Friday, 31 July 2015

Why I love the South

Hi everyone,

A few weeks ago, my phone beeped at me to say that I'd followed on Twitter by this fellow -

I'm guessing I crossed the radar of WQNZ because I follow a couple of country music tweeters.  Anyway, this got me to thinking about how I do absorb quite a lot of the cultural output of the American South. Given some recent media coverage, I thought it might be good to rattle off a post about why I like it so much.

By way of defining terms, I have in mind the South, as opposed to the West (sorry Texas), and in particular the bits I've actually been to: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

So why do I love it?  Most obviously, my darling daughters live there.  Any soil those angelic little feet of theirs touch is obviously dear to me.  And, my ex-wife lives there too.  We get along as well as ex-spouses realistically can.  She has plenty of flaws, of course, but she also has plenty of good qualities too.  And her family are some of the most loving and accepting people I've ever had the good fortune to know.

Concerning the people generally: southerners are genuinely as welcoming and hospitable as the clichés insist.  The much-repeated slight, that they're insular, is unjust.  Yes, often they seem to see the wider world in stereotypes of varying degrees of accuracy.  But on they other hand, they have the great quality of curiosity. When I've been there and people find I'm from Australia, they ask a lot of questions.  And not just 'kangaroos and koalas' questions: they want hard details. How many people live in Melbourne? How far is it from Sydney?   Do you grow rice there?  Does it get very hot there in summer? Does everyone speak English?

As an outsider I don't think I ought to offer an opinion about race.  The only observation I would make is that recent disputes over symbols of the past (like the Confederate battle flag) are, in one sense, a healthy sign: it means people at least care about the past and about what the past can say to the present.  If you want to experience the opposite, try starting a discussion of labour standards or criminal justice in Sydney by waving the flag of the Australasian Anti-Transportation League.  Prepare for howls of incomprehension.
As to lifestyle?  New Orleans cuisine needs no introduction, and the best barbequed ribs I've ever had were at Billy Bobs BBQ in Port Gibson, MississippiCajun music is the sound of life.  University of Alabama's sports program is a demonstration of all that's best in athletic life.  And Florida's weather is a byword for sunshine.

What about you?  Is there somewhere in the world you especially love?  And why?


  1. Stephen, very well written, and I'd say accurate. However, funny thing, we Floridians typically don't think of ourselves so much as southerners, except those who were raised by true southerners (which means, to me, they grew up in GA, ALA, NC, SC, KY, LA, MS, VA, or TN), and didn't get enough education to outgrow their parents' or grandparents' accent. Or, at least that's the complicated way I view the world. That means my cousins, who grew up with me in Florida, are definitely southerners. Meanwhile, I'm just a Floridian with some slight southern roots. I definitely agree with the curiosity aspect, however. That has stuck with me and them, too. :-)

    1. Thanks so much Tina. In some ways, labels and identities are more malleable now than ever: people from the North who've retired to Florida may think of themselves as a mix of the two, say, and the children of the big Vietnamese population in LA and MS are going to give it a different spin all their own. It's a very rich soil for a culture to grow in!