By Christie McNeal
Life is full of choices. The choices that have probably shaped my life the most, though, always involved moving. With each move, I gained many opportunities I might not have had otherwise.
The moves taught me about how geography can have a huge impact on culture, and I now have a greater understanding and acceptance of different people and cultures. I know that in Sparta, N.J., for example, if you simply ask for iced tea, they are likely to bring you either a strange fruity version of tea or possibly hot tea and a glass of ice.
In Houston, Texas, simply order iced tea, and it is almost always going to be unsweetened.
But in Tupelo, you better clearly state you want unsweetened tea a few times, or you will end up with a version that is sure to raise your blood sugar.
I also know that many southerners use the word “Coke” to refer to any number of carbonated beverages. My friends in New Jersey probably wondered what was wrong with my parents when my friends said they would like a Coke to drink, and my parents said, “What kind?” These friends simply said “soda” for the generic.
There are lots of other terms that differ from various locations as well. I’ll never forget the day a coworker from Maryland was proofreading the police reports and put a question mark by the word “rolled.” Most copy editors would have assumed she thought it was not correct AP style. However, having lived in other places, I giggled, knowing she probably didn’t know what rolling a house was. She referred instead to the act of trashing one’s yard with toilet paper as “T. P.ing” – short for toilet papering.
Accents are also something to be cautious about.
My husband, with his South Mississippi drawl, almost got in big trouble when asking for “some ice” when traveling through Illinois, but I’ll leave that one for you to figure out.
When my southern-born and raised parents first moved our family to New Jersey, they wanted to raise my brother and me to be respectful southerners and still say “yes m’am” and “yes sir.” They quickly found out that might be a harder thing than they thought, though, when my brother got sent to the principal’s office for saying “yes m’am” to his teacher. She thought he was being a smart aleck.
While I might not have always fit in everywhere I lived, I am so glad for each decision to move and that I had the opportunity to learn about and be more accepting of some of the many cultures. P.S. It’s hard being the new kid in town, so be sure to throw some of that extra southern hospitality Mississippi is famous for next time you meet someone who is new.
Christie McNeal was born in Birmingham, Ala. She attended kindergarten though sixth grade in Sparta, N.J., and graduated from high school in Brandon. She then lived in Oxford; Houston, Texas; and Birmingham again. She is now happy to call Tupelo home and works at the Journal as a copy editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.