By Devin Banach
Approximately 2 months ago I moved to coastal Georgia. Being from Chicago, I became the unsuspecting victim of a brutal assault: culture shock.
Overly dramatic? Yeah, maybe. Partially true? Yes.
My practical knowledge of the South was anything but vast (um, barbecue comes from the South, right?) The things that I find the hardest to adjust to are the things that I wasn’t expecting. I love it here, but I think that we can all agree that coastal Georgia isn’t without its quirks. As a transplant, these quirks seem, well, particularly quirky.
When I first arrived here, I noticed that everyone kept waving at me. This was the strangest thing to me. When I lived in Chicago, I hardly bothered to wave at my neighbors, much less at some unsuspecting rando driving by; it would definitely freak them out. Since this friendly gesture would always catch me off guard, I rarely could get myself together enough to wave back (waving is a complicated process, okay?) You first have to acquire your target, then you have to gracefully remove your hand from the steering wheel and make eye contact with the initial waver. This occurs all while still operating the car, and by the time you’ve done all of this, the initial waver is out of view and probably thinks that you’re a jerk for not waving back. (I’m getting stressed just writing about it.) So, I decided to be proactive. I began waving at every vehicle and pedestrian that I passed, while donning my very best "I’m not crazy, I promise" smile. After all, I didn't want to scare anyone. Not surprisingly, very few people waved back. There is no resolution to this problem, by the way. It’s ongoing.
I fear the day that "y’all" inevitably pervades my vernacular, mostly because I don’t understand how to use it. Also it is physically impossible to say "y’all" without an accompanying Southern drawl (that sentence rhymes).
People always talk about Southern hospitality and that’s because it’s real. I can’t even go into the grocery store to buy eggs without someone striking up a conversation with me about eggs and grits and how they are the quintessential elements of any southerner’s diet. In the North, I feel like we put on this expression anytime we walk into a public place that communicates very clearly, “Don’t talk to me, don’t smile at me, don’t even look at me,” and it works. Is it warm and fuzzy? No. But it’s efficient. I used to think that I was a nice person...and then I moved to the South. Over-friendliness runs rampant here and no one seems to mind very much. This has happened to me more than once (I mean, don’t mind me. I’m just that Angry Northerner that doesn't want anyone to show me any kindness or compassion because it creeps me out. So when I said ‘don’t mind me’, I meant it. (Seriously, though). It’s actually embarrassing to admit this. But I’m going to work on it…I promise.
Moving away from that rant and subsequent short therapy session, I feel like I need to devote a part of this blog to the novelty known as sweet tea. Forget trucks and country music. Nope. The quintessential life-force that flows through the veins of the South is sweet tea. I mean, I hadn’t ever questioned what tea was. In a Northern restaurant, you order tea and the server comes back with a mug and a variety of tea bags. Ask for iced tea, and the result comes unsweetened. Now I can't help but wonder about tea incessantly. What makes tea, tea? If it’s sweet, is it less tea or more tea? Why am I thinking so much about tea?
If you’ve made it this far, bless your heart. I would have stopped reading 300 words ago. But in some seriousness, I think that it’s really interesting to notice the things that make us different from one another. People often use the word assimilate; a word which irks me in a way. I suppose it’s because I always thought that it insinuated changing yourself to match your surroundings, a concept which doesn’t exactly tickle my fancy. I like being different. I tend to like people more because they are different. But while I was writing this post, I looked up the definition of assimilate, and it turns out that it means exactly what I thought it did. However, dictionary.com used the word absorb in the definition. I liked this because you can absorb something without becoming it. So I will continue to absorb and experience the South, while also remaining myself (...for the most part. I’m still working on that Angry Northerner thing).