Census data shows that the South is attracting newcomers like never before. Long-time Southerner, outdoorsman and author Jim Mize, shares some tips for adapting to the unexpected (and often humorous) nuances of moving to the rural South.
Census results show a steady migration to the South like ducks that came for the winter and decided to stay.
Regardless of where you came from, you may find the food, weather and culture a little different so perhaps I can help you acclimate just a bit faster with a few insights.
For starters, don’t think you can binge-watch old Beverly Hillbillies shows to learn about the South. All this will do is teach you what Hollywood knows about the South, which in a nutshell is not much.
One interesting aspect of southern living is that you will have to learn to take sides. I’m not talking politics here, but matters of life and death.
Let’s start with college football. Rivalries within your state run deeper than the earth’s core and relatives have been disowned over less. Whether it’s Auburn vs. Alabama, Florida vs. Georgia, or Clemson vs. South Carolina, know that you have to take sides. And once you pick you can’t switch, so choose carefully.
The same goes with barbecue. I live at the conflux of three styles of barbecue: ketchup-based, mustard-based and vinegar-based. Although I sometimes cross over to try each of these flavors, I don’t do it in public. Occasionally restaurants will offer two types, never three, and the barbecue master in the back makes sure his favorite tastes better.
While we are on food, let me enlighten you on another truism in the rural South.
If you order anything in a restaurant and don’t specify cooking method, it will be fried. This includes fruits and vegetables such as green tomatoes, okra and of course, potatoes.
Also, it’s worth noting that chicken-fried steak is never chicken. But it’s always good.
For breakfast, don’t be surprised when your food comes out with a side order of grits. You probably wonder what grits are made of, but they didn’t start with one big grit and turn it into a bunch of little ones.
Let’s just say it comes from corn and tastes like whatever you put on it. You can add butter, cheese and even shrimp. Grits, like chicken, are popular because you can make them taste like your favorite food.
One more tip that will keep you from getting into a fight is that the same waitress who brings your grits will call you “Honey.” Realize upfront that she’s not flirting with you and any response in that regard might bring her big brother out of the back. It’s just easier than remembering your name.
And don’t be surprised when you ask her for a Coke with your meal and she responds, “What kind?” Coke is synonymous with soft drink so it is correct that your response might be a Dr. Pepper.
Also, casseroles in the South play a role in the community. A casserole represents someone’s best wishes for you and may be delivered for any occasion. These may include births, deaths, and graduations.
Often, this dish comes from a recipe passed down through generations and includes at least one secret ingredient. Usually it’s bacon.
The weather in the South includes all the seasons you had where you came from; it’s just the duration that’s different.
Summer lasts nine months and the other three seasons get about one month apiece. Most rural counties own one snowplow just for show and the snow melts before it can make its rounds.
I’ve found that every place in the country has mosquitoes so the South is no exception.
One national park I visited had a mosquito-meter posted by a trail and at its most severe reading you could expect something resembling the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz but with teeth. As one friend put it, insects in our state haven’t been a problem since we classified our mosquito as the state bird.
Another interesting habit in the South is to explore each other’s family tree.
This is just a way of finding common ground as quickly as possible, and with luck you won’t discover that your grandfather sold their uncle a no-count hunting dog.
Once I was in a fly shop talking to another fisherman when we began comparing notes on our histories.
We quickly concluded that we had no common relatives and moved on to places we both fished. After running through that list with no matches my acquaintance mentioned that he had worked in law enforcement, and I casually mentioned that I had once given them a pup to be trained as a drug dog.
“What was his name?” asked my new friend.
“Chip,” I replied.
He lit up excitedly when he answered, “I knew Chip!”
The South is the sort of place where you find a new friend who knew your dog.
So if you want to blend in quickly, just walk into any homestyle restaurant, order something fried with a side of grits, a Coke that’s a Dr. Pepper, and when your waitress calls you “Honey” just make sure you leave a big tip.