Having lived in Texas for the vast majority of my adult life, with a bit of a three-year hiatus depending on how you define the word “living,” I’m always surprised at some of the misconceptions people have about my home area: The South. Now admittedly, some entertainers, writers, and comedians do perpetuate the stereotypes to serve their own bits but there are still a lot of elements about living down here that either misrepresented or outright skipped. Today I thought I’d take a few minutes and tell you about some aspects of southern living you might not have known, as well as confirm a few you only suspected.
It’s Not As Intentionally Racist As You Think
Figure we may as get the elephant in the room tackled first. I know lots of people think that in the south we still let fly with the ethnic slurs as easily as we flip burgers on the grill, and that’s just not true. Sure, we’ve got some loud assholes who haven’t learned how to use basic civility around others, but that’s a problem that plagues every culture. For the most part, people of recent generations have been taught that some terms can be offensive and hurtful, so we shouldn’t use them, nor should we judge someone based on their race/religion/gender/etc.
Here’s where I have to clarify the “intentionally” part of this point: we do have less ethnic diversity in many places down here than you would see in more northern areas. Example: I went to a high school with around 1500 students, only two of which were African-American. As a result of this, sometimes old habits or phrases stick around here longer than they should, simply because we don’t know they are offensive.
Some simple examples: All through elementary and middle school, when they wanted the kids to sit cross-legged they told us to sit “Indian Style.” I didn’t realize “gypsy” was a derogatory term for people of Romani bloodline until like last year; I simply thought it was a phase for people who told fortunes and wore scarves. To this day, when my father feels something is over-priced he’ll say “At least Pancho Villa wears a mask when he robs you.”
None of those things were done or said with maliciousness, it was just not really snapping to cultural shifts or language changes. I think in part because of the South’s reputation for racism, we don’t get the cultural influence to make these changes sooner, which results in gaffes that feed our reputation. This, by the way, has resulted in making me super paranoid about using any colloquialisms in my writing, forcing me to look them up and make sure they aren’t negatively charged in origin.
Chivalry, Perhaps Too Much, Lives Down Here
It’s always interesting to me when I meet someone from another region or country who just moved to Texas, because you can usually chart their what they’ll react to in order. First is the heat, which they will optimistically hope is from a rare heat wave. Then is the food, which they will either love or hate depending on what they decide to try first and where they are from. Third is the culture, and the level of manners that permeates our everyday society. It is a constant that is drilled into us from every angle of our society, and by the time we reach adulthood it is so ingrained that we may as try to forget English as ignore it.
I’m going to use holding a door as an example, but there are dozens of other gestures that would fit just as easily here. I, as a rational and independent thinking human, understand that some women take offense to having the door held for them. However, I’m still holding the door every time. So is the next guy, and the next, and the next. We’ll also be holding it for the older people we see coming in after us, or children, or another able-bodied man if he’s nearby enough when we open it. We’ll willing risk the chance that it might offend, because such small gestures of communal respect are intrinsic to our daily life. Also, if we didn’t hold the door, our grandfathers would walk up behind us and box our ears. Yup, even the deceased ones.
Now, in an enlightened and equal society I know this can come off as sexist, hence the title I used above. Maybe there is too much emphasis on it down here; it’s hard for me to say objectively since I’m emerged in the culture. I can tell you that I’ve had female friends cut off potential relationships because their dates didn’t pull out chairs (a choice which everyone who heard the story supported), but that’s just anecdotal. Perhaps it’s wrong or perhaps it’s right, I suspect the answer would vary depending on who you asked. It simply is the culture though, and I’m here to tell the truth about my state, so there you go.
Oh My Goodness The Food
This one is short, simple, and to the point: there is food in the south that will make you punch a kitten to get second helpings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking the stand that everything is amazing or that no restaurant is cheap and shitty; it’s just we have some of the best regionally specific foods around.
BBQ is probably the best example, both because we’re known for it and because it’s so varied. BBQ is going to be different if you order ribs in Alabama vs. in Texas vs. in Tennessee. There are variations in what people like and expect (sauces, bastes, dry-rubs, etc), so much so that BBQ outside your region quickly becomes regarded as “inferior.” BBQ is also unique in that almost every place here can make it, and make it well, but there is also a level above that few establishments manage to reach. Two weeks ago I went and stood in line for an hour to get food from a BBQ place two blocks away from me. I detest lines, and this wasn’t even the kind of place where you could street drink, and I consider every moment to be worth it.
Then of course there are the small finds that have greasy, terrible for you, and downright unbelievably good eats. I won’t say everything here is better, I’ve been to too many tasty places up north to ever buy into such a ridiculous notion, but I will say that our average quality is higher, and we absolutely crush our specialties out of the park.
Lastly, Everything Really Is Bigger Down Here
It always makes me chuckle when out of state people meet me and assume I’m a rarity among the Texas population. Then they meet another towering giant, and another, and another. I’ll just say this to give some perspective: I’m 6’4” and I’m the runt among my cousins.
We have our flaws and failings as a culture, but by god we can reach everything on the top shelf. And really, isn’t that what matters most?
This week's Youtube clip is just a music video that keeps making me laugh. Enjoy.