Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Think My Howdy Was Busted

It appears that I have been going through a bit of an identity crisis for the past, oohh...13 years. Yep, it took me that long to figure it out. Let me explain.

There are several ways to know when you have officially reached the South. One is the appearance of Sweet Tea, Grits, or Fried Green Tomatoes on a menu. Another (in my humble opinion) is the appearance of palm trees on the coast. (I cannot tell you how disturbing it was to me to visit a beach with no palm trees...I'm still not over it!) However, the most noticeable difference when you reach the South is the strangers who "speak" to you.

Now, in Southernese "speaking" to someone may not involve the use of the voice. But, it always involves eye contact, a nod and a smile. You "speak" to every person that you make eye contact's just good manners.

Some years ago a friend of ours moved south from New York. He looked at me one day and asked, "Why is it that people I don't know keep coming up and saying hello to me?" **snicker** If only I could type in a New York accent.

Southerners who run into each other may "speak" as described above, or they may actually strike up a conversation including questions like, "How's your momma?" The Southerner asking the question may or may not know the other person's momma, it's just polite to ask.

Okay, back to my identity crisis. I have moved out of, then into, then back out of the South. The first time that I went to the mall in a non-Southern location I got lots of weird looks...because I was "speaking" to everyone I met. They had no inclination to "speak" back, and obviously thought I was off kilter a bit. I went home thinking that I had just encountered the rudest lot of people on the planet. It took me a while (I was young and not well-traveled) to realize that this was their culture. One day I decided, "Okay, when in Rome..." I taught myself to be in public without making eye contact or "speaking" unless necessary.

Then, I moved back South. I went to the grocery store for the first time, and looked at people funny because they were "speaking" to me...I had crossed over to the dark side. It didn't take long to get back in the groove again. Life is much more fun when you're sharing smiles with strangers!

Then, 5 years ago, I moved North again. I confess, I am a few miles south of the Mason-Dixon (hence my name), but trust me, this ain't the South. I told you a little more about where I live in my very first post.

I decided, once I got a feel for the culture here, that I would once again start actin' like a Roman and shrink into my cocoon. You know what I've discovered? I don't like it. It isn't who I am. Now, I am a self-declared, non-official student of culture. I love to learn about people all over the world and why they do what they do. But, I discovered that in my quest to be culturally relevant in this place, I had lost an important piece of myself.

So, one day last week I conducted my own little Sociological Experiment (paid a quarter for that word, yes ma'am.) I went on my weekly bargain run and made it a point to "speak" to every single person I encountered. You know what I learned? A few of them obviously thought I was one french fry short of a Happy Meal. And, a few were kind of startled. But, I got a grin out of more than half of them. I'm starting a revolution, baby!

Hello, my name is Amy. I am a Southerner...and I say "Hey, There" to people that I don't know!


  1. Me too! It helps that I am in a small town here and most folks are friendly. I also lived in Federal Hill and although it was the city, it was a small community and we were all friendly there too. I do like to be anonymous sometimes too so this place is ideal for me.

  2. You know, Jenny...I'm in a rural area. I do not mean to say that folks here aren't friendly, they are. But, culturally they just don't "speak" to folks they don't know. There is also more of a "hurry up" attitude here that doesn't lend itself to slowing down enough to notice others. I'm not saying that it's wrong. But, I am saying that it is wrong for me...because I'm not being myself when I withdraw that way.


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