When I was a boy, my family made several trips through the South, almost always to get to Miami Beach (which was not then, nor is it now The South). So, for me, The South, was a blur of Stuckeyâ€™s stores, Burma Shave signs, and lots of farmland.
However, since I have been blogging, I have had a few occasions to travel to The South, where I have had the opportunity to get a ample dose of the culture and become friends with more than a few genuine Southerners. Turns out that I like the South and I like Southerners, despite the massive cultural divide between the North (Jersey, in particular) and The South.
I know that I could never â€œbeâ€ a Southerner, or even pass for one, for that matter (Iâ€™ve got Jersey in my bone marrow), but with each trip I learn new things, and I find myself becoming more and more comfortable down there.
Service in The South tends to be real slow, but always very pleasant. In Jersey, we always are in a damned hurry, and we have zero patience. Hell, I get a case of the ass when someone walks up to a cashier in a store and doesnâ€™t already have his money in his hand. â€Yo, dipshit! Youâ€™ve been waiting on line for five goddamned minutes and only now that your stuff has been all rung up do you take out your wallet? Did it come as a surprise to you that, at the conclusion of this transaction, you might actually have to produce money?â€
Similarly, in Jersey, I really go nuts when I am waiting on line, and the cashier decides to have a conversation with the person at the front of the line. â€œYo, lady! Just ring the shit up and save the bullshitting for your own time.â€
A few days ago I was waiting to rent a car, and the lady behind the counter was smiling and chit-chatting with the guy in front of me in line, while she worked (slowly) on his rental. In Jersey, my blood pressure would have been spiking dangerously, but it really didnâ€™t bother me, probably because the lady behind the counter was just so nice. When it was my turn, the counter lady also chitchatted with me, and the people behind me in line didnâ€™t freak out. â€Toto, weâ€™re not in Jersey anymore.â€
My experience has also been that service in restaurants can also be very slow, but there is just no way to get angry with someone who smiles and calls you â€œdarlinâ€™â€ when she shows up to take your order.
In the course of my trips down South, I have eaten fried green tomatoes, hush puppies and grits, and Iâ€™ve drunk â€œsweet tea.â€ Thanks to Eric, I have also eaten some excellent ribs (pronounced REE-ubs). Next trip, Iâ€™m damned sure going to have biscuits and gravy. At breakfast, That 1 Guy let me try his, and I liked it.
I think it may be time for a cultural exchange. The South can send us biscuits and gravy, and weâ€™ll send them Taylor Ham and hard rolls (and a decent pizzeria or two).
Here is truly a massive cultural divide. I like guns, and I even own a couple, but the norm in New Jersey is that firearms are something to be loathed, feared and regulated to such an extent that only the criminals have them. As such, it is a cultural shock to go to a state, such as Tennessee, where a significant number of people are carrying guns at any given time. I havenâ€™t checked the figures, but Iâ€™ll bet that, per capita, there are fewer break-ins and carjackings in Tennessee than there are in New Jersey. Even criminals, who are notoriously stupid, are smart enough to know that the intended carjacking victim in Tennessee might well be toting a 357, which could most assuredly screw up a carjackerâ€™s day.
It is interesting to note that, even in Tennessee, one cannot carry a gun everywhere. I got a particular kick out of a sign over the bar in the Knoxville airport (which is past the metal detectors) that recites the penalties for carrying a gun in a place where alcohol is served. Assuming that one could get his or her gun past the metal detectors, what is the person supposed to do with the gun while heâ€™s having a beer?
While there surely are exceptions on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, I think it is fair to say that, when it comes to manners, Southerners have them, and we donâ€™t. It is true that we wear our Jersey â€œhard edgeâ€ proudly, but a bit more manners would be nice.
And, thatâ€™s what I like about the South.