How to be a Southerner, as Told by a Midwesterner

Please read the following contents with a southern accent. If help is needed to achieve southern accent, please visit your local fabric store and mimic the sweet lady who works there.

I hail from a small Midwestern town that could be the inspiration for any chart topper in country music; population: 1,779. For no other reason than the state name of Georgia being in a great number of those country songs, I believed I was ready to move to the south. I thought it was like my town, only warmer; I was wrong. Over my four years at Berry, I have observed a few rules that made it a little easier to blend in.

On the day of my arrival to Berry College, I went to the local Wal-Mart to get dorm room things with a few people that I had met. It was this really fun time where everyone was still getting a grip on their bearings while also trying to totally impress one another. I was living it up telling my best stories, making people laugh, rocking the socks off of this college thing… and then it happened. “Hey Mackenzie, will you grab a buggy?” We were still in the parking lot, and my instant reaction was to search the parking lot for a wooden platform attached to a horse.  I had no idea why they would need that, no idea why they would have one in the parking lot of their Wal-Mart and no idea what my next move should be. I decided the phrase, “and where would I find that?” was the most appropriate and least embarrassing. When five minute of laughter ensued because I was standing right next to the shopping cart return, I realized that there was a language barrier between the Southerners and myself.

Rule 1: Learn the lingo.

           Buggy: otherwise known as a shopping cart; used at the grocery store to place food and other items for purchase.

            Bless Her Heart: you can say anything mean as long as you use this phrase right before or after it.

            Mighta/Oughta/Coulda: Use any combination of two of these together to refer to something you should do or should have done.

            Sugar: any person that you have just met, will only know for that one encounter, and you semi-enjoy.

            Coke: any type of carbonated beverage.

            Fixin’:  the verb that implies you are about to do something

            Ma’am & Sir: Use this at every opportunity possible.

            Mr. & Ms.: Use these for adults followed by their family surname only unless they’ve given you special permission to do otherwise.

            Y’all: You or you guys.

            All Y’alls: You guys (in a possessive sense). For example:  All y’alls stuff is still in my backseat, so don’t forget it!


On the same trip to Wal-Mart I felt the overwhelming need to redeem myself. I had let my Midwestern personality show, and it wasn’t even day two. Before that thought could even sink in, I saw the most perplexing site of the day. Screw Berry’s 27,000 acres; there was a man outside of Wal-Mart in his navy blue smock with soapy water and a scrub brush seemingly cleaning the sidewalk. Without a single thought I blurted out, “what are you doing?!” He stopped glanced up at me. As if it was the most normal sentence he’d said all day replied, “cleaning the sidewalk.”

HE WAS LITERALLY CLEANING THE SIDEWALK! “Why in the world are you doing that?!” …at 11:00 pm on a Sunday, in the dark, alone… I would have added that but it seemed a little rude. I suddenly felt the eyes of all of my new friends on my back, panicked and very aware that I had done something wrong, I started to recount the conversation in my mind. No, I’m sure I didn’t point out to him all of the really obvious reasons this was entirely strange behavior. Interrupting my thoughts, the man explained that he was cleaning the sidewalk because it hadn’t been done since the previous Sunday. Still not understanding that logic but trying to redeem myself from whatever it was that I had done, I said “God bless.” I may have curtsied, that part is still a blur.

Rule 2: Small talk is required, actual inquiries are forbidden.

You are allowed to have conversations with any person you come across about:

·      A mutual friend who has gone off the rails *if it is prefaced or followed with bless her heart.

·      The weather

·      The Braves, Falcons, or the 1996 Olympics

o   If you want to discuss college sports with anyone, make sure you know whether they are a Georgia, Auburn or Alabama fan. I cannot stress the importance of this step enough.

·      A nearby baby, only if you are complimenting its completion, name, or resemblance to the parents.

·      Their outfit, but only if you’re going to say it looks nice.

·      Their southernness. You are free to always comment on how southern a person is.

If you embark on conversations outside of this clearly defined list, you run the risk of offending and those are waters you do not want to tread.


Below: Me when the cashier asks me how my day was.


On to my next rule, but first let me debrief you. I’ll never forget my first experience with snow here at Berry. I looked outside, saw a really normal day, got ready for class and came out of my room to madness.

“How are we going to get to class?” Oh no, her car must have broken down.

“There is definitely going to be ice on the road.” Oh no, an ice machine broke near the end of our road?

“And it is so cold. How do they expect us to walk in these weather conditions.” *checks weather app* It’s 28° outside. What are they talking about?

“Morning guys!”

“Kenz, did you see the snow?!”

I, of course, saw the three snowflakes this morning. That’s a common day where I’m from. For one of my roommates it was the first time she’d ever seen snow, a concept I still haven’t wrapped my brain around.  For the others, it was the most snow they’d ever seen in their backyards. I had no idea those three flakes would cause impending pandemonium, but before the end of the day we were in a Georgia government declared state of emergency. We ended up with three days without classes because of the three inches of snow that fell on our residential college. The rule of thirds took on a whole new meaning.

Rule 3: If the news says there’s a 10% chance of snow, buy your bread, milk and eggs.

Do not try to drive, there will be black ice. Not that anyone knows because no one is driving, but it is there. You will wreck, and you will have been warned. Stay in your house, and only talk about the weather. That is the only thing you are allowed to discuss. This is never up for debate.

I hope these rules are helpful to anyone trying to get adjusted to the southern lifestyle. They have helped me a great deal in the very few times I have actually applied them. I hope they bring you the same success.

Bless your heart y’all,