My boyfriend Nick and I have lived in Tennessee for almost two months now. After spending most of our lives in the Pacific Northwest, we are total newbies to the South, so while we are by no means experts on Southern culture, we also don’t take any part of it for granted. From big hair to sweet tea, we are drinking it all in. There are a few aspects of Southern life that I’m not a big fan of (the wasps here are the size of birds), but for the most part, I already feel like Southern living is the only way to live. Here are 10 reasons why…
1. Porch sitting. Before I moved here, I had a vague awareness of the concept of porch sitting, mostly thanks Alan Jackson song lyrics, but I didn’t realize what an integral part of the Southern lifestyle it was. Walk through any Southern neighborhood, and you’ll see people sitting on their porches, waving genially at passersby. Rocking chairs are often involved, and people think nothing of shouting entire conversations to their neighbors across the street so both parties can continue porch sitting. It’s not only charming, it’s incredibly relaxing, as Nick and I found out when we purchased a couple of wicker chairs and started spending multiple hours a day chilling on the porch with a glass of sweet tea. Life dream status.
2. Two words: Sweet. Tea. Speaking of sweet tea, this quintessentially Southern drink is made by brewing tea, adding a shit load of sugar, and serving it over ice (like, literally, that’s the recipe). If you’ve never had it before, it’s kind of a life changer. There’s nothing like sipping a tall glass of it on a hot day and then taking a long nap as your blood sugar crashes.
3. Fireflies. I know fireflies aren’t completely unique to the South, but they are so plentiful here, and watching them light up the yard on a warm night is a truly magical experience that I hope I never take for granted. Also, Southern people call them “lightnin’ bugs,” which is adorable.
4. The phrase “y’all.” Can we just take a moment to talk about how “y’all” is perhaps the most useful phrase in the entire English language, but only a small section of the country actually uses it? I mean, its closest northern variation is probably “you guys,” which is clunky and awkward, not to mention a little sexist. “Y’all” is soft and inclusive and oh-so-lovely when uttered in a slow Southern drawl. It’s a linguistic gem that Southerners sprinkle into pretty much every conversation. Love it.
5. The food. Fried chicken. Biscuits and gravy. Shrimp and grits. Pulled pork. Cornbread. Brisket. Mac and cheese. Catfish po boys. Mashed potatoes. Shall I go on? Actually I can’t because now I’m hungry and need to go get a snack.
6. Friendly people. Since Nick and I moved into our house, the elderly man who lives across the street has yelled, “Welcome to the neighborhood!” approximately 14 times. It never gets old. Coming from Portland, which is known as a friendly city, we thought we were prepared for Southern hospitality, but we had no idea just how much smiling, waving, and “How you doin’, darlin’”s would be involved in daily life here. It takes some getting used to (sometimes I’ll walk by one of my neighbors and not notice they’re waving at me, and their reaction is acute sadness with a hint of betrayal), but overall it’s pretty great.
7. Big hair. I’m pleased to report that the classic Southern motto “The higher the hair, the closer to God” is still very much alive. Older women will puff up their bouffants for a trip to the grocery store, while young women wear their hair in bouncy curls that cascade down their backs. Moving to the South has made me keenly aware of my inability to use a curling iron, but I’m working on it. You know, for God.
8. Humidity. OK, I know I’m going to regret saying this when it gets so disgustingly hot and humid that I can do nothing but lay on the floor and beg for mercy, BUT there is an upside to the muggy weather: great skin. Summer in the South is like living in a sauna, which means you don’t need any expensive spa treatments to clear your pores. Plus, your skin never gets dry, which helps stave off wrinkles. Once you wipe off the thick layer of sweat, you’re met with the most lovely, glowing skin you’ll ever see in your life. You could get a $100 facial, or you could step outside for 5 minutes in Alabama in July. Take your pick!
9. The slower pace. When Nick and I go for walks, he’s always like, “Slow down! You’re walking like a Northerner!” There’s some truth to his protests, though: life definitely moves slower here. Is it because of the heat and humidity, which physically prevents you from picking up speed? Is it because people actually take the time to stop and chat with their neighbors? Is it because everyone’s weighed down from eating too many biscuits? I’m not sure, but compared to the neverending go-go-go attitude of many northern cities, it’s a nice change.
10. The parties. The allure of Southern parties has been extolled in many a country song, and for good reason — in the summer especially, there is no shortage of backyard cookouts, lakeside dance parties, and front porch hangouts. Parties here don’t need an ironic theme or extensive planning; they require only cold beer, good food, and preferably a guitar or two. They’re unpretentious and totally spontaneous. And the best part? You’ll be having so much fun, you’ll barely notice those big-ass wasps.
Alright Southerners, anything else you would add to this list? I’m all ears, y’all!
[Photo of rocking chairs via Shutterstock]