As a girl growing up in the suburbs of south London, I never dreamed that I’d end up making a life for myself in the Southern US. I’ve been based in the Atlanta area for almost six years now and am still figuring out what it means to be a Southener. Sipping sweet tea on the porch? Monogramming everything in sight? Erm… “hey y’all” (which, let’s be honest, is never really going to work with my accent, is it?!).
My British perspective and idiosyncrasies (apparently there are many!) seem to be so deeply entrenched that I’m probably always going to feel a bit like a fish out of water here.
But I’m also acutely aware of the fact that this is where my daughters will grow up and this will be the home that they know. For that reason I really try to immerse myself in the local culture in as many ways as possible.
They really do have their own way of doing things down here. And there’s lots that I’ve learned to love about living in the South, but these are probably the aspects that I enjoy most of all.
#1 The food
So this is really an obvious one, isn’t it?
I more or less moved from one place that does stodgy, comfort food exceptionally well to another… lucky me! I’ve traded roast dinners, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips and full English breakfasts for shrimp and grits, mac and cheese, fried chicken, and bbq food.
At first I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to eat “biscuits and gravy” for breakfast, until I learned that it means something quite different in the US and I was able to sample it for myself in all its delicious glory.
And then there are all of the other previously unheard of delights… hushpuppies, collard greens, fried pickles, cornbread… I could go on, but I haven’t even got to the sweets…
Three words. Red. Velvet. Cake.
I don’t think I’ll ever tire of Southern cuisine, although I’m fortunate that my husband also happens to make a mean fish and chips for all those times that I’m feeling particularly nostalgic for my ancestral home :).
#2 The weather
Being a Brit, I really do have to talk about the weather. I might well be in the minority here, but I just adore the long, hot summers in the South. Predictably balmy temps for four or five months of the year? Yes please. Blue, sunny skies almost every single day? Oh go on then.
And then of course there’s the luxury of air conditioning almost anywhere you go, just in case things get too scorching… but for me at least, that never really happens.
It always makes me laugh to hear my friends counting down the days until autumn, when I start to panic about running out of warm days as soon as we get into July! But then I’m definitely a summer person, so unless we decide to move to the Caribbean, this is probably the best place for me 🙂
#3 The hospitality
The only thing warmer than the climate here in the South, is the people and their amazing hospitality.
There is certainly something to be said for Southern charm.
I first really experienced it when we moved into our current home. One by one, our neighbors showed up at our doorstep to welcome us, mostly accompanied by a homemade cake, pie or other goody. It was such a wonderful experience.
Likewise, visit the home of a friend or neighbor in the South and you’ll be treated like family.
One other thing I learned quickly, is how in these parts, complete strangers will pay you a compliment or start up a conversation given any opportunity. I must admit that it unnerved me to begin with… after all, this was a rare occurrence in London! But perhaps I am now becoming a bit more Southern, because I’ve learned to quite like the random little interchanges.
#4 The manners and etiquette
I’m a stickler for good manners, but people in the South take it to a whole new level.
I clearly remember the first time that I was addressed as “ma’am” (it was by the teenage son of our neighbors). After I got over my initial reaction of suddenly feeling very, very old, it dawned on me how nice and polite that was. I think it’s fair to say that not all teenagers conduct themselves in this way, but many kids here in the South seem to have good manners drilled into them from a very young age and I wholeheartedly approve!
Yes, I love all the rules. The “Ps and Qs”. The fanciness. Thank you notes for everything.
They even have the tradition of Cotillion. If you’re unfamiliar with the term (like I was at first), you can read more about it here, but it’s basically etiquette training for young people.
Is that a bit stuffy? Perhaps. But many teens can be pretty awkward socially, so a little bit of help with how to behave in various social situations isn’t necessarily a bad thing!
And while we may not go so far as to enroll our daughters in Cotillion classes, I do love that they’ll grow up in a culture that values common courtesy and respect for adults.
#5 The style
I’m a bit of a neat-freak, and so it’s only natural that I’d be drawn to the preppy look and clean lines that are an integral part of Southern style. I equally love the cute fabric staples such as gingham and seersucker.
There’s just something about the way that many of the ladies (and men, for that matter) dress, that’s always classy and well put together, even when they’re doing “casual”. I only wish that I had the time to ensure that I was so well turned out every day!
There’s also something ageless about the fashion south of the Mason-Dixon Line. A twenty year old or fifty-something could rock the same set of pearls and both look equally gorgeous and totally age-appropriate.
If you’re not all that familiar with Southern fashion, check out Reese Witherspoon’s clothing and lifestyle range, Draper James. There are a definitely a few items that have made it to my wishlist here!
So, there you have it. There’s so much to love about Southern culture.
Have you ever visited or lived in the South? What did you like best about it? I’d love to hear your own experiences.