Thursday, April 12, 2012

Being a Northerner

That's me. I admit it. I have never really been to the South. Well I have been to Florida, but whenever I cite that destination as "having been to the South" I am told, "that isn't really the South".

Now I have really been to the South.

The South is somewhat like a different country to me. Yes, I lived in Wyoming for the first 12 years of my life - and I really am not casting stones from my own glass house because I know that Wyoming is often viewed as the "hicksville" of the north - just some observations and some humor that I have observed over the past few days in my travels to Eastern Tennessee

So Southerners - they talk funny. They make lots of words have a feminine gender by ending them in "a". At the program review they give us all a safety briefing prior to starting the conference. It took me a minute to realize that "far" was "fire" and I thought it was pretty cool that they offered the feminine gender to "tornado" by making it "tornada" - afterall the wrath of a tornado should really be associated with the feminine identity as hurricanes are.

Whenever I travel I try to get a flavor of the local culture. When in DC, I head to a new museum. In Florida, to the beach or a park.

So as to not disappoint my husband I looked on Yelp for the "best" reviewed BBQ restaurant. I got into my car and started following the map. And following the map. And suddenly I was in the forest where men were driving makes of cars I haven't seen in decades with no shirts on and no seatbelts. That's not very safe.

I came to the well reviewed restaurant... errr shed, I mean. I was a bit nervous, but saw that they had four smokers, a stack of hickory and the two 5 star Yelp reviews couldn't be wrong, could they?

Then I remembered I am a single woman, very obviously not from this area and when I saw the Closed sign I was suddenly a bit relieved and got back in the car and drove to the obviously chain BBQ restuarant just down the street from my hotel.

Tennessee is known for being friendly. So when I was standing in line and the woman next to me said, "hello there", I politely replied, "hello". She stood there smiling at me and I smiled back.

"Howr yer kiddies?" she asked me.

A little perplexed and wondering if this is Southern hospitality I replied, "they are fine" and went back to reading email on my iPhone and it dawned on me that she maybe wasn't just being friendly, that she probably thought I was someone else.

I got my food, noting to myself NOT to ask for tea after the fiasco of the conference lunch when they served me some weird brown combination of Kool-Aid and Iced Tea, and sat down. A family across from me sat eating and I was humored to note that the toddler? He had a wife beater! I didn't know they made wife beaters in size 3!?

I thought about snapping a picture of him on my phone and then thought better of it, not only as a parent and knowing I wouldn't want a stranger snapping a photo of my kids, but also a bit of fear in my head as his daddy was also wearing a wife beater and I was strangely suspecting that it was his uniform.

I did grin to myself when the boy complained about his "breeches".

My first morning there I was too lazy to find out where the nearest coffee shop was and just headed to the hotel restaurant and ordered oatmeal.

"Ye wan oat meal?" my waitress asked.

"Yes, one bowl of oatmeal," I said.

"We have da buffet with all yall can eat for $10.99?" she reminded me.

"Just the $3.50 oatmeal please," I said.

"Ok, I will see to dat," she said.

Seriously how long does it take to make oatmeal? I was getting little nervous about the time when she finally brought my bowl, well actually a large vat, of oatmeal with a side of maple syrup. I politely requested brown sugar and milk and quickly ate about 1/8 of my vat of cold oatmeal. I was determined to find a coffee shop the next day.

That however, is easier said than done. I got the heads up from other conference attendees that there is one Starbucks in the region and some vague directions on how to get there. Thank goodness for Smart Phones.

I was in the program review with about 15 of my colleagues from work and they all had stories to share too.

One of my expressive colleagues was looking forward to an evening at Walmart. Her plans were to sit there with her phone and snap pictures to post to "People of Walmart". She told me that last year she saw a woman actually take off her flip flop and start smacking her son.

I have a vegetarian colleague. Umm yeah. South and vegetarian do not mix. Poor girl. For every lunch they kindly brought her a big salad - even on the day when they made baked potatoes (and BBQ - but I was thrilled for the baked "tater") for us. When traveling I usually make a bit of effort to eat pescavegetarian because I have a sensitive stomach when traveling and my children and husband demand meat (fish/chicken/beef/pork) at most meals despite my efforts to push the mostly fish and vegetable diet on them. I didn't even try here. Anyways, my colleague told me she went to a restaurant for dinner and under "Vegetables" on the menu it listed "macaroni and cheese".

I have noted the prevalance of a number of chains that I haven't frequented, but have only heard about - Waffle Houses every few miles (or less - somewhat like the prevelance of Starbucks in my current home state), Cracker Barrels, Chik-Fil-A... I kind of wished I had a bit extra time to walk in and see what all the hoot was about. But that's ok.

Oh and golly. I am not sure I have heard the use of the word "golly" outside of old reruns of the Andy Griffith Show. But golly, they use it a lot here!

One of my good friends from work (and one of the smartest women I know) is from Alabama and so I do hear the Southern drawl on occasion, and another set of parents of one of my daughter's best friends is from Chattanooga, and their accent is perceptable. Even the program manager I know well who is from this area (and therefore knew the best pizza place for dinner last night) maintains a bit of a drawl and he is one of the smartest guys I know. But I realize how much they have lost their accents over years as I work to decipher what people were asking me or saying to me. I felt like they were looking at me like I must be the stupidest person around to not know what they were talking about. Nope, my ears just aren't accustomed to the foreign language.

It's been fun, but I am ready to wish a fond farewell to the area and get back up North.

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