Several weeks ago, I scheduled cocktails with a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend – a new New Yorker by way of Dallas who grew up in the United Kingdom. Her unique background – Emma Watson meets Kacey Musgraves, if you will – and ability to insert words like “splendid” and “superb” into general conversation without sounding like a pompous prude – were immediately likeable. I wanted to be her best friend.
Once we’d discussed the higher points of British culture – specifically, Harry Potter and the Royal Family – I encouraged her to share stories from her European-turned-Southern-turned-Manhattan lifestyle.
“The first question strangers ask when they meet me,” she explained, her enunciation simultaneously unnerving and engaging. “Is, ‘What part of London are you from?’
“Americans seem to forget,” she continued. “That there’s an entire country of culture outside the confines of London.”
My new acquaintance from across the pond grew up drinking black tea for breakfast. She’s never voted for a President, she cheers for Manchester United, and she could essentially swim to France if she so fancied. Despite our differences, I understand her dilemma. I, too, have been a victim of cultural ignorance.
Three years have passed since I ventured above the Mason-Dixon to hang my hat, but my drawl is still as in tact as my affinity for deviled eggs. Strangers laugh when I use the word, ‘y’all.’
“Are you from Texas?” they ask.
“No,” I proudly respond. “I’m from Georgia.”
“No, actually I –”
“I love Savannah. It’s so pretty!”
“Yes, but –”
“Have you ever driven a pickup truck?”
“I have,” I finally interject. “But I’m not from Atlanta. Or Savannah. I’m from a small town in Northeast Georgia.”
My audience then loses interest in the hillbilly who didn’t grow up surrounded by Metropolitan intrigue or Spanish moss. They fail to realize that the American South is a captivating array of hospitality, geographical diversity, personality, and resilience.
If we’re from Alabama, we don’t necessarily “Roll Tide” – but we still believe in community and tradition. If we’re from Texas, horses aren’t our primary form of transportation – but most of us own a pair of well-worn western boots. Spending Sundays on a pew in the heart of the Bible Belt doesn’t mean we’re intolerant or ignorant; on the contrary, we worship eternal love and pray for global peace. We may own guns, but we’re not violent. We may talk slow, but we’re not ignorant. We watch evening sunsets from a front porch rocking chair, but we’re not lazy.
Every person – Southern or otherwise – is more than an accent or a hometown or a stereotype. This year, strive to embrace the heritage, backgrounds, and values that shape our region, our nation, and our world.