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Ten Things to Know About the South

Updated on October 14, 2012

It is impossible for me, a liberal single mom from Northern California who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, to assimilate to the ways of a small mill town in the south. After six years, I accept this inability because for me it is preferable to attempting to be what I cannot. There are characteristics of the South that have impacted me and allowed me to feel some affection for a culture that does not value what I consider my best strengths.

Some things about the South are easy to adjust to and they are as follows:

1. People back into all parking spaces so the front end is facing traffic.

2. Plants and wildlife have very defined seasons and extraordinary beauty.

3. The oppressive, steamy months of summer transition quickly into beautiful fall colors, and then into winter which is normally just enough snow to transform the environment into a wonderland of white which melts quickly before hardship and danger.

4. “Southern Hospitality” exists only in cooking techniques and lavish home decorating ideas.

5. Cubes of butter are longer and narrower.

6. A person’s heart will be “blessed” many times every day if you are out and about. It is merely an efficient way to end a conversation.

7. “Cutting” something “on,” or “off” does not mean damage, it only means turning power or the water supply on, or off.

8. Hard liquor is not ever sold in grocery stores, only in government controlled “ABC” outlets which are never convenient. Excessive amounts of alcohol are still consumed and problematic in spite of these limits.

9. Banana sandwiches on highly processed white bread with mayonnaise, and “moon pies” are actually eaten.

10. Grits can be tasty and nutritious.

Following our arrival in our small city/town in North Carolina, an electrician comes to our house to perform minor repairs and help me understand the electrical system of our huge and complicated home. My younger children are following “Red” the electrician everywhere, and I am struggling to understand “Red” who has a heavy accent and all of his words seem to end up as one. There are no spaces between Red’s words. Each word is as long as a sentence and I keep saying: “Excuse me?” I need every syllable repeated and sometimes explained. Red says, “ Yuhshudtekyerkidstoduhfyer.” “Excuse me?” I reply. “Duhfyer,” Red says. To me, this seems he is telling me about a community tradition including a fire. I ask, “Is there a community bonfire?” Exasperated, Red raises his voice just a little and says: “Duhcounteefyer.” OOOHHHH! It suddenly occurs to me, “How nice, there is a fair coming to town,” I say. Red is pleased that I have come to this realization and that he doesn’t have to continue explaining things to this newcomer.

I experience much anxiety in my first two months in the south, which are June and July. The storms are very loud and dramatic. Driving in them is frightening. I am surprised at how stressful finding new things in an unfamiliar place are for me. My spirit of adventure has disappeared.

July 4th follows our arrival and we attend the community fireworks celebration which is at a lake in a state park only ten minutes from our home. It is a truly beautiful lake. Driving to the lake and finding a place to park is easy thanks to the dozens of Kiwanis members in orange vests and park rangers who are all very friendly and polite. I give my children money to spend on food vendors, and they have funnel cake for the first time. This Independence Day celebration has attracted all types of people. There are tattooed bikers, very young teen parents, boy scouts, real estate people, bankers, workers, and I even see a person I know to be a doctor. The entire community gathers at the 4th of July celebration and nobody is shy about doing the “electric slide” dance to the country western band. I am extremely moved and heartened by the diversity and sense of “fun” at this event. For the first time, I feel as if we could belong here. Sometime later, after the recession hit, I read in the paper that it would save money if the 4th of July celebration is cancelled. One of the city council members wisely argues that for many in our community the 4th of July celebration “is their summer,” and the celebration is funded for another year.

My next door neighbor is a retired school teacher and she suggests that I not waste any time enrolling my children in school, especially the two that need accommodation, Daniel and Nina. First, I take Nina to the elementary school to enroll her in the fourth grade. The principal meets with us, and before talking to Nina recommends a placement in a regular education classroom. Since I have all of Nina’s evaluations and IEPs with me, I insist that Nina be placed in a self-contained classroom. Nina does not appear intellectually disabled at first, but she gets in over her head quickly and gets into trouble which is very traumatic for her since she frequently knows someone is mad, but does not understand the reason. After school starts, Nina reports to me that there are “rats” in her class. I ask, “You mean in a cage?” No, she says, “under the classroom.” I tell Nina’s teacher that I think Nina is misunderstanding the word “right,” as in right now, and she hears the southern pronunciation which sounds like “rat.” The teacher says: “No, she is correct; we do have a rat problem underneath the building.” Nina’s placement was good for her. Things did not go so well for her brothers, Daniel and Fritz.


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    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 

      6 years ago from Tennessee

      If you have not already, I invite you delve in to some Southern literature. It's one of the things I like best about the South. North Carolina, especially, seems to have more than its share of great writers. The Conference on Southern Literature is coming up next April in Chattanooga, TN--the best of its kind, I think.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 

      6 years ago

      Always exploring:

      Check the following link. I am also including the first couple of paragraphs.

      "Whether it was officially encouraged, as in New York and New Jersey, or not, as in Pennsylvania, the slave trade flourished in colonial Northern ports. But New England was by far the leading slave merchant of the American colonies.

      Here is one more link and a couple of paragraphs.

      Many factors caused the American Civil War. The debate over slavery was one major cause. Illinois was a northern state, but slavery did exist in Illinois. When they came to Illinois in the seventeenth century, French explorers Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette discovered slavery among the Indians. Indians captured women and children from other tribes to be used as slaves.

      The first black slaves of record in Illinois were brought by Philipe Francois Renault in 1719. Some slaves from the West Indies were sent to Saint Phillipe in what is now Monroe County. These slaves grew food for other slaves and for laborers at mines that Renault planned to develop in Missouri and Illinois.

      Mining did not prove to be very profitable, and some of the black slaves were sent to Kaskaskia and Cahokia. By the mid-seventeenth century, an estimated three hundred blacks and sixty Indians were slaves in Illinois.

      The first systematic venture from New England to Africa was undertaken in 1644 by an association of Boston traders, who sent three ships in quest of gold dust and black slaves. One vessel returned the following year with a cargo of wine, salt, sugar, and tobacco, which it had picked up in Barbados in exchange for slaves. But the other two ran into European warships off the African coast and barely escaped in one piece. Their fate was a good example of why Americans stayed out of the slave trade in the 17th century. Slave voyages were profitable, but Puritan merchants lacked the resources, financial and physical, to compete with the vast, armed, quasi-independent European chartered corporations that were battling to monopolize the trade in black slaves on the west coast of Africa. The superpowers in this struggle were the Dutch West India Company and the English Royal African Company. The Boston slavers avoided this by making the longer trip to the east coast of Africa, and by 1676 the Massachusetts ships were going to Madagascar for slaves. Boston merchants were selling these slaves in Virginia by 1678. But on the whole, in the 17th century New Englanders merely dabbled in the slave trade. "


      The Civil War and all that went with it is over. I will be willing to wager that there were some slaves in Illinois. I applied for a job today. Been unemployed for 20 months. I was interviewed by the store manager, assistant manager and human resources person. They were all black and it did not bother me one bit. The author of the hub probably wished I had not responded to your remark. I would have deleted it and wrote you personally. But, this is not my Hub. I am proud of my southern heritage. Every region of the country has its horror stories. We drove American Indians onto reservations. Fought the Spanish for California. We imprisoned Japanese Americans in World War II and the Northeast did not always treat immigrants from Europe very well. There is plenty of guilt to go around.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Anne, very funny Hub. I'm from New England and I don't think I would fair well in the deep south. I grew up in RI and have a very specific RI accent and sometimes no one up here understand me. Can you imagine the communication problems if I lived in the south?

      Great Job.

    • Anne Pettit profile imageAUTHOR

      Anne Pettit 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      HaHa, I really dont have many options. I am staying. I think that many southerners have slaveowner "attitudes," but nuanced expressions conceal them. Not all southerners have "slaveowner attitudes," but many do, and many do not stand up to them.

    • Anne Pettit profile imageAUTHOR

      Anne Pettit 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks for the upbeat feedback. It is troubling to me that even though plantations and slaves are long gone, the impact on the economy and social structure is very evident.

    • Anne Pettit profile imageAUTHOR

      Anne Pettit 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      I enjoy grits as a breakfast cereal. There is more texture and flavor than in cream of wheat which I also like.

    • Anne Pettit profile imageAUTHOR

      Anne Pettit 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Nice to see you Larry! I believe stopping traffic to back up and back into a parking place has as much danger as backing out. You are both an intellectual and a regular guy. I am glad you are around.

    • Anne Pettit profile imageAUTHOR

      Anne Pettit 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Peggy, I am trying to keep an open mind. The friendly and weloming qualities are often nuanced and I do misunderstand signals. I have not yet eaten a moon pie. I understand they were invented by a vendor to sell as a snack to workers. A traditional "moon pie" snack is a "moon pie and a Coca Cola.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      HaHa, You live in the part of the country that i would rather be dead than live in. The deep south slave owners SUCK. Thank God they no longer exist. Bless you, when are you leaving? If you need a truck, call me..HaHa Cheers

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      I have lived in the south for fifteen years now and I have to say that you are right on with the comments. I learned to love grits since coming here, especially with a little cheese and butter. Also, the "bless your heart" is a comon phrase.. very southern!

    • RTalloni profile image


      6 years ago from the short journey

      New experiences in the south (whether it's Southern California or Southern North or South Carolina) can require some time to absorb and understand!

      Born in Virginia, but living the majority of my life in Florida, I thought I had "Deep South" down pat. Moving to the Carolinas showed me just how wrong I was!

      We love it now, but the accents, regional dialects and habits, were all eye-openers--quite different to our experience, just as our ways and speech is different from "theirs."

      The people here are warm and friendly, but as protective of their ways as they are proud of their heritage, and why should they not be, just as others are of their own?

      With experience you'll learn that "bless your heart" is not merely a way of ending a conversation, but that it has many nuances, all of which you will enjoy once you understand them. Oh yes, if you want to eat Moon Pies I suggest making your own out of quality ingredients. :)

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 

      6 years ago

      Do not get them at a chain restaurant--too runny. Go to the "quaint restaurant" taste before adding salt. Add butter before you taste.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I have never visited the Deep South, but your description of the culture "shock" is classic. One of these days I really have to eat some grits. :)

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 

      6 years ago

      I think what you described is the northern south. I live in Louisiana. First, you can buy hard liquor or beer at any bar, grocery store, liquor store or convenience store.

      It snows about once every three to four years--maybe 3 inches in a good year. Usually melted away by noon.

      Many people do back into parking spaces. In fact, local police encourage, if possible for people to drive forward out of their driveways instead of backing out, for safety reasons. The only time I see cars that back in are in church parking lots and in cases where two spaces are empty and the person drives into one and then crosses over to the other, so they can drive out.

      Otherwise, I am pretty much agreement. It is important to remember that North Carolina is a long way from Louisiana and accordingly, things are going to be a little different. I guess you could say we were the deep south. We do say y'all. We enjoy our grits. We are proud of the LSU football team and the New Orleans Saints. Is it a perfect state--far from it--but it is not a bad state--it all depends on your state of mind.

      Moon Pies are manufactured by a local company and are pretty good. No one in my house has ever eaten a banana sandwich.

      Actual butter is not used much, as in most places. Margarine comes four sticks to a box or is whipped and sold in plastic tubs like everywhere else.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I laughed to myself when I read about the heavy accent of your electrician. When we moved from Wisconsin to south Texas in 1960, it was also hard for us to actually understand some of the accents, but we finally caught on. Not that many years ago when my mother and I were in west Texas returning to Houston after a vacation trip, we stopped in at a local cafe for a meal. We seriously could not understand many of the conversations around our booth...although I know they were speaking their version of English. Regional differences do still exist in parts of the country with respect to language accents.

      My youngest brother when he first entered school was told to write about his home state. He wrote a wonderful piece about Wisconsin and was given a failing grade because the teacher told him..."You now live in Texas! You should have written about that."

      Having made the adjustments...we now love living in the south. People overall are very friendly and welcoming. I have yet to ever eat a moon pie however. Ha!


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