Here’s a little fun reading for you. ENJOY!
A Cali Girl in the South
By K. Banks
About 3 years ago my husband and I decided to make a drastic life change. We were tired of the Southern California dream house on the hill overlooking the vast expanse of valleys and blue sky, where droughts, fires, and earthquakes were the small price we paid for perfect weather 355 days per year. We wanted something more. So we put our house up for sale and traveled down to Georgia. My husband works in the movie industry and since Georgia had become the Hollywood of the South, it seemed like a logical choice.
Of course, I’d heard horror stories of The South, their politics, their beliefs, their prejudice, but I’m an optimist, more inclined to view the world as a perfect work in progress, then to buy into cynicism. Besides, people are the same everywhere, aren’t they? I was sure it couldn’t be all that bad…
We arrived in summertime, and instantly fell in love with the beauty of Georgia. The heat didn’t bother me, I was born and raised So. Cal., where 90 degree winters were the norm, and the humidity was a welcome change from the dry Cali heat. But, I quickly found GA to be the polar opposite to CA in many ways, weather being one of the few happy differences.
The first shocker was grocery shopping. For the first few months, I felt like a leper walking through the store. Every white woman I passed gave me a look that could kill, and if I said something to them like “Excuse me”, while reaching for an item on the shelf, their disdain would transform into a syrupy sweet smile. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was…maybe it was the way I dressed, or my bleach blond hair, or my sunny disposition, or maybe the whole combination just screamed dumb California blonde. Who knows, but their disapproval was not subtle.
The black women didn’t even give me a passing glance—no judgement, just indifference, which was comforting because this aligned perfectly with my deeply ingrained Cali-tude.
In the 818 (310, 323, 213), we don’t talk to people in the stores (unless we see a neighbor, and even then, it’s just in passing). We don’t talk to people on the streets. We don’t wave to everyone who drives down our block. We mind our own damn business, in the most friendly sort of way.
All of this would be deemed rude to a good woman of the South if she, by some good fortune, should find herself in my beloved city of Lost Angels. But it’s not rude. In fact, we’d like to believe we’re a pretty progressive lot. We live our lives and we don’t bother you about yours. And we certainly don’t outwardly judge you in the market (though, we may laugh after turning the corner to the next aisle).
Also, we call a shopping cart, a cart—not a buggy!
I was later told by a very sweet, and very Southern, young woman, when sharing my experience, that it was probably because I moved too fast, and Southerns might consider it…rude (she was being polite).
Yes, we West Coaster are comparatively fast movers, we don’t mess around. We get in and get out! If you’re standing in front of the milk refrigerator, and I need to grab my milk, CA code of conduct states that I can simply say excuse me and reach on in and grab it. Afterall, it’s milk, you buy it weekly, what’s all the contemplation about, get it and move on. But if you must deliberate, you automatically give up the right to heed the progress of others.
This is NOT how Southern people think. If they are standing in front of the milk refrigerator, they got there first, and whatever amount of time it takes them to make their selection, you had better just wait…after all they might be packin’!
But shopping was just one of many experiences.
Everything in the South is about politeness. And by politeness, I don’t mean in the way that you need to use your “nice words”. It’s a politeness that defies logic and always seems to contain some sort of veiled judgment.
For instance, upon meeting our neighbors for the first time—which was already weird because they actually came to our house to “welcome” us, though, that’s not the weird part, because sure, we do that in Cali occasionally, as well. What’s weird is that the terms neighbors and welcoming in this sense are heavily veiled. Why? Because, we live in the sticks. Everyone around us is on five plus acre lots, and our house is pushed way back from the road, so the fact that they made the hike down the long driveway was surely not out of neighborly politeness, but more importantly a decisive tactic to size us up. How do I know? Because, again, upon meeting them for the first time, both neighbors, on their respective visits, asked, “So have y’all found a church yet?”
I was mortified. Asking someone if they go to church, let alone, indicating that this was a first order of business, is akin to someone asking someone how much money they make, to a California girl.
We politely told them that we weren’t church people, to which they both replied (remember, this was two separate occasions), “Awwww well, that’s okay…but if you’re ever interested we got a nice little church down the road…”
So, yeah, polite as it might have been, we’d just been tried and pardon on our own front porch for being the heathens next door.
Another fun experience of the rural South is stop signs. Apparently they don’t mean the same thing out here. They are really an opportunity to practice more of this bizarre politeness. Let me explain.
Upon arriving at a stop sign, we observed that no matter who arrived first, the Southern driver would always wave someone else on. At first, we thought, hmmm, ok, that’s nice. But then it began to get tedious. One driver would wave on the other driver, then that driver would wave back to the first guy, and soon it was a volley of: no, you go…oh no, after you… oh that’s ok, you go ahead… Oftentimes, returning the right-of-way back to the guy, who by the very function of stop sign rules, had the right-of-way to begin with!
We do not observe this particular cultural norm, because it’s flat out ludacris and potentially dangerous. However, by NOT observing this polite forfeit of the right-of-way, you are actually demonstrating that you are either: a stupid teenager or not from around here.
Other veiled politenesses…
- “Bless his/her heart” doesn’t actually mean what it sounds like. It’s usually a precursor or a follow up to someone saying something bad about whoever’s heart they just blessed.
- Male friends asking my husband, “May I hug your pretty little wife?” Because I’m a non-entity and he owns me.
- Male clerks speaking only to my husband, even when I ask a question, or sometimes not acknowledging me at all.
- People ending business transactions with “You have a blessed day!” Because it is absolutely assumed that everyone is Christain, and if you aren’t, well they are, so that’s all that matters.
- You can expect that the winter holiday season will only be referred to as Christmas; that the term Merry Christmas will be the only suitable greeting used during this time; and that ALL stores will be closed on the 25th of December.
- This same practice is observed on Thanksgiving Day, as well, because Georgia was the 13th of the original colonies and everyone should celebrate their savage neighbors…Bless their hearts!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve met a lot of wonderful humans down here in the South, and my neighbors, as transparent as they are, are kind people who have totally grown on me. BUT, my bubble has certainly been burst! People are NOT the same everywhere, and politeness simply doesn’t mean what you think it does. This has been a strange concept for me to learn. And while I have plenty of gripes about the South, I have found the experience to be vital to my understanding of people.
Which is why when political matters such as birth control, abortion, gun control, gay rights, human rights, etc. come up, I am no longer surprised by the stance of the deep South (there is a difference, BTW, between people who live in the South and Southerns–I’ll explain in a second); though, many people back home in Cali shake their heads and wondered how there are still places that could make such bizarre decisions. Hopefully, this piece is able to enlighten just a little.
Overall, Southerners are rigid people. They like things their way. They are kind and polite, IF you agree with them and do not challenge them. The logic behind their beliefs does not need to make sense to you, only to them. And as silly as the examples above sound, they are a demonstration of the thinking that is practiced regularly in places that have never had to accept and accommodate anyone other than white, heterosexual, god-fearing, males. This may seem a strange statement, considering the South is filled with a gamut of color, belief, gender, and sexuality, but it actually makes perfect sense. You see, overall, the ruling population of the South do not accept and accommodate Any Americans of color (be they Latino, Asia, or African), women, or people deemed outsiders—they tolerate them, at best. There is a huge difference in the practice of these nuanced attitudes, and therefore, a huge difference in the atmosphere of the culture. It’s a, Y’all can live here, but ya ain’t gonna tell us what to do, sort of attitude.
The contrast of these two very different places—CA to GA— seems to have everything to do with respect and value. There is a different vibe that permeates the culture of a place where people are respected and valued, and that respect and value comes from the way people agree to interact in an environment. That agreement comes from top down policy making by a body that reflects the population. Like most Southern states, GA’s does not.
So. Cal. is not perfect. We have had our bouts of growing pains, to be sure. But there is a spirit of inclusion that cannot be denied. People make a lot of jokes about the ridiculousness of our political correctness amidst our progressive amalgamation of movers and doers—hell, we probably make the most jokes about it—but the truth is, the effort we put into respecting other people’s cultures, beliefs, and identities, is EXTRAordinary, and is hugely taken for granted by many of us in the Golden State. Because until you find yourself in a place that cares not one iota for those things, you cannot fully appreciate how beautiful Cali really is.
So in parting I’d like to say, I wish everyone could know So. Cal. like I’ve known So Cal. Unfortunately, I had to leave it to see it for what it is; and it truly is a beautiful place in more ways than just the weather. I hope my Cali peeps will take a minute to reflect on that.
For now, from the Cali Girl in the South—Stay real, Stay kind, Stay Cali!!