not that smooth.
3. I don't like grits. Not at all. Not even with butter and cheese and shrimp on top. I eat oatmeal almost daily, but just can't stomach grits. Or if given a choice between a few things dining out, usually go with the hashbrowns instead.
4. I'm not good with enjoying 'Southern Time.' I'm way too type A to just sit and sip tea (obviously an issue right there) and enjoy the breeze on the porch. Why would I want to look at my stupid, trashy neighbors, anyway? I don't want to just go for a drive. I have to have a destination. There has to be a point. I have road rage when I get stuck behind PawPaw in his 1973 Ford pickup truck hauling a bunch of hay on a two lane road where I can't pass. I go absolutely insane. Hell, even if I'm sitting in a jacuzzi with wine, I have to plot a book or something. I am working on enjoying the journey instead of the destination, especially since the publication industry has forced me to. But its a struggle.
5. I don't like biscuits. I know. This is probably one of the biggest cardinal sins of all. But I just don't. A small, extra flaky one slathered in honey and butter is ok now and then, but I don't want a big, fluffy one. I don't want it smothered in sausage gravy. I don't want one with every meal. I prefer whole wheat toast. Or an english muffin. Or a bagel. Or a frozen waffle. Pretty much any breakfast bread ranks over biscuits with me.
6. I'm uncomfortable with random home visits and phone calls. I guess its just as well I don't live in the south back when people would just drop in after church and drink tea and eat the cake you just magically had on hand for company. If you want to come to my house, you have to schedule it in advance and be willing to turn a blind eye to my housekeeping skills. I might magically have cake, but that's just cause I'm weird, not because I'm a good hostess. If you're calling me just to chat, you have to tell me that up front or I'll keep wondering when we're going to get to the point. The Playfriends are working hard on my phone training, so its getting better, but I'm still just bad with small talk.
7. I don't like pickled anything. Eggs, okra, pickles, peaches, pig's feet... forget it. Relish trays are a total waste on me. And really, while I'm at it, I really don't like much fried either. I'll eat chicken fingers, french fries... the occasional fried ravioli (which is completely unsouthern and doesn't count) or specialty fair food like deep fried oreos or funnel cake, but otherwise, I'll pass. No deep fried okra. No country fried steak. I'll eat a hushpuppy or two, but usually I just depend on them so I don't starve when I'm forced to a catfish restaurant which I dislike even more. I just don't dig all the grease. Paula Deen is starting a campaign to have me extradicted to California as we speak.
8. I'm not good at letting a gentleman do things for me. Makes DB absolutely insane, but I was not raised to sit around and wait for a man to do something I can manage. In my family, you'll wait a long time. Also, out west, it isn't that ingrained in the culture. Men aren't rude, they just aren't raised by southern women to go that extra mile. So I'm bad at letting men hold doors for me. I even get uncomfortable when the bag boys at Publix want to take my cart out. When people call me ma'am, I look for my mother.
9. Let's just lump all the last foods into one here: greens of any variety, black eyed peas, potato salad, cole slaw, Moon Pies, pork rinds, casseroles (I just don't trust them), gelatin salads (again, don't trust them)... I'm sure there are more. Suffice to say that most potluck events are an experiment in terror for me. And people wonder why I always insist on a sign up sheet for those things. Its so I know what I'll eat and what I need to bring so there's at least one item I can fall back on aside from dessert.
10. I haven't overcome the language barrier. For those of you confused, you've never been in the south. To say everyone speaks English is a lie. There are regional phrases I will simply never get used to or use. I've picked up the accent, will fully endulge in 'y'all' but things still trip me up. I drink a variety of soda. If I say coke, I literally mean Coca-Cola (TM). Don't ask me what kind of coke - sprite is not coke. Its sprite. I don't 'carry' anyone anywhere. I take them. I don't drive around Target looking for a 'park.' I'm looking for a parking space. Just the tip of the iceburg here.
For the most part, I guess I fit in, but the little things can really add up. Any regional foods or customs that you just can't go along with even if you were born and bred there? Ever been transplanted in a new area and have to adjust to the culture shock?
P.S. Playground Monitor is guest blogging with several other writers today at Handbags, Books... Whatever. Come on over and see what she has to say about telling secrets.