Lisa and I consider ourselves southerners. Being from Kentucky may create some debate in that discussion since our home state is more middle America than north or south. Other known qualifiers such as a states allegiance during the Civil War will also not help here since the “Bluegrass” remained neutral in terms of official declaration during that great conflict in US history. All we really have to go on in determining our “southern-ness” is what other people think about us and here in Ohio (as was the case in Pennsylvania, Arizona and California) we are definitely from the south.
The only place we have lived where people did not seem offended by the way we talk was in Atlanta. Although a true Georgian may not think of Kentucky as southern, we felt more at home there in terms of our dialect and mannerisms. (Plus – they eat grits and a lot of fried foods.)
There are times that Lisa and I feel like foreigners in a strange land. When our southern hospitality clashes with the ‘cut and dried – to the point’ way of people here in Ohio – we feel sympathy for people from other countries. Recently, while ordering a hamburger at a local fast-food restaurant here in Cambridge, I asked that my burger be “dressed”. The man behind the counter leaned closer to me and turned his ear as if he did not hear me correctly. “What did you say? Dressed?” “Yes Sir!” I explained. “You know, through the garden – with everything.” He looked at me like I had two noses and informed me that in all his years he had never heard of a “dressed” hamburger. I have to wonder what image was going through his head at that moment. Did he think of a burger wrapped in paper? Or was there an image of a sandwich with clothes on? I wish I had responded with, “You know – put a little shirt on it and make sure it’s shoes are tied.” The man never lost the confused expression on his face even after my explanation and I think it may have messed with his entire shift behind the counter. I did tell him, “I’m so sorry!” Which leads me to the next point.
More than phrases and wording, southerners are put off by the abruptness and unfriendly manner of people from the north (or I should say – non-southerners). Recently I was having lunch at an outdoor deli (notice all my examples have something to do with food?) and before I ordered I laid my backpack at one of the tables to reserve my spot. A man watched me do this and said, “We already reserved that table.”, and he pointed out a little box that had been placed on the table. I actually thought it was part of the condiments sitting in the center but apologized and moved to a table inside. The man offered no “Thank-you” or no “I’m sorry!” And certainly he never considered a, “Go ahead and sit there – it is fine.” At that moment another side of my “southern-ness” kicked in. That ‘other’ side is – I will be nice and I will be cordial and giving – to a point but if you push me too far – I will fight back. Nothing in the southern code of conduct manual is more irritating to a southerner than doing something nice and not getting, at least, a ‘Thank-you’ or ‘I’m sorry’ in return. I fought the urge to stuff him into the trash can next to the table he (so-called) reserved.
It was not until Lisa and I started traveling and living in an area for several months that we became aware of how we talk to people. When we are home in Kentucky we talk like everybody else at home in Kentucky. Interestingly, our ‘southern’ way has been endearing to most people and all of our “Thank-you”, “Bless-you”, and “I’m sorry” statements have been surprising to some but, I think, appreciated. Lisa has been extended in all of her assignments to date in large part because she is really good at her job. But, had she never said, “Thank you so much” or “Bless your heart” with that southern drawl everyone teases her about – I’m not sure they would care too much if she stayed or not. They like her work ethic but they love her mannerisms. We both have learned to never lose or try to hide that part of who we are. In fact, we have now made it a point to always say when we arrive -“How y’all doin?” and when we leave – “See y’all later!” – even throwing in a little extra twang to the “y’all” just for good measure.
But people here in Ohio better start saying “thank-you” to Lisa and I now and then or they may find themselves head first inside a trash can – bless their hearts!
See Y’all Later! Steve and Lisa