I LOVE the South. When I turned 18 and had the chance to leave home, I chose the South. Most kids from my small-town suburban/rural area wanted to go to bigger cities, places with fast-paced action to satisfy their years of deprivation from living in the sleepy suburbs of Delaware. Not me.
I had never expected to end up in the South, but while visiting colleges around America during my junior and senior year of high school I fell in love with North Carolina. One simple interaction introduced me to Southern hospitality- holding up a campus map while lost. At the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia I had my map knocked out of my hand and into the street by a passing pedestrian. No apology. No acknowledgement of my existence at all. The same scenario at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill played out the opposite way. A passerby sees me holding a map and walks over to ask if I need help finding something. Knowing that the building I’m looking for is hard to find, the passerby offers to go out of their way to walk me to the building. Maybe Chapel Hill should steal the title of “city of brotherly love” from Philly….
Living in, leaving, and returning to the South has given me some perspective on what makes it so special, for better or worse:
People– The South has the nicest people in America, hands down! You might be hugged at Home Depot or thanked profusely by your server at a restaurant for allowing them to serve you. Don’t be surprised when strangers offer to help carry heavy objects or invite a new neighbor over for sweet tea. Southern hospitality is real, and you’ll have to travel half way around the world to find another region with such nice people. BUT, the South also has some of the most open racists you’ll ever meet. 5 to 10 minutes into a conversation with a stranger of the same skin color and all of sudden you’re hearing things you thought went out of fashion back in the 1960s. (People in other parts of the country still think and say some of these things, but not so soon after meeting a person)
Nature– I’ve always loved the outdoors, and the South has plenty of it. From the Appalachian Mountains, to Atlantic and Gulf coasts, with fabulous forests like the Ozarks and Great Smokies, and rivers from the mighty Mississippi to little local creeks, the South has almost all the nature you need. While not as breathtaking and dramatic as the American West, it’s far more accessible. BUT, with greenery and waterways come MOSQUITOES! And with mosquitoes come Malaria, Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever, West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, St. Louis Encephalitis, La Crosse Encephalitis, and Chikungunya, all of which have been found in the South at some point in history. Even if you can avoid all of the nasty diseases, prepare to be scratching a lot of itchy bites. Los Angeles was so inhospitable to living things that we didn’t need screens in our windows and our dogs didn’t need heartworm or tick medicine.
Food– Everything is better fried, and Southerners fry it all! Hush puppies, fried chicken, pulled pork, coleslaw, biscuits, my mouth waters just thinking about them. And the BBQ, don’t get a Southerner talking about BBQ unless you’ve got a few hours free and you’re hungry enough to join them for what they swear is the best. Southern food is undoubtedly sooooo delicious because it’s so bad for you, which leads to the BUT here, or rather the BUTT. The Southern states routinely have the highest levels of obesity, and the lowest rates of exercise and vegetable consumption. You can live in the South and be healthy, but you’ll definitely have to try harder here than in a place like Colorado or California.
Life- The pace of life is slower in the South. Even between Northern and Southern Delaware (which is about 20 minutes apart by car) you can see the difference, with Northerners referring to the Southern part of the state as “slower lower Delaware”. Southerners don’t rush about in a perpetually stressed hurry like people in many other parts of America. In fact, the only cars I saw in North Carolina weaving from lane to lane in order to pass cars that were already going 10 mph over the speed limit had out of state plates from non-Southern states (which of course I was paying attention to as part of The License Plate Game). There’s a reason why Californians will retire to the Carolinas, and why half the people I introduced to the South ultimately ended up there. It’s nice to take in the scenery, food and people at leisurely pace, so nice that there’s no BUT here.