• Eileen Wittig

Into the South

This weekend I, a Yankee, am going to the South* for the first time in my life. My Arizonan boss looked horrified when I told him. What could possibly go wrong?

My family is going on a road trip because they haven’t driven over 100 miles at once for months, and they’re getting antsy. So they’re going to the Arkansas/Oklahoma border for a long weekend. And while I am a full adult who lives on her own with a salary job and whatnot, I also appreciate the chance for a free vacation, so I’m coat-tailing a la Tom Haverford.

In preparation for this momentous occasion, I freaked out and asked my Texan friend what I could do to not be run out for being a carpetbagger, as he called me. The first thing he said was, “Just don’t speak. At all. For your safety. You might say something like ‘wicked’ or ‘bubbler.'”

I refuse to be silent for three days, so I got a crash course in South:

Blue jean shorts? Wear them. T-shirts? Wear them. Button-down shirts that aren’t patterned? Don’t wear them. Talking? Don’t do it. Sweet tea? Order it. Gravy? On everything. Manners? Use them. Any progress women have made in the last 100 years? Forget about it. The word y’all? Use it. You need to say Ma’am a lot. And Sir and Mister. ‘Bless your heart’ is an acceptable term of pity. Let doors be opened for you. That should be enough.

Let’s compare this to the equivalent crash course in New England:

Twill shorts? Wear them. T-shirts? Only if they’re high-quality. Button-down shirts that aren’t pattered? Wear them. Coffee? Order it. Maple syrup? Whenever possible. Dunkin’ Donuts? Always. Sass? Use it. Any progress women have made in the last 100 years? All about that. The word guys, applied to everyone? Use it. You need to say Yo a lot. ‘That’s wicked awful yo’ is an acceptable term of pity. Let doors be opened for you, unless the guy seems sexist. In that case refuse while narrowing your eyes and tossing your head. That should be enough.

In other words, I am traveling to a foreign country, and I’m going to screw it up.

*I mean the South in the sense that everyone understands it. You might say Kansas isn’t the South, but there’s no way you can say Arkansas isn’t.

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