While visiting the South, you will immediately notice that we have our own vocabulary. Ma'am is standard issue, and 'g's are optional (think laughin', smilin', eatin'). Don't say we talk funny while you are here; it's exactly how it's supposed to sound. While you are visiting, you are the one who is talking funny. Now, take a lesson and feel free to make one syllable words into two, such as "Good morning, Bi-ill!" There, you're starting to blend right in.
And it's not just the way we say it, often times you may be surprised by what it is we actually say. One of my college roommates, Jackie, was from New Jersey and was baffled when I mentioned getting a buggy at the grocery store. That's right, we have buggies, also known as carts, and we don't go 'food shopping' like Jackie used to say. You will also frequently hear things such as:
Well, I never
Shut your mouth
I might could
I'm fixin' to
Mean as a snake
Slower than molasses (not to be confused with slower than cream risin' on buttermilk)
Stubborn as mule
That dog won't hunt
More often than all of these, you will hear "bless your heart!" You may think that this is being said sweetly, but I can tell you that we generally bless people's hearts when they are doing something stupid. Allow me to use it in a sentence for teaching purposes: "Bless his heart, he shot himself in the leg during church service!" See what I mean? Bless your heart can also be turned into a double whammy, see also: "Bless your heart! Poor old thing!" Make no mistake, at this point the odds are high that you are being ridiculed. It's being done in the nicest possible way, but that is exactly what is happening. Stop what you are doing and consult your Southern visitor's guide to find out why everyone is laughing.
Our food is very important to Southerners. You may encounter some delicacies that you don't immediately love, but you'll warm up to them, trust me. Down here, we like okra. Don't say it's slimy or gross; you probably haven't had it made the right way (fried, duh). Same goes with grits--we love them, and if you have them the way the Lord intended (with lots of butter and/or cheese), you will soon be hooked. We are also not fond of serving our vegetables naked; we much prefer them in casseroles, accessorized with creamy soups and breadcrumbs and here come the butter and cheese again. Is your mouth watering yet?
When you get ready to wash down all that goodness, you will want to get yourself some tea or a Coke. No, it's not soda or pop, it is Coke no matter where you are or what brand they may be serving (even in North Carolina, the home of Pepsi). If you ask for tea, you will get a glass of syrupy sweet iced tea that will, in all likelihood, make your teeth ache from the sugar content. If you want something else, you will need to specify that your Yankee self likes unsweet tea, or you wanted a cup of Earl Gray to soothe your nerves.
And while we are a friendly place, please be aware that we can, and do, judge people by their clothing choices. Anyone with face piercings obviously has mother issues. Short shorts signify daddy issues. Men without shirts and/or shoes are probably just Gamecock fans, dressed in their best attire for a special occasion. Bear in mind that we can and will monogram anything that stands still long enough, and stay away from "critter" pants--embroidered with lobsters, bumblebees, whales--they are bad enough in their natural Southern habitat, but I can't in good conscience let you take those things home with you and have them spread to other regions. We do not need a critter pants pandemic.
When choosing your outfit, be sure to remember the three types of summer weather down South: hot (which will cause you to "glisten," a Southernism for sweat), hotter (watch me fry an egg on this sidewalk, y'all), and hottest (Lord have mercy on your sweltering soul). Get yourself a glass of tea and head on off to the lake. When winter rolls around, if more than two snowflakes hit the ground simultaneously, we come to a screeching halt. Better safe than sorry. Look at it this way: instead of putting chains on your tires and slip sliding for hours to get to work, take the day off, grab some hot chocolate, and build a snowman. Don't you just love it here?
So now you've had your crash course in visiting the South. It's by no means everything you need to know--we spend our whole lives perfecting being Southern ladies and gentlemen, but it will help you decipher your surroundings and make the most of your time in God's country. So come on out to the front porch and grab a rocking chair close to the bug zapper. We'll make you feel right at home.