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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Notes from the land of grits, sweet tea and fireworks

     I guess we all recognize how we live in the Columbia "bubble" when it comes to our views of culture and how the world works.  I admit it I am a Starbucks drinking, bagel eating, NPR radio listening liberal. A visit to the Southern part of our Country shows how distant we are from the cultural land of the Tea Party.  Having spent the past week and a half in the South I wanted to share some of my observations.
     I am not sure why Southerners have an obsession with grits.  For all of us Northerners this gritty cream of wheat substance is something which we try to eat with milk and sugar.  This horrifies Southerners who put butter, salt and pepper on this dish.  As many Southerners will point out grits is more of a dinner meal than a breakfast meal.  I saw the familiar grits and shrimp dishes along with the grits and cheese, grits and jalapeno peppers and grits with bacon and red peppers.
    After grits you have to realize that ice tea doesn't come unsweetened in the South.  We made this mistake twice when ordering ice tea for dinner.  Sweet tea is the only kind known down South.  Once we were told they would have to brew some new tea because sweet tea was all they had.  Mistakenly tasting the sweet tea my only question was how much sugar do they put in their tea?  Seemed to me to be one part tea to two parts sugar.  The South needs an Horizon Foundation to spell out the sugar problem more than we do here in Howard County.  Between the fried foods and sugar in tea it is no wonder that the states with the highest rates of obesity are mostly in the South.

    What is the South's obsession with fireworks?  They don't have just regular size fireworks stores but they have supersized fireworks stores!  Think of IKEA sized fireworks stores.  They must be doing fireworks year round for these stores to exist in the numbers that they do.  Explosives of all kinds seems to be a popular sport down South.  Closely related to this is the obsession with guns and ammo stores.  Interestly many of these stores seem to also commonly display Confederate flags.  Is the South really preparing for a resumption of the Civil War?  If this is the case I think this time the North will be out gunned.
     As I mentioned earlier I usually listen to NPR on the radio.  In the Northeast it is not hard to find an NPR station on the lower end of the FM radio dial.  It is always comforting to be able to listen to NPR's Morning Edition or the Diane Rehm's show when traveling.  This was harder in the South.  The lower end of the FM dial was mostly religious or country western stations.

    Probably the most telling difference in traveling Route 95 through the South is the schizophrenic juxtaposition of the billboards with a religious message next to the billboards for gentlemen's clubs.  Gentlemen's clubs and Baptist churches seem to be the most common institutions in Southern towns. Can you imagine what would happen if someone tried to open a gentlemen's club in Columbia?  The closest we came to this is with the adult store along Route 40 in Ellicott City.  My take away from the Southern billboards is that there must be a large number of frustrated, guilt ridden men in the area.
     Finally the number of anti-Obama bumper stickers in the South reinforces the reason why we have a gridlocked Congress.  Virginia and North Carolina maybe turning purple but in the Deep South the dislike and hatred for Obama is very strong.  Bumper stickers that say "I didn't vote for Obama but I want my free stuff" or Obama as a Nazi or the Joker from Batman are everywhere.  No "Choose Civility" bumper stickers in the South which makes the politeness in their speech ring a little hollow to me.
     In writing this blog I know I sound mocking and self righteous about the South.  Maybe what I observed was only the superficial aspects of Southern culture as someone only passing by to another destination.  Maybe my feeling of being a "fish out of water" was only because I didn't have enough time to develop a deeper understanding to appreciate the positive aspects of the culture and maybe it is unfair to evaluate their culture through my Northern liberal filter.

     We went from this........................................

    to this in two days!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Makes you wonder about our choices of residence.


Anonymous said...

Well, bless your heart! You are being mocking and self-righteous, but that's okay, because southerners self-righteously mock you, too. Let's start with that "cream of wheat" remark. Lordy, lordy, anyone knows that grits are CORN! Specifically, a breed of corn called "hominy" (hint: NOT silver queen :-) that grinds up coarsely. Corn vs. wheat? Only important if you're on a gluten-free diet (grits are gluten-free), or if you care about the taste. :-)

How much sugar's in sweet tea? Normally, it's about a cup of sugar per gallon of tea, but to some people the answer's "the absolute most that will stay dissolved." There's a reason we have chemistry classes in school down south.

Fireworks? Yeah, we like hearing those "boom" sounds and we just don't have all the shootings that Baltimore does, so we fill in with fireworks.

Gentlemen's clubs, to use the euphemism? Yeah, sure, but just check out the Block (what's left of it.) The south is a very, very poor second to the north in that area. You win, we lose.

But y'all come back any time now, y'hear? Bless your heart!

duanestclair said...

I love your humorous take on my blog. But your comparisons of southern traditions to Baltimore examples miss the mark. I was comparing the southern traditions to Howard County or specially Columbia.

Anonymous said...

Glad you got the humor; I was a little concerned it would be taken too seriously.

But it's a bit unfair to compare Columbia, MD, with East Middle-of-Nowhere, SC. That would be comparable to comparing Cary, NC with Cumberland, MD and wondering what all the fuss was really about.

If you want to compare Columbia with Cary, NC; Davidson, NC; Greenville, SC or Woodstock, GA, those would be fair comparisons and you might be shocked at what you see. Highly educated areas; reasonably affluent; diverse populations with a lot of immigrants, especially from Asia; well kept with a lot of amenities. Sound familiar? :-)