Southerners. A love story.

Greenville, South Carolina

I often think about this place. As an adult, I’m a traveler, a New Yorker, an Arizonan, and amateur Bostonian. But I grew up here.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about people in various corners of the country these days, but about the south.

Lately, on the news we’ve seen the worst people in this region. It’s given rise yet again to the stereotype of millions of uneducated, angry racists with bad oral hygeine. After all, who wants to see a nice person on TV?

You also don’t see there are a lot of transplants now settled in the south. That’s its own story and culture.

Sure, I have my own complex relationship with this place. I’ve written plenty about that.

Take politics and policy out of it for a moment.  I know that’s difficult, but hear me out. I’m not a rose-colored glasses kinda guy, but let me offer you a different stereotype –

On a human level:
– If there’s one thing southerners can’t stomach, it’s hypocrisy. Southern manners come across as an affectation. In a way, they are. But southerners know see through “manners” and see the actual person. They are astute readers of the human soul. If you’re fake, you’re toast.

– Southerners don’t care about rules if someone needs help. Example: I was putting a piece of furniture next to a dumpster at a storage facility yesterday. The security person drove over and yapped that I can’t do that. I explained we were emptying a storage unit full of personal effects from my sister who passed earlier this year. “Oh. I am so sorry. Are y’all okay? Let me help you with that. I’ll fee-ger it out.” She helped me move the furniture out of the truck and next to the dumpster.

– Southerners are proud of things for what they are. The Reedy River bridge is amazing. So is the Swamp Rabbit Trail. So is Falls Park. The area where those things are located used to be dangerous and drug-filled. Now it’s beautiful. Who cares about the Eiffel Tower. That’s in France.

– Southerners acknowledge you and expect the same in return. You’re no better than anybody else. If you think you are, that’s the best evidence you’re not.

– Southerners get attached. To people. To things. To ideas. Try to pry any of those away? You’re in for a fight.

– Speaking of which, if you are a perceived threat to a southerner, or even worse to their family, you’d best back down or get out of town. Uh. Self explanatory.

– A southerner will do anything for you if you’re a decent person. If you take advantage of them, eventually it’ll come back and bite you. It might take a while, but that day will come. Behind the bravado, southerners get their feelings hurt.

– Southerners are activists. They care about their community. They vote, run for office, argue about politics and rally support.

– The more you yell at and demean a southerner, the more firmly they will hold to their beliefs. You’re just yelling the seed deeper into fertile ground. Southerners hate being told what to think or what to do.

– I’m posting this from a plane at 11 am on a Sunday. Many southern friends won’t see this til 2 pm, after church and family lunch. Some are there because of faith. Some out of habit. Some because it’s a primary social unit.

– Southerners have an opinion about everything. Restaurants, vacations, shoes, politics, style of BBQ, sports teams, cars, TV shows, movies, countries, schools – you name it. People have strong opinions about everything. FYI- yours is wrong and they’ll take as long as necessary to convince you of that. Some will even correct me as to the content of this post.

– Southerners haven’t been let to hide from each other. Elsewhere, people live in neighborhoods with people only like themselves. In the south, people of all types were forced to live together, and have generally done so for a long time (yes, I know there are some lily-white burbs and neighborhoods. I’m generalizing). Not everybody likes that fact. Sometimes it’s pretty tense, but they figure it out. So, don’t come down from your ‘white town, chinatown, japan town, Spanish harlem, greek town, little brazil, little italy, korea town, etc’ and expect to have authority on explaining diversity.

– It’s pronounced clee-emp-son, not ‘clemson.’