Friday, January 17, 2014

Interpreting Southern

So I'll start by saying that in terms of everywhere northeast of Mississippi, I think I'm pretty good at interpreting what people are trying to convey.  This is helped by the fact that most of the Midwesterners I know are pretty blunt, straightforward people.  (It took me a long time to get used to how in Cold State, nobody goes through the "How are you?" exchange when they call - they just ask whatever it was, say goodbye, and hang up.)  I will reserve commentary on the Northeast.

But the South!  Now that I've had a few months to get over the re-acclimation/ culture shock/ bizarre lime green ankle pants, I think I pretty much know what people are saying.  I'm not a sociologist; I don't know why Southerners tend to say "the rabbi's singing is very... heartfelt" when they mean "he's completely tone-deaf and it causes me physical pain to listen to him", but there you have it.  Dr. S comes home every week, though, and says "I just don't know what people are trying to say."  And I can completely sympathize.

The fact that I grew up here also allows me to smile sweetly and not care what people are trying to convey between the lines.  I, too, can speak Southern: I can say "How kind of you to try to help" and let them know that I understand, but don't give a damn.

7 comments:

  1. My friend from Boston came to Public U for grad school and she was so frustrated that people were so indirect. I also had to explain to her that "Bless your heart" meant that she could go do something impolite to herself. (She was getting upset that people were "blessing" her because she was an atheist and people continued on doing that even after her telling them that. I told her that it was fine to be insulted, but she was insulted for all the wrong reasons.)

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    1. I think telling people one is an atheist would just ramp it up.

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  2. I'm reading your quotes and I can HEAR the exact intonation in each of those phrases that subtly changes the meaning so that other speakers of Southern can know and interpret the true meaning behind the spoken words :) (Alabama native, btw).

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    1. It's just like the ten different ways to say "Bless your heart" - some of them even sincere, right?

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  3. Oh, dear. How far south does all that start? I have a WI-native friend moving to Kentucky in a year or two, and I'm suddenly worried for her.

    Hmm, you're right about the lack of "How are you?" exchange. I only go through that with the Moms (mine, Patrick's, and Gil). Or if I haven't talked with a friend in a very long time.

    I suppose Dr. S. will learn southern eventually.

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    1. Definitely present in Kentucky. But it's not as bad in the cities - they tend to have a lot of Yankees around. I mean, I had severe transplant shock, and I'm from here, but I hope she gets over it eventually!

      SEE! Here it's a several-sentence ritual. Dr. S will learn eventually; I predict 5-10 years.

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  4. chall4:40 PM

    I'm still confused, after 7 years in the south from the cold north outside of US (=direct and not lying and smiling through teeth). It's always a double take for what people really mean so nowadays I just nod and interpret it as they mean it (all the nice stuff) since if they don't I guess I'll find out later anyway.... obviously I have some issues playing the game but I try and smile and be cutsie and say "I'm such a northerner with my direct manner, I'm so sorry sweetie" ;)

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