Southern Manners up North
I spent the first twelve years of my life south of the Mason-Dixon line. While I was young when we left Virginia, I have pretty solid memories of the time we spent in Texas. In 1994, we moved North and I started Junior High in western New York with an accent and an affiliation for Garth Brooks.
Junior High can be a bit brutal on anyone who stands out in any way, so I quickly worked to drop the Southern drawl. It would sneak back up on me whenever I spoke to family and friends from back home, but I was quickly able to assimilate with my teen peers. People soon stopped asking me questions about cacti and rodeos and eventually forgot I’d even know the answers to such inquiries.
Now, seventeen years after leaving the South, I’d consider myself decidedly Northern. I can handle extreme cold, reluctantly say “pop” when I mean “soda”, and I haven’t had Frito Pie in years.
The Southeast can keep its oppressive humidity, but I’d like to import some of the manners. See, in the South, we greeted everyone we saw on the street – friends and strangers alike. Nothing too in-depth – just a quick “Hello,” a wave, and a smile. No, I wasn’t raised in Mayberry. Midland, Texas boasted over 100,000 inhabitants while I was there. Regardless of population size, the practice of greeting ones’ neighbors is deeply instilled.
This cheery habit was very hard for my family to break. We’d stroll through our small town in western New York warmly greeting people who, in turn, would stare at us as though we were a herd of unicorns. We rarely got responses beyond dumb shock. Northerners seemed to only acknowledge acquaintances, so I soon did the same. This is not to say that Northerners are cold or unfriendly (in fact, Minnesota may be one of the friendliest states I’ve visited). It’s just different, and no thirteen year-old wants to be different.
People say they can still tell my parents are from the South originally. My mother has an accent to which I’m too accustomed to hear. My father has never met a stranger and has a kind word for everyone he encounters. The more I spend time with my sister, it’s clear that her mannerisms are still pure South. She tells me that people still stare blankly at her when she greets them, but that doesn’t stop her.
Me? I walk quickly through the streets of Chicago with my gaze focused straight ahead. I rarely acknowledge other people unless they appear to be threatening or in obvious distress. It’s kind of sad, really. I may live in a large city, but I hate to think that I’m so removed from the other people sharing it with me. I may be many years removed from the wee Texan I once was, but the least I can do is look up and smile.