Subtle Culture Shocks of the South

Senior year of high school I began telling people that I was moving 2,500 miles across the country from Portland, Oregon to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for college. I was met with a lot of wide eyes and skepticism. What I remember hearing more than anything was people advising me about the “culture shock” that I was going to experience. I was ready and excited to experience something new, and Alabama has been just that! I love discovering new, subtle differences and funny language barriers that emerge in conversation, especially in the South. Here are a few that I’ve noticed:

What’s a Buggy?

The first time I arrived in Tuscaloosa, I went into a store and was immediately met by a woman who asked me, “Do you want a buggy?” It took a couple of follow-up questions and a few gestures to finally decipher that a “buggy” is just a shopping cart. Who would’ve thought?

“Making” Grades

At home, if I were to have received an A on a test, I would say “I got an A!” Here, a lot of people say that they “made an A!” I now find myself talking about “making” grades rather than “getting” them, and I actually like it better! It’s different and gives the student a little more ownership. After all, grades should be earned, not given! 

People Don’t Eat Annie’s Mac and Cheese?

I’m not sure how ubiquitous Annie’s Mac and Cheese is, but at home, every household seems to have a box of Annie’s in the pantry. Although there is certainly some debate regarding Kraft vs. Annie’s, if someone told me that they were going to make mac and cheese, I would likely assume that the brand would be Annie’s. Here in Alabama, none of my friends have ever had Annie’s before, and they call me “granola” for liking it! Luckily, I remain unbothered because I am confident in my taste buds… Annie’s is superior (if you haven’t tried it, you should!).

Playing on the “Play Structure”

One day, I casually referred to a “play structure” and everyone looked at me like I was insane. I didn’t realize that it was a strange word to use. I typically use “play structure” interchangeably with “playground,” although there is sometimes a distinction between the two. In Portland, I work at a daycare and we would often say “No running on the play structure!” because the kids shouldn’t run on the actual play structure,​ where they could ram into a pole. They are, however, allowed to run on the playground​ in the open space. I’m not sure in what regions people say “play structure,” or why so many people that I’ve met have never heard of it… it still baffles me!

American Cheese is the Norm

Listen… “American cheese” is a lot of things, but it’s certainly not cheese. It’s “cheese product,” and frankly, it seems borderline treasonous to name it after America. Every time I see anything on a menu here, American cheese always seems to be the standard. I don’t know who let this happen, but I’m not here for it. At home, I always think of cheddar cheese as the norm – if I ordered a grilled cheese and it came with American cheese, I would be very confused (and sad). I’m not sure if this is unique to Alabama, or perhaps it’s just been my experience, but either way, American cheese has got to go.

Umbrellas

I would never be caught dead with an umbrella at home. Portland is a rainy city, although the rain is pretty light, so people don’t really use umbrellas. If I do see someone with one, I tend to assume that they are a tourist and/or a wimp (just kidding!...mostly). Here in Tuscaloosa, people pull out umbrellas like it’s nobody’s business! Any sort of drizzle and BAM! I’m surrounded by umbrellas. Although I do think UA students are far too eager with their excessive rain protection, I have to be fair: the rain here is a lot stronger and does tend to warrant an umbrella. That still doesn’t stop me from succumbing to my judgmental conditioning and umbrella aversion. I can’t help but feel just a little bit ashamed every time I have to use an umbrella.

 

These are just a few of the many differences that I’ve experienced since coming to Alabama. If you go to college out of state, I’d love to hear about your language barriers or any funny culture shocks. Tell your story and tag us on Instagram @hercampusbama!