I was born and raised below the Mason Dixon line, technically making me a Southerner. However, anyone who knows me would laugh in your face if you told him or her I was a Southerner.
I have never called myself a Southern girl, because I know I am not. I didn’t think it was a big deal, until I went to college about two hours south of my hometown, and constantly got asked why I didn’t say hi to random strangers. Apparently, ‘Because I don’t know them!’ was not the right answer. My girlfriends laughed and said, ok, Yankee.
I laughed with them and moved on, until I met my now husband. He is from the panhandle of Florida. Now, I have been to Florida, and I knew it wasn’t really the south. Turns out though, that the panhandle TOTALLY is. He started calling me City Mouse because he thought my lack of Southern-ness was so funny.
We lived in North Carolina for a year (Hey, Cherry Point!) and I got a tiny glimpse of living in the south, but then we moved to Hawaii. Not the south. So instead of that adjustment, I got to get used to being near a base in a military town. I’m not even sure I could talk about the nuances, but I’m sure you all know them. I had just figured it all out, when we got orders.
To a small town in Tennessee. Two hours from the closest military base.
I honestly didn’t even think about the ‘fish out of water’ thing until we were driving in to town, and my husband turned to me and said, ok. This is the South. We need to talk about some things. I looked at him like he was nuts, and said something along the lines of ‘what the hell are you talking about?’ He started with small things, like how you say pecan – I say peh-cahn, not pee-can, which is apparently wrong for the south – and I swear he must have told me no fewer than twenty times in the first week to wave at everyone. I’m still getting used to that one.
I have had a few awkward moments with the locals. For example, someone told me I had to go to a certain restaurant to try the chicken and dressing. Took me a full ten minutes of conversation before I realized that they did not mean someone just covered the chicken breast in ranch! My friends like to regularly check in on my gravy knowledge. I learned the hard way that biscuits and gravy are not made with the same gravy as you eat with turkey. I am slowly learning about Southern cooking. And I have to say, it is a good thing I started running before I got here. Oh, the food is so good!
I’m also shocked every time I’m asked about what church I attend. Where I am from, that is not how you begin a conversation. I was shopping once, and the salesman asked me if I believed in evolution. No, there was no pretext. Yes, that was his way of explaining what his church believed in. I don’t even think I answered, I just stared at him, mouth agape. I have randomly been asked about my church family no fewer than five times, all from perfect strangers in unexpected situations.
Re-adjusting to not being near a military base has been a fun little twist as well. Turns out, my tried and true – though somewhat awkward – “Wanna be my friend?!” request is just 100% awkward with people here. I think I have scared more people than anything else. Military spouses get it though – we have less than three years to become friends, we don’t have time to fool around! Be my friend or don’t, I have to know!
A lot of the women I am (slowly, and hopefully not awkwardly) becoming friends with also do not understand my husband’s schedule. They are surprised every time I say my husband has to work so late or on the weekend, or when I talk about how he was basically gone all last year. These things don’t affect or surprise me anymore, so I don’t realize that it’s weird to be in those situations here.
And I cannot tell you the looks I get when people ask where we moved from. Honestly, I’ve started to dread the question! I honestly really like our new town, but when people find out we’ve just come from Hawaii, it’s always the start of a ten minute conversation. WHY would we make such a move? WHY would we ever leave Hawaii? Oh, I know someone in the military! Do you know so-and-so? And then, half the time, the person launches in to a diatribe about how our service members and veterans are being treated, and wants to know what I think of it. Believe me, friend, you do not want to hear this Yankee with the mouth of a sailor respond to that question!
It’s been an adventure so far, and we’ve only been here seven months. I catch myself using Hawaiian words for certain things, and I know that after a few more months here, I’ll be saying y’all like I’ve been saying all my life. I’m starting to remember to wave to people, and I have to say – sometimes I don’t even have to remind myself to, I just do it! I still feel like a fish out of water, but at least I’m able to laugh at myself. And share the embarrassing moments with all of you!