kaigou: this is what I do, darling (4 pretentious with style)
[personal profile] kaigou
This is being passed along/asked on behalf of [personal profile] taithe -- you can read what prompted these question in this thread (from the previous post). Slightly modified to be more universal for Southerners in general:
Who is defined as a Southerner? When not in the South, can you spot a Southerner right away or is it less obvious? If you live outside the South, do you feel like you don't/can't belong because of your Southern background? How closely do you think you match the stereotype of Southerner, and do you think this impacts how well you fit in -- or don't fit in -- when living outside the South? Alternate for those who've always lived/stayed in the South: can you identify when someone's a returning Southerner versus a newcomer picking up Southern habits? If so, what's the tip-off?

Formally speaking, "being Southern" has two-parts, or so I was always taught: born, and bred. Technically, I'm not a born-Southerner (thanks, DAD, the military guy!) because I was born in North Dakota. I'm completely bred-Southern, though, since we returned to the Deep South when I was six months old, and I lived in various places in the South until I was in mid-twenties. Beyond that, I have multiple generations in all directions who are born-and-bred Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi, so generally... yeah, I'm pretty Southern.

Spotting Southerners... not actually that hard. If it's not the accent -- and I'd say I'm fairly good at pegging regionalisms in accents, but even if you're not, it's still a rather unmistakable accent unless it's really really soft -- then another big marker is phrases. Things like "I swan" and "what in the sam hill," are older Appalachian (Borderlands-England-derived) phrases, or calling things (especially bugs) "puppies" -- as in, "look at the size of that puppy!" when it's a big lizard or cricket. Some are more widespread now, that other areas/people have adopted, so you can't be quite as sure -- like saying "bless her heart" -- but if the person has just made an insulting statement and follows it with "bless her heart," then this nuance means they've got a clue. (So if not Southern, maybe a good friend or spouse, to learn it from.)

Another odd phrase you only hear in the rural areas of the South: "I can't tell you the way, but I could carry you there." Don't ask me where that one comes from, I haven't the faintest. (And the last four words of that sentence are another phrase-marker.) If something is "yay big," probably Southern or Southern-influenced.

Speech-patterns in women will sometimes be a give-away: "My, it's hot outside, isn't it." Delivered not as a question, but as a flat statement -- but it's one that's setting you up to agree. Southern speech patterns are big on setting you up to agree, especially female speech patterns. "If you wouldn't mind, could you put this on the table, please?" or "If it's not a bother, I'd appreciate if you put that on the table..." There's like three different ingratiating maneuvers in those phrases... another overlaying of prepping-you-to-go-along speech pattern. (Yankees I met just hated that construction, especially Bostonians. Dunno why it bugged 'em so much.)

Southern speech patterns are often circuitous, too, especially if you're falling down on your hospitality. A guest might say, "goodness, it's so hot, isn't it? Makes a body quite parched." This is your cue to offer iced tea, but the fact that anyone had to say something (even if that is incredibly oblique) means you've already messed up. It's not just an upper-class thing, but more a matter of formality. Upper-class just means the formality stays in place until you're talking immediate (parent-child) relations; lower-class means the informality ("It's hot; aren't you going to offer your uncle some tea?") can range wider, up to and including old friends.

If the person uses family-titles... probably Southern. "Cousin John" as opposed to "my cousin, John". Nicknames for family-members -- sissie (sister), bubba (older brother). For grandparents, you may hear: Daddy [surname] or Papa [surname], although sometimes it's "first name" instead of surname. Nicknames for family-place are also more common: Junior, Trey (the third), Quin/Quince (the fourth) Ivy (the fourth) and Quin (the fifth) [with thanks to [personal profile] kathmandu for thumping me on that one], though these aren't usually applied to girls. I've had to look hard to find other regions where family-titles are emphasized quite so much.

Beyond that... sometimes it's just mannerisms, or the progression of the conversation. Any questions about family (especially the all-powerful, "where's your family from?") and I know I'm dealing with Southern or strongly Southern-influenced.

If someone mocks your Southern-ness, they're probably not Southern (or they're connected/married to a Southerner enough to feel they can get away with such offenses, like they're part of the in-group... more questions about family may be required to determine if they're allowed such liberties). If someone mocks the non-Southerners around you, then they're probably Southern.

Outside of the South, however, most Southerners I've known do fit in -- or maybe I should say, they don't rock the boat all that much. Maybe it's due to the overwhelming social pressure that likes to kick Southerners, that causes a lot of Southerners to be either big-chip-on-shoulder, or to become a kind of quasi-zen, just flowing around the attacking force. The most resilient Southerners I've known (outside of the Deep South) do appear to achieve that flow-around, continuing being gracious and courteous... but there's a certain smile I've seen on the faces of an awful lot of Southerners, and that alone can cause me to peg a fellow Southerner without words being spoken.

It's a smile our mothers often give (yeah, many mothers do) when she's angry, or embarrassed, but doesn't want to show it too clearly: a sort of fixed smile that appears pleasant to strangers but to those in the know, boy, are you in for it when you get home. Strangers giving that kind of wide, apparently-gracious, pleasant (if somewhat vapid) smile, especially in a stressful situation, can give off the same signals to me. It's a smile that says you're eating your fury, because it's unacceptable to a) let anyone know they got to you, and b) show your anger in public, even if you didn't mind letting on.

If two people are arguing in public AND they're not in their home-town: probably not Southern. By arguing, I mean, arguing on the level of personal attacks. It's one thing to argue over whether the iron is left on, or whether the car's been fixed. But... I dunno how to put it. Airing dirty laundry about your relationship, your family, your spouse -- that's okay, in many New England communities. Screaming fits between partners, in public restaurants and parking lots, oh, whatever. (Meanwhile, my ex and I were crawling under the table, in embarrassment on the couple's behalf: couldn't they see how mortified everyone else was to know they would say such things to, and about, each other?) In every Southern community I've ever known, arguments are meant to be held away from family/friends, behind closed doors.

(The problem with extended local family is that arguing too loudly means your family will know of your troubles and then use them against you. One way or another. But then, mothers-in-law do this the world over... it's just this sotto-voco-arguing style seems to have developed as a way to try and stymie any resulting familial intrusion.)

The issue of being (or not being) a stereotypical Southerner seems to be relaxing, at least in the Deep South. Or maybe it's just that once you're not in your late teens, early twenties, the rest of the family figures you're a lost cause and maybe they should just accept that you're an Eccentric Cousin who has these crazy ideas and doesn't stick "isn't it" on the end of sentences. It's possible the pressures still exist (especially on young women) in the South, to conform to this narrow heavily-gender-informed set of behaviors. Hell, beyond that, there are plenty of pressures from outside the South to conform to the stereotype -- the whole "are you sure you're really Southern? you don't do ___" nonsense. Maybe it's just that I'm such a bastard now that no one dares try and correct me on what I can, or cannot, do, as a Southern woman.

Alright, that's my take on it. Anyone else? I'll repeat the questions rather than make you scroll up, so have at it!
Who is defined as a Southerner? When not in the South, can you spot a Southerner right away or is it less obvious? If you live outside the South, do you feel like you don't/can't belong because of your Southern background? How closely do you think you match the stereotype of Southerner, and do you think this impacts how well you fit in -- or don't fit in -- when living outside the South? Alternate for those who've always lived/stayed in the South: can you identify when someone's a returning Southerner versus a newcomer picking up Southern habits? If so, what's the tip-off?


If you don't mind [personal profile] taithe using your comments as possible jumping-off or consideration points for grad study, and want to contribute with your own stories/input for her questions, please feel free. If you'd prefer anonymity, you can go with anonymous here (I'm hoping that's okay, for taithe's purposes), or just PM [personal profile] taithe directly.

If your experience has differed from mine, especially do speak up. The South is hardly monolithic and I'm nowhere near an expert on All Things Southern, so do feel free to help me make sure no one gets that impression. Let's freely contradict each other, if that's what it be.

[see comments for additional response/questions from [personal profile] taithe]
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

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