It's hard to understand what "The South" means until you're in it ... living, breathing, speaking, eating, consuming all of it. At first, you're in complete shock ... sometimes even in denial. Eventually though, slowly but surely, you become oblivious to those so-called "crazy ways" and soon adopt them as your own.
The first, and biggest adjustment is the way that people speak - y'all, yes ma'am/sir, hoss, 'coon hunting, down yonder, etc. Not only do you have to decipher what it is these phrases mean, but it is difficult even trying to figure out what people say. You is pronounced "yeeewww," w is said as dub-yah and nothing really ever sounds like it's spelled.
Second, and almost equally as important - the food. The biggest delicacy in the South is their Sweet Tea. At Bojangles, a place prided for their fried chicken and biscuits, sweet tea comes with each and every meal, free of charge. My family visited North Carolina the Spring Break before moving here, and was mesmerized by the different items that seemed "out of this world." We made sure to take pictures (tourists, huh?) of ourselves trying grits, fried okra and key lime pie. We were in shock when restaurants served a regular burger with coleslaw and chili on top. We learned that bar-be-que is a noun and not a verb, and that it doesn't mean "getting together with friends to cook out (there goes my Southern vocabulary slippin' in.)
Another major difference - sports. Moving to North Carolina signified the death of professional sports and the adoption of all things college. There were only three choices when it came to choosing your team and each choice represented a different connotation - State: farmers, redneck, agricultural; UNC: liberal, hippies, preppy; Duke: wealthy, nerdy, Asian. Though these stereotypes may not always be true, these are what people live and die by. During the same Spring Break trip, I wore Carolina and Duke clothes, together ... If you're from "around here," you're most likely shaking your head or laughing at my stupidity. Needless to say, I was stopped within the first 5 minutes and told that "that was not allowed around here." A day or two later, my family determined that our loyalties would lie with the Tar Heels, the reason being some "tar" found on the heel of my dad's sock.
The South is often called the Bible Belt, rightly so. You can't have a conversation with a Southern person without a "God bless you/her/his soul" or an "I'll pray for you." How funny that after writing this sentence, I glanced at my facebook and the first status reads, "Praying that ..." Now don't get me wrong, I thank God that I am a Christian and joyfully go to church; however, it was a long road getting there. We attended every church in our small little town and finally settled on one after months and months of experimenting. Yes, I did say small town, but don't get me wrong, there are more churches than you can count on one ... or even two hands. Our first week was at some sort of tribal church, at the second, we were the only white people. One church had a woman pastor and others were held in a funeral home. Experience after experience finally led us to something we all agreed on: a church with a pastor who kept your attention for more than 10 minutes, a place that wasn't too formal and had comfortable seating arrangements (cushioned chairs or pews) and finally, a place that allowed you to drink coffee (my mom can't survive without it.)
IT IS SO HUMID HERE. As soon as you walk outside, you sweat. There are thunderstorms in the summer, with lightning so bright and thunder so loud, you'll think the world is ending. Everything is upside down, backwards and inside out. One day the weather will be 30 and snowing ... a day or two later, it will be 85 and sunny.
Lifestyle is simpler here; no, not easier, but simple in the way that people enjoy the little things. Families go on walks together, friends sit on swings on the porch together and you'll receive a smile and a wave from anyone you pass by.
Though it's taken me awhile, I'm finally at the point where I've adopted this Southern culture as my own. For awhile I struggled with the fact that I wasn't "truly" Southern until a friend gave me a piece of advice. Southern isn't something you are, but rather it's something you believe in and love in your heart.
And that, ladies and gentleman, is the start ... and sort of the middle, of my road to becoming a Southern Belle.