The Hilarity of the American South

Though I’ve read a great deal of books & watched lots of movies about various parts of the U.S., I’ve lived my whole life, all 20-some years, in the South.  I’ve traveled a little to the Midwest & New England but never for long enough to really soak up the culture or get intimately acquainted with the lifestyle.  As some of you who know me in real life may be aware, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the South.  I love the weather, the flowers, the people (several of my friends & coworkers from other parts of the country have confirmed that Southerners really are friendlier by & large), the food (well, some of it), the music (again, some of it), & the geography.  But I hate the narrow-mindedness & the religious fanaticism (those two tend to go hand-in-hand, surprise, surprise!) that seem to abound in the South more so than anywhere else in this country.  I also hate that the South leads the nation in so many negative things including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, teen pregnancy, poverty, & high-school drop-out rate (shocking, I know, that these are all really quite connected).  Furthermore I hate our less than stellar history with civil rights & race relations & would be willing to bet that gay rights are suffering more in the South than in other parts of the country.  I could write a whole series of posts on the reasons why the South is the winner of such dubious “accolades” but that’s not my purpose today.  Someday I’ll write that post & probably offend a lot of people in doing so, but today I just want to write something light & witty that will hopefully make my readers smile.

map of the south

As an aside, my mom always told me “you might as well laugh as cry.”  As a nurse this has come in very handy at times.  When a patient is pooping on the floor, trying to kick me in the face, or screaming at the top of her lungs about how incompetent the hospital is, it is very tempting to run out the door crying.  Having the ability to step back & smile & laugh in spite of the difficulties is about the only thing that keeps me sane at times like these.  Don’t get me wrong: there have been plenty of times when I have cried as a nurse; I have experienced tears of sorrow, anger, & frustration & everything in between.  But with time I have slowly learned to laugh at the madness more often than cry

The same can be applied to life in generalI think about this a lot in relation to my mixed feelings about the South.  I do not want to downplay the serious problems we as a society are facing in the South.  Obesity, teen pregnancy, & poverty, among other things, are serious issues that we must address if we want to progress as a country.  I’ve discussed some of these issues on here previously & I intend to write about all of them someday, maybe even cohesively.

But in any case, my purpose today is to share some of the oddities of life here in the South that my husband & I have observed over the years.  Some of these may not be truly unique to the South, so if you’re a reader from some other part of the country, please feel free to enlighten me.  At the end of the day, one of the greatest signs of strength of a person or a society is the ability to laugh at one’s self.  So with that spirit in mind here are some of the hilarious things we’ve observed over our time living & traveling in various part of the South:

  • The fatter, harrier, & older the man, the more likely he will mow his yard shirtless in full view of the neighbors & all passers-by.  My neighbor across the street is guilty of this right now as I am typing this.  Thankfully I am not easily offended, just easily amused.  I should also add that this is the same neighbor who very soon after we moved into our house could quite often be found sitting shirtless in a lawn chair in the middle of the street watching for a raccoon that was apparently wreaking havoc on his roof.  He said he had set a trap on the roof & was hoping to watch the raccoon get caught in it.
  • Just yesterday we saw a little girl playing with a walker in the front yard of her house.  I had to wonder if her grandmother or grandfather actually uses that or if it was just given to her, for whatever reason, as a toy . . . Hmmmm.
  • In the South dumping old house-hold appliances such as washing machines & refrigerators in the back yard is completely acceptable.
  • Not once, not twice, but multiple times in various parts of the South we have observed people going down the road on a motorized wheelchair.  And not necessarily “in town” but on “back roads” too.
  • You’re not really in “the country” until there are no lines on the roads, not in the middle or on the side.  Maybe this is true in other parts of the nation too, but it’s definitely true in the South, at least the parts with which I’m familiar.  How any local government thinks this is safe is beyond me.
  • Earlier this spring we observed two beagles mating at a rest-area on the side of a major interstate.  Their humans were standing about two feet away, watching intently.  This was in full-view of all passers-by . . .
  • In the South if you want to criticize someone without feeling awfully guilty about it, just add “Bless her heart!” or “I love her to death, I really do” to the end of whatever you’re saying & suddenly your judgments are no longer considered mean-spirited.  If you’re Southern, you know you are guilty of this at least occasionally; just smile & nod.
  • Go to any small town in the South & no matter how run down everything else is, no matter how few jobs are available in the area, there are two things that will always be in immaculate condition: the churches (of which there will be so many as to make you wonder how there are enough people to fill them) & the fire dept/rescue squad.
  • Having old tires in your front yard is pretty common in the South.  Some people even grow flowers in them.  Nothing like landscaping with old rubber!

flowers in tires

  •  In our hometown, there is a certain field on the side of the major highway that cuts through the county that is littered with old tractor trailers.  They have been there for as long as we can remember.  No one seems to know who owns them or why they are there.  But they don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.  And it is only when you’ve been gone for a while that you realize just how junky this looks.  But it’s not unique to my hometown.  I’ve seen this same phenomenon elsewhere in the South.
  • In certain areas of the South, we do not have garage sales.  We have yard sales.  Driving around going from yard sale to yard sale is a pretty common activity for Southerners on Saturday mornings.  As teenagers my sister & I held a yard sale along with our best friend.  We made $18 between the three of us.
  • There are certain women in the South who call everyone “Sweetie, Honey, Darling, Sugar,” or some variation thereof.  On occasion I’m quite guilty of calling everyone “Dear” myself.
  • If you’re really from the South or have spent enough time here, you will know that there are dozens, actually hundreds, of variations on the Southern accent & almost all movies & TV shows don’t imitate even one of them correctly.  I’ve heard some pretty amusing ones over the years & I love listening to all of them.
  • Elementary school gym classes in the South quite often include square-dancing.
  • On Election Day in 2012, we happened to be in our hometown for a funeral.  While my husband was pumping gas, an older gentleman started chatting with him & asked who he’d voted for.  My husband responded “A man named Johnson.”  This gentleman had apparently never heard of the Libertarian candidate & assumed my husband was talking about LBJ.  Nevermind the fact that LBJ is deceased & that my husband is about four decades too young to have ever voted for LBJ . . .
  • While on the way home from summer camp one year, my youth group stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break.  The cashier told us in no uncertain terms & with no apparent embarrassment that their bathroom had been shut down by the health dept but we were free to use the restroom at the gas station across the street.  That illustrious facility had a restroom with no functioning lights & as best I can remember either no soap or a door that didn’t close properly.
  • I should also add that it is very common to find Southerners riding bicycles at night in the middle of the road wearing all dark clothes & shoes & with no lights whatsoever on their bikes.  How there are not more auto-bicycle accidents is really quite shocking.

Southern passport

I could go on & on but I’ll stop now, hoping you’ve gotten a few laughs today.  One of the scariest things in life, to me, is the idea of staying in one place your whole life.  I know for some people that’s ok & I am not condemning that.  It’s just that I feel the need to explore as much of life as I can, & thus I consider myself blessed to have lived in three different places so far in my life, even if they have all been in the South.  I love the Raleigh-Durham area, where we’ve now settled, for numerous reasons, & for now we have no plans to leave.  One of the reasons I love this area is that it is such a cultural melting pot & does not share some of the more negative parts of the Southern experience while still sharing some of the more positive parts.  In any case, as I’ve said I have mixed feelings about the South.  Mostly I love it because this is my culture; it’s part of who I am, whether I like it or not, which is exactly why it pains me when I see some of the problems our culture is facing here.  But again that’s another post for another day.

I’d love to hear about any unusual or hilarious experiences you’ve encountered in the South (or elsewhere for that matter).