“…It’s more than where you’re born, it’s an idea, a state of mind that seems imparted at birth. It’s more than loving fried chicken, sweet tea, football, and country music. It’s being hospitable, devoted to front porches, magnolias, moon pies, and coca-cola…and each other. We don’t become Southern – we’re born that way.”
Another thing that I’ve learned from my time abroad is how much I love living in the South, especially now that summer is rolling around. I used to say that my hometown is the “North of the South” and that going to Elon is like going to a Northern school with better weather. However, after spending so much time with friends who are actually from the North, I truly realize how much the South has influenced me and my way of life.
So here, incredibly overdue, is my ode to the South.
My comfort food is not fried dough; it’s hushpuppies and biscuits. I don’t go to get McDonald’s late at night; I go to Cookout. When I order tea in a restaurant, I want a tall glass of cold, iced tea, sweeter than you think it should be, and I like my summers defined by late nights with friends and fireflies. I listen to Sugarland when I’m stressed out, and I grew up climbing the magnolia trees in my backyard. I want to tailgate in a dress, crookies, and with my sorority sisters. I like that we salt the streets when we get less than an inch of snow, and school is cancelled if flurries are so much as predicted. I love the farmer’s market and making cobblers and crumbles out of fruit I pick myself. Summer is my favorite season, and I could live in sundresses my whole life. I don’t want to wear pants until October, and I want to stop wearing them in April, and I know how to correctly spell “y’all.” The state fair falls on my birthday every year, and going never gets old. I know what real BBQ is: pulled pork with vinegar sauce and coleslaw on the side. I get a Southern accent when I’m really nervous during an interview, and I call my friends “ma’am” and “sir” from time to time. I love living in a state where August is the hottest and worst month, where the people are nicer, the food is fattier, and everything is just lazier. I LOVE when people tell me I’m “so Southern.” North Carolina summers are just about the best thing around.
I tend to talk and act like I’m from a neutral part of the country, but every so often, one of my Northern friends will tease me for the way I pronounce a word, or make fun of me when I’m craving sweet tea and hushpuppies. It’s times like these when I miss my hometown and the region where I was raised.
This sudden nostalgia for the South didn’t come out of nowhere, though! Yesterday, I went to the Teatro Colón with Flavia, the Brazilian CIEE coordinator who switched with one of our coordinators for a month (to compare how the 2 different programs work), and another friend. After the tour of the Teatro, the 3 of us went to get some coffee and laze away the beautiful afternoon. As the other two were talking, I was looking around, observing the area around us, and I saw a man drop his lighter as he was walking. A man walking a few steps behind him saw it and picked it up. What I’ve come to expect from a large city like this is for someone to pick it up and just keep it, without a word. However, as the second man continued walking, I found myself willing him with all my heart to give the lighter back to the man who dropped it. I know that in the South this would not even be a second thought; if you see someone drop something, you give it back to them, no doubts. As the man actually did walk behind the other for about a half a block (at this point I was craning my neck), I found myself getting more and more excited as he neared the first man. He finally caught up to him and returned the lighter, and I found myself breath a sigh of relief.
This little bit of Southern sunshine was probably the high point in my day. I’m glad to know that even in an enormous and bustling city like this, the small-town and courteous mentality can still exist, even in an action as small as returning a dropped lighter.