8 Things I Learned In The South

Fried okra is a vegetable. ...and so are fried onions.
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Minutes after landing in the South, I realized I was somewhere very, very different from California or New York. The air indoors was perfumed with fried chicken. The air outdoors felt humid and rich. People were... smiling. For no reason that I could see.

For a few warm, smiley days, my eager (read: eager to party) hosts led me in the Southern way of life. The things they taught me (between beers) have made my real life all the better.

1. It's ok to take a nap.
On the whole, big-city dwellers measure success in productivity. Hours worked. The ability to maneuver our cars first onto the freeway or squish ourselves last onto the subway. Southerners, however, consider the day a success if it left them feeling fulfilled. We'd hate to think that it means leaving a task unaccomplished, but taking time to slow the hamster wheel of your mind is crucial for wellness. There's no shame in napping. And if that nap takes place in a porch hammock, all the better.

2. It's nice to be conservative.
Like when you wear a polo shirt to school instead of a tank top. Like when boys ask you out to dinner instead of back to their man cave. Like when you address the cashier with "ma'am" and not with "hey." The South adheres more closely to conservative, traditional social norms than most other parts of the country. Back home, I might feel a little embarrassed to admit that I prefer these behaviors to edgier ones that are the norm in other places. But in the South, they feel just right.

3. Civic pride is personal pride.
Southerners take their cities -- and the Southern symbols and Southern sports teams and Southern virtues that come with them -- seriously. In South Carolina, it's more common to see a car marked with the state's palmetto tree and crescent moon emblem than without one. And in New Orleans, Saints football players volunteer around the community. In the South, people act like they're in this together. Like they share some higher cause, even if it's just a state logo. The attitude leaves you feeling bizarrely confident and ready to tackle life, because you know your city is behind you.

4. Fried okra is a vegetable.
...and so are fried onions. And so is cornbread. And chicken fried steak, grits, and hush puppies are totally passable entrée options. Southerners savor their comfort food-- they seem like they refuse to fret about the impact it'll have on their physique or their health. This philosophy, of course, may have its downsides. But it's also a comforting reminder to the quinoa-munching, juice-cleansing, yuppie rest of the nation that it's okay to follow our taste buds.

5. History is cool.
It sounds cliché, indeed. But there isn't much history on the other side of the country, where states are young and empty spans of land are developed into strip malls every day. It's a foreign concept to us Westerners that you can see Civil War cannons in Mississippi or casually cross Andrew Jackson's lawn on a typical day in Nashville. In the South, history isn't something you visit in a museum. It's on the streets, where you're forced to pay attention to it unless you want to feel like an ignorant dingbat.

6. Country music is real music.
It's just got so much heart. Which would cause you to think more: an Auto-Tuned ditty about "shakin' it in the club," or a ballad that explores disease, death, and moving on, all in the span of a chorus? In its finer moments, country music has forced me to gauge what's important in life, whether I felt like it or was merely subjected to the stereo of my friend's pickup truck.

7. Being outside is kinda fun.
In the South, Chacos are typical footwear, and fishing shirts complete an outfit. This is because Southern folk spend a disproportionate amount of time outdoors compared to the rest of the nation (official stats are unavailable, but I'm preeetty sure it's true). In the South, temperatures are warm and the trees stay green forever. There are ponds and creeks and muddy swamps, and you have to drive past them to get to your dinner destination. People make a sport of catching fireflies. Heck, some people even make their living on a farm. It only takes a few days in the Southern pattern of life before you start wishing nature were more present in your own.

8. Hospitality is a virtue.
In my experience, the stereotype is true: Southern people are more apt to hold open doors, comp your beers, and ignite conversation in the middle of the supermarket. After a few of these random acts of kindness, I decided I should make a more conscious effort to bring that charming culture into my less-hospitable hometown, even though it's not as natural there. Nothing beats the feeling when somebody improves your day without expecting anything in return. And in the South, that's kinda every day.

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