What to Expect as a Northerner in the South

What do you get when you cross a city girl from the North with a country girl living in the South? The answer: me. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and have lived there for the past 20 years of my life. Just two years ago, I ended up in small town Murray, Kentucky to attend school at Murray State University. Upon arriving, I knew that what I was used to growing up would be very different from what I would see at school. So you aren’t caught up in a giant culture shock like I was, here’s some things you should know as a Northerner living down South.


Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

1. Basketball is a HUGE Thing Down Here

I love my school, but our football team is not the best. We’re D1 in every sport at my school, but the turn out for Basketball games far outnumbers that of football. Coming from up North were the NFL and college football bring up many memories from the fall and Thanksgiving holidays, it was odd not having the same excitement down here towards this sport. I used to play basketball growing up, and I used to think that unless you knew people on the team, it wasn’t really worth watching. But, the amount of locals, graduates, and current students/staff that attend these games is amazing. My school has such great spirit when it comes to basketball events and I think I’m even on the verge of loving it a bit more than football.

2. You’re Going to Try New Things

A few months ago, my friends from the surrounding counties asked me if I wanted to join them at the Bull Blowout. Being where I’m from, I had no idea what I was getting myself into and started daydreaming about being Sophia Danko and meeting a Bull Rider who I would fall in love with, just like she did with the character, Luke Collins in the Longest Ride. Although my expectations fell a little short and I didn’t meet my Prince Charming that evening, it was definitely worth going to. My favorite part of the night, which I later learned was called “Mutton Bustin’” was when children rode sheep like the bull riders did bulls. I’ve never been much for change, but I highly recommend you allow yourself to be introduced to some cultural and societal norms and stereotypes down here, as I was. You won’t regret it.

3. You’ll Get Mocked on the Daily

Being from the suburbs of Chicago, I have a hard “aaa” with many words that contain the letter “o”. Additionally, I have a naturally nasal tone of voice. You can tell the people in the South that they have an accent all that you want, but I can guarantee you that they will deny it and call you the foreigner. If you’re from around me and would like to try to avoid some of this mockery, try to avoid these words/phrase.

  • Chicago
  • Hotdog
  • Porkchop
  • Pecan
  • Stop
  • God
  • You Guys
  • For
  • New Orleans
  • Bubbler
  • Carmel
  • Pop
  • Lightning Bugs
  • Crayfish
  • Oil/Soil
  • Crayon
  • And once you’ve realized that you can’t survive without saying half of these words, just get over it. I sure did.

4. The Food.

Being from a city where deep dish pizza and hotdogs and Italian beef are weekly amenities, it sucks not having the same taste in food down here. Although, I’ve attended some fish fry’s and BBQ’s, the culture shock with the food down here was something I wasn’t prepared for. AND THEY ALSO DON’T HAVE GAS STOVES: LIKE WHAT EVEN ARE ELECTRIC STOVES??

5. You Need to Educate Yourself

When I came down here, people started saying words that I had never heard in my life. Working in Dining Services really opened my eyes, too. I didn’t know that you prepared food this way, or that some of these foods even existed.

Words/Phrases people will say that you need to know the definition to:

  • Hushpuppies
  • Okra
  • Cookout
  • Bless your heart
  • Fixing to
  • Supper
  • Y’all vs. All Y’all
  • Mutton Bustin

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6. The Weather is Quite Different

And I thought Chicago was bipolar. Immediately following Winter Break, I returned two days prior to our first day back. Apparently it had snowed a few days before, but it had only been a few inches, so I wasn’t expecting much trouble with the roads. Well, I was DEFINITELY wrong because those roads were covered in layers of ice, locals had no idea how to deal with the road conditions and because of all of this chaos, we had that first week off from classes before God melted the snow and ice on His own. Even in April one day it’s 35 degrees and snowing and the next is 72 and sunny. So, unless you’re staying in the deep South, odds are you’re gonna run into some wacky weather.

7. Southern Hospitality is REAL

Before coming to school here, the only guys that would hold the door for me were my brother, father, grandpa and other members of my family. Other than that, it was pretty limited where I grew up. I remember my freshman year of college when my one guy friend raced me to the door, so he could open it up for me. Another Southern quality I’ve had to get used to is being referred to as “ma’am”. As a future educator, this word is used quite often and I love how respected I feel when a man or any individual for that matter, addresses me with it.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash