In my early years of living in NC as a transplant from NY, I encountered my share of embarrassments, language barriers, and dietary conundrums. For some of my new found friends, these were priceless amusements. It was even greater fun for those northerners that had arrived before me and successfully adapted to life south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Eventually I had my share of laughs at the expense of newly relocated folks, too. Only later did it occur to me that laughing at these people was wrong. I was guilty of something akin to hazing. I decided instead to write down some advice for people to make their adjustments easier.
Firstly, some notes about language. The dialect you hear in the South is in fact English. At first, you will struggle. Prepare yourself with some viewings of Forrest Gump and Steel Magnolias. A note to guys: it’s OK if Steel Magnolias makes you cry. It’s supposed to. Once you think you’ve gotten the hang of the lingo, there’s nothing better than immersing yourself in the culture. You might feel more comfortable if you just listen at first, but southern folks are generally nice and will want to chat with you. They would also rather you confess to having a hard time understanding them than faking it. It will just be a matter of time before “y’all” and “might could” come out of your mouth. Don’t fight it. That will only make you look uppity.
Don’t get drawn into an argument about bar-b-q. It’s not an argument to be won, but rather an opportunity to try a lot of different recipes. You will be forced to have coleslaw with your bar-b-q. It’s affectionately known as “slaw” here. If it disgusts you, try to scrape it off your plate when nobody’s looking. Have a second helping of the bar-b-q and pretend you don’t have room for the slaw if somebody asks. If you venture an opinion on the bar-b-q and anybody finds out that you’re a Yankee, your opinion will be dismissed as if you’re an alien. Try not to take it personally.
Snow is a mysterious and awesome meteorological phenomenon in the South (unless you live in the mountains). While pretty when it falls, panic will ensue if it starts to stick to the ground. You may have grown up shoveling it and driving in it, but this will not prepare you for the Snowpocalypse. You may be stranded in your home with no more than several inches of snow on the road. You will also not be able to find a loaf of bread, a carton of milk, or a dozen eggs within driving distance once the flakes appear. Just stay in your home until it melts. It could be days before your road is plowed, if it’s plowed at all. If freezing rain is in the forecast, a generator will be your best friend. Trees will come down, power will go out. It might seem like an unnecessary purchase, given that some years inclement weather never appears, but remember that it may also come in handy during hurricane season. That’s no joke.
People will show up at your door unannounced. Those are probably your neighbors and not just those that live next to you. Don’t be alarmed. They might bring you food, or a gift, or just want to see how you’re doing and invite you over for bar-b-q. This is the fabled Southern Hospitality. It will be expected that you show some now that you live here, too. You will find that it can lead to friendships and the knowing of everybody’s business. People will still come to your door trying to sell you stuff, but don’t assume that’s the reason your doorbell was rung. You might miss out on some pie and some fun conversation if you ignore it.
Sweet tea is the only kind of iced tea. I don’t mean that you can’t get unsweetened iced tea; I just mean that your waiter will act like you slapped him if your order it. There is so much sugar in it that the crystals fail to dissolve, and that’s normal. Squeeze some lemon in it if you’re afraid it might be too sweet. As much lemon as you want will be brought to you with a smile, but don’t expect one if you’re drinking that Yankee tea. It’s a dead giveaway that you’re “not from around here”.
That’s by no means an exhaustive list, but it should be a good start for any of you considering relocation. I’ve been here for nearly 20 years and never contemplated returning north. I might still have to employ the “too full for the slaw” excuse, but I feel like I belong here now. Good luck to y’all on your move.