Here’s a must read book: Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant. In the first page you’ll be hooked. You could read the book in an afternoon, but savor it like that last dance. It’s chock-full of anecdotes from visitors (non-Southerners) who cast aside all their masticated ideas about Mississippi only to enjoy our high quality of life (Mississippi was ranked 6th nationally). Having myself just escaped the mosh-pit of the Greater Bo-Wash Metro-plex, here’s a few of the secrets to the Southern quality of life.
1. Church – Southerners try to make connections at every opportunity. We want to know where you worship, but it’s not to meet some sort of convert quota. It is just another way to make connections. This makes sense because Southerners love to socialize and church is an excellent venue. You’re dressed up. It’s got limited egress, and as long as you’ve taken the trouble one might as well linger.
2. BBQ – It’s not anything cooked outside. Vegan BBQ? Uh, no. BBQ is slow-cooked pork. The only choices being ribs or pulled, chopped, wet or dry. There is no such thing as BBQ chicken, BBQ hotdogs or BBQ possum-shaped tofu either.
3. Chick-Fil-A – It’s nice, but Southerners love food road-trips. The South is chock full of hole-in-the-wall eateries that are only just awesome. “Does Eat Place”, “Sonny’s Smokehouse”, or “The White Cap” to name a few. Southerners have opinions on food, and will often put those to the test with spontaneous road trips.
4. Sweet Tea – You can’t make it by adding sugar to already brewed tea. Tea absolutely never comes in a can and Snapple is just water-flavored corn syrup. Lord have mercy, somebody please stop Snapple before they produce bottled pot-liquor. Sweet Tea is the house wine of the South. Don’t mess with it.
5. Sauces and relishes – Chow Chow, pepper sauce and, well, anything with a mayonnaise base. Speaking of which, the topics one should never discuss in polite company: politics, religion, and best brand of mayonnaise. Mayo is also a main ingredient of the pate’ of the Mississippi, “Pimento Cheese” – a delight totally unknown in the north.
6. Impromptu parties – My mother can throw a party with a week-old roasted turkey carcass and a sleeve of Ritz crackers. Impossible? Nope, It’s easy. Call a few neighbors, tell them to bring a cheese ball, shrimp or ‘menna cheese on Wonder Bread. Add music and mix up a big batch of your signature beverage – that’s why you got all those punch bowls! If you start to run low on food, send someone to Chick-Fil-A. The golden rule is: You must never run out of ice.
7. Acknowledging others – We recognize those on sidewalks while driving (aka the 12 o’clock finger waggle) and the rearview mirror wave. What else to do in the massive line at Chick-Fil-A? Folks outside of Dixie don’t engage in this behavior. Whether they are cranky ‘cause they don’t greet or don’t greet ‘cause they’re cranky, who knows? Ever notice that avoiding eye contact is an early warning radar to detect non-Southerners?
8. Bugs – They happen in the semi-tropical South. Nature is in a frenzy nine months of the year, and I don’t mean just college students. Better get used to some critters invading your domain during summer, major holidays or when their money runs out. (This applies to bugs and college students). Make the best of nature. June bugs make great flying toys. Crickets eat clothes. Sure, but bream eat crickets.
9. Manners – They aren’t just important in the South. Manners are synonymous with the South. Outsiders may relish self-anointing themselves on the offal of what passes for acceptable behavior in those areas, but Southerners hold doors, write thank you notes, and RSVP. We practice chivalry and gentility, and don’t carpet conversations with the “F-bomb” as is standard practice outside of Dixie.
10. Southerners have style – We dress for tailgating, grocery shopping, and church. The grunge look never made it out the back door. Here it’s pearls and pumps, seersucker and starch. Although, Walmart is apparently the exception nationwide as it seems to have its own un-dress code. In the South, if it doesn’t’ move, monogram it. In New York, for example, you have to blend in to survive; that means wearing black and a darkened scowl.
I suppose some folks might never understand why Southerners are a damned happy bunch. We have a secret: the culture of the most southern of all states, Mississippi.
Tim Heaton is back home in his beloved Mississippi after misspending his youth in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. His best- selling book on Southernisms, “Bless Your Heart, You Freakin Idiot” is available on Amazon.