Thursday, November 8, 2012

Passing for Non-Southern or Not

The Late Unpleasantness has been long over; nearly 150 years now.  And while there are a few die-hards who still play Civil War Reenactments, pretty much all is over but the shouting (and still too much, if I may venture an opinion). 

[For those who get overwrought about Civil War reenactors, think of it as a form of cosplay for older guys and rest easy.]

But, back to the subject, some of us Southerners have been moving into the North or Midwest, and a few rash, intrepid ones even have gone West!

However, there are little matters of culture shock to deal with.  This, strangely enough, was brought home to me when I got a copy of Culture Shock: USA - The South.  It seems that, in the desire to set the record straight, the authors resurrected a number of the good old stereotypes about the South and Southerners.

Anyway, some of us ex-pats find it advantageous to play down our Southernness.  The most obvious marker to lose is the accent.  Now I had little problem here, as mine is New Orleans Yat.  But some people elsewhere, if you have a Southern accent, will even parody it!  Now, that's enough to have the timid develop a speech impediment!  Anyway, those with Southern accents are not likely to get jobs as television announcers or have fruitful grad school careers other than at Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, or Alabama.  It's a little subtle discrimination that liberals tend to practice.

And some questions you might ask are no-nos:  What church do you go to?  How's your Momma?  Do you want some grits with that?

As a matter of fact, the proclivity for grits is a reliable marker of Southern, as John Shelton Reed noted.

And watch the idioms.  Don't ask for a Coke; request a 'soda' or (God forbid) a 'pop.'   Don't put things in a sack.  Or especially a poke.  And things are at a great distance, not a far piece from here.  You visit Grandma for Sunday dinner, not Big Mama or Maw-Maw!

But passing for Northern (or Midwestern) has its costs as well as being strategically useful.  How do you minimize those?

One way is through the occasional visit back home.

Another way is to occasionally cook or eat out Southern food.  Larger stores do carry grits, and you can anonymously purchase a container.  Use quick grits, not instant.  Barbecue is a tougher proposition.  Cornbread is rarely found in restaurants; but it's so easy that even an evil pop tart can do it!  And any fool can make banana pudding!  But that makes sense: only a fool turns up his nose at banana pudding!

And maybe you should modulate your college football enthusiasm.  Somehow, a gaudy purple-and-gold LSU sweatshirt doesn't go over at work on the Friday before the game if you're not in the South!  And don't expect your mum corsage to wear at the game, either!

Or, you can simply wear your Southernness sub rosa.  How about a Southern top?  Obviously, the wearer should determine that her blouse or tee is suitably opaque before enjoying this safety valve!



But some Southerners may, when venturing out of the Deep South, play their Southernness for all it's worth.  Take literary figures:  Ever since Grit Lit practically swallowed all of Twentieth Century American lit, some Southern writers really play up their Southernness, especially the more theatrical ones, like Tom Wolfe or Truman Capote.  But authors are to be regarded as a special case; some make a career out of being provocative.  But, it is a short step from being provocative to being a horse's behind!

While the typical male with a Southern-accent does often draw suspicion when venturing into the North or Midwest, the same cannot be said for women with Southern accents.  In my opinion, it's analogous to the reservations Americans have for the French: they're not sold on French guys at all, but French women are another matter.  As a matter of fact, I will suggest that, with women, there is a Southern accent shift:  It becomes stronger when the user goes above the Mason-Dixon line and happens to be speaking to a male.

"You are just the sweetest thing!"  The speaker must have been channeling Scarlett O'Hara or Melanie Wilkes.

"Well, bless my soul; I have not heard of such a thing!"

When I well selling textbooks, I once actually said, "I'm sure you want this  little ole lab manual with the textbook!"  Bookselling for the university market could be cutthroat, and I played Southernness for all it's worth when I was doing that.

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13 comments:

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Having a home in the south I have been treated poorly because I don't have a southern accent. I have been refused service at a pharmacy because she perceived me to be a Yankee. AND she said it to my face. I was shocked. And when an elderly woman behind me apologized for her the others applauded. I am never ceased to be amazed of the prejudice I have encountered and I am a white female. I can only imagine what they would do to me if I were a minority. I would never do that to a southerner (anyone!)or make fun of their accent. Some are pretty. Some are interesting and none are as annoying as New Jersey. :-) (my father is from jersey so don't write me letters!)

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

I've gotten parodied about my accent; southern guys are immediately perceived as hicks or rednecks. It looks like my engineering job is disappearing, so I probably will have to leave Huntsville.

Good story, Angel! I hope your sojourn into the Great Elsewhere goes well.

Hell Hound said...

I've made an effort to sound non-Georgian. It helps in my occupation to sound as neutral as possible.

Grenouille Fille said...

That bra is a bit strident i think.

Bilbo said...

My wife, being German, has a terrible time sometimes trying to understand a very broad southern accent. As a transplanted Yankee living in Northern Virginia (which many southerners still regard as indistinguishable from Pennsylvania), I have learned to embrace sweet tea, grits (one of the foods of the gods, especially when served up as shrimp and grits), and good barbecue. But I still have my standard northeastern US accent, which was great for radio back in the day.

Mike said...

If you need to you can come to Missouri. We're North, South and Midwest.

Jon Frum said...

I like grits. Banana pudding sounds tasty.

Kristen Lavransdrittsekkdatter said...

Has feminism had such a limited impact on the south that you would use charm in selling books? Is that not demeaning?

eViL pOp TaRt said...

Margaret -- I'm sorry that the clerk was so rude and tacky to you. I hope that doesn't happen again.

Elvis -- THat's a shame that people parody others' speech; it is so rude.

Grenouille -- It is over the top.

Hell Hound -- Yes, it can be an occupational problem.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

Bilbo -- A northeastern accent is very easily understood; it serves well in most settings. Grits and shrimp is a combination I've never tried; grits and andouille or bacon for me.

Mike -- I've enjoyed my times in Missouri.

Kristen -- I'm sorry to disappoint. Maybe I can do better in the future.

Jon -- If you try some, be sure to use whipped cream.

Big Sky Heidi said...

I'm an ex-pat Tennesseean, and my accent falls into the "you're not from here" category in MT. I do have to be careful not to use Southernisms, as they're sometimes not understood. I find Montanans to be friendly, and not hostile to Southerners like in certain parts of New York or Seattle.

Grand Crapaud said...

It wouldn't hurt. for southerners to be proud of their origins, for a change. We're complicit in the stereotypes that are thrust on us. It can result in self-loathing and less of our supposedly cherished diverswity

Hell Hound said...

I've gotten funny looks when I speak sometime, now living in the north.