1. Use of ma'am and sir is not optional (even when said ma'am and sir are the same age as or younger than you)
I always considered myself to be a pretty polite child. I said please, thank you, you're welcome, and excuse me at all the appropriate times. It wasn't until I got here that my simple no's and yes's (or occasional yeah's) seemed so curtly rude without the softening touch of the necessary "ma'am" or "sir" afterward. In Maryland, if you call someone ma'am or sir and they're under the age of oh-I-don't-know 80, they almost get offended. As if you're saying, "Yes, and you look like you're 70 years old." This is a major cultural difference. (And one that is waning in popularity among children of my children's generation.) Being the transplant that I am, I'm learning it along with my children.
2. When at a wedding do as the mother-of-the-bride does
This is first in a long line of wedding-related learning experiences (like taking hostesses of bridal shower a gift). Long story short, you do not automatically rise as the bride enters. Sometimes, the bride prefers everyone to be seated, and if that is the case, the mother-of-the-bride is the person to whom you look for direction. If she doesn't rise, neither do you. While in attendance at one of my first southern weddings, I started to stand up as the bride entered (and I wasn't the only one), but was snatched back to my seat by the elbow with a stern look and a whispered "Don't you know how to act?!" I had no idea what was going on, but was educated following the ceremony. I can assure you this is a lesson I will not forget.
3. The best cooking tips don't come from a cookbook
The most invaluable tips regarding cooking (something else about which I know nearly nothing) come from the people who have shed blood, sweat, and tears in the kitchen, pouring their love into every dish. Among these tips are:
- You know your frying oil is ready by flicking a few drops of water into it. When the water pops, you're ready to fry.
- The smaller the vegetable, the tastier and more tender it will be. (So you can keep all of your prize-winning, giant squash to yourselves.)
- If something tastes good, it's probably due to a very large amount of butter, bacon [and/or drippings], sour cream, or cream cheese. (P.S. - Paula Deen does not own the rights to all things butter.)
- If you dip your spreading device in warm water between swaths, it really helps when icing a cake.
- If you don't have a piping device, a sandwich baggie with a tiny corner cut off is the perfect substitution. (And this is the one and only way to fill deviled eggs.)
- To make the beloved Sweet Tea - place teabags into a small pot of water on the stove. Heat until just before boiling. Let steep, but don't let it cool off. Pour into gallon-sized pitcher over desired amount of sugar (for us, 1 cup plus just a little bit of extra). Stir to dissolve sugar. Fill to the brim with water. Stir again.
- Shucking corn is easier if you cut both ends off. It helps you grab hold of the silk.
The salt and pepper shaker must always be passed together ("like they're married"), even if a person only asks for one or the other. You must never stack dishes on top of one another at the end of a meal (no matter how claustrophobic you may be feeling). You might be eating ribs off a paper plate at a non-air-conditioned BBQ shack, but you must always put a napkin in your lap. I know there are others slipping my mind (which happens more frequently with each passing day).
5. Chivalry (or at least common human decency) is not dead
It might be in the form of a stranger holding the door, a wave from another driver as they pass, or the simplest eye contact and a smile, but there is a warmth down here that you just don't get anywhere else. People are not afraid to speak to each other. They are happy to help an elderly woman down the stairs, bring a meal when someone gets home from the hospital, help an old man load groceries into his car. And you know what? I absolutely love it.
6. You can tell a lot from glancing at one of those seemingly endless fields of crops
If the corn is twisted, it needs to be watered. If the corn is as high as an elephant's eye, it's probably sometime in July. And stray cotton, when it blows out of the back of a truck, looks uncannily similar to dead chickens. On another note, it is perfectly acceptable to pray for rain. (And, no matter what the naysayers claim...it worked. And I'm proud to live in a place where people will pray for rain.)
I have learned so much, and still have so much more to learn. Maybe someday I'll do "Thank you, South - Part 3". Excepting those first transitional months where I couldn't figure out why everyone was trying to make eye contact with me and say hello, I have loved every minute of living in the south. Instead of resisting it, I have learned to embrace it. And now, there's just no going back. (Sorry Mom & Dad.)