Hey y’all! (Yes, I do say that seriously, all the time.) I’m Nicole, a born-and-bred Pennsylvanian who came down south for college and, besides spending an unfortunate year in the frozen tundra people call Boston, never left. I may always be a “Damn Yankee” to some people, but I like to think I’ve acclimated fairly successfully down here. Even my family has admitted that I was born on the wrong side of the Mason-Dixon line!
I enjoy Southern history, manners, culture, architecture, cocktails, weather, people, and lifestyle. What’s not to love? Well, before you pack your bags and join me down south, I have a few words of advice that I wish I’d been given.
Here’s your Converted Yankee’s Guide to Dixie Survival, darlin’.
1. Saying hello to strangers
If someone says hello, they’re not trying to rob you. There are no ulterior motives. People are simply friendlier down here; you’ll learn to appreciate strangers waving and striking up conversation, and you’ll learn to do the same. I know you don’t believe me now, but check back in with me in a year!
2. Ma’am & Sir
Saying ma’am/sir is not condescending. I know, you’d never say it… just wait. I’ve had it slip out more than once lately! I once stayed with a sweet friend in Atlanta who chastises her dog by telling her “no ma’am.”
3. Bless Your Heart
The South has some dangerous things – a few species of wild animals and a poorly-concocted mason jar of moonshine among them- but watch out for “bless your heart.” This will occasionally reflect genuine empathy, but more often than not is a polite iteration of a four-letter word in relation to whoever’s heart is being blessed at the moment.
4. Sweet Tea
Speaking of saccharine things, sweet tea is a staple here. As you would expect water to be at your table at a restaurant, expect restaurants, barbecues, and front porches to serve up a cool glass of sweet tea. Not iced, darlin. SWEET. One taste and you’ll fill your sugar quota for the month, but folks ‘round here can’t get enough.
5. Tailgating and the NFL
May I suggest picking up a copy of Dixieland Delight by Clay Travis, who travels to all SEC stadiums in one football season and shares some hilarity. Not until you are told that you need an entire cooler for yourself and the starting tailgate time is 7 a.m. (no matter the kickoff time), though, do you truly understand southern tailgating. And just to be clear, nobody cares about the NFL here, much less the NBA or (bless your heart) the NHL. A few people enjoy baseball, but unless you’re debating high school recruits and college rivalries… well, just keep sipping that drink.
6. Southern Vocabulary
There are some words and phrases with which you need to familiarize yourself. “I’m fixin’ to buy a new light bulb…” means that I’ll go and buy a new light bulb whenever I go to the store next to stockpile tailgate supplies. A “buggy” is a shopping cart. To “cut the lights” means to turn them off. “Do what” means pardon me. The first time I heard this, I responded with a blank stare. “I didn’t say to do anything!” I exclaimed. Don’t bother.
Ah, the weather. It’s something we all talk about, no matter where your roots lie, but get excited if you move down south. With three inches of snow, cities shut down completely. Many people don’t own shovels, plows are few and far between, and my roommate from North Carolina once got into an accident because she slammed on the brakes when she hit an ice patch. (She didn’t make it past the end of our street, bless her heart.) You can drive in the snow, sure, but folks ‘round here can’t, so do yourself a favor and enjoy the day(s) off. In fact, the University of Georgia had a day off last week and not a single flurry fell. I’d be lying if I said this was the first time this happened.
Finally, I’ll give y’all a little heads up on something that’s quite frowned upon down here when overused: your car horn. It’s the only area of life in which I’m liberal, let’s be honest. The light turned green a half-second ago? Honk. You’re turning right too slowly? Beep beep. The light turned green two seconds ago? Oh Lord, BEEEEP. Up north, this is normal- I know. But I’ve been chastised more than once for my overuse of those innocent taps on the horn. In fact, my dear Atlanta friend once sat through an entire green light, patiently waiting, because the person in front of her wasn’t paying attention. True story. I’m not advocating this level of sainthood, but try holding off for a second or two before you hit that beloved horn. It all ties back into manners, and avoiding things that will caused your sweet heart to be blessed.
While Pennsylvania will always have a piece of my heart — and Lord knows my honking habits and sarcasm will always be with me — I have found my little slice of heaven in the South.
I have no plans to ever abandon my beloved adopted home.
Nicole Stephens was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, attended college in Virginia, and left her heart in her home of four years, North Carolina. She is currently earning her Masters in Journalism & Mass Communications at the University of Georgia. When she’s not working or in class, you’ll either find her training for her first half marathon or post-brunch playing cornhole, wearing a sundress and pearls. Follow her on Twitter @MadrasAndPearls