Sugar. Honey. Baby.
I know I'm down south.
It may be for just a few months, but it feels like home.
I've never met most of these people before, but they shower me liberally with these terms of endearment. The more they do it, the more pronounced my southern drawl becomes. And somehow It makes me feel not so much loved by these perfect strangers as understood and acknowledged.
Home was Southern California, but my Mississippi-born mother raised me as a hybrid Southern Southern Californian. No beach kid ever ate as much cornbread as I did.
I grew up hearing hundreds of stories from my mother and her family. These tales were often funny, dark and tragic all at once. Little did I know I was being nourished on that literary genre known as Southern Gothic. The stories were often repeated, and each time I heard them at a different age, I found new meaning and nuance, the repetition rooting them in my brain like a poem memorized.
When someone up north says "To make a long story short", or worse "Long story short" or the unforgivable "Long short", all I can think is "Why would you want to do that?" Southerners want to hear the whole story with all the excruciating details. Don't leave out anything. I mean, it's not like we're in a hurry.
I know the north has its storytellers, even beyond Mr. Keillor, but the storytelling doesn't seem to bleed into the wheel-greasing exchange of everyday life.
Here in the south when people enter waiting rooms, populated with black and white, they address the entire group and ask "How y'all doin'?" And if someone chooses to elaborate out loud about their plight, with spoken sidebars as well, everyone listens and murmurs an empathetic uh-hum. Then in turn they might share their business too.
People speak to you passing down the street without a single thought. You strike up a random conversation in a line and find out you know someone they know. Someone gives you an extra helping of blackberry cobbler in your takeout order and let's you know it with a whispered "Sweetheart" that makes you feel just a little special. Even if they do that for everyone.
Is it corny? No, for me it's convivial, it crosses racial divides. It's community.
These things don't happen in Minnesota, at least not often enough to notice. And that's not to say that Minnesotans are cold, despite the outdoor temperature. They are caring, selfless, hardy souls. But still...
While I only lived in the actual south for 6 years as a young adult, the rest of my life has been a geographic journey. Living as a perpetual fish out of water, you'd think the land of lakes would be no different and that I would adapt like I have adapted everywhere else, even overseas.
People ask me how I find Minnesota. I tell them people are nice but not necessarily friendly. I understand the definition of Minnesota nice but I don't know if I recognize it. The reserve, the passive-aggression? Yes and no. There's just some kind of barrier. I get it when they say that Minnesotans will give you directions to anywhere but their house. I find that most of the friends I've found are from somewhere else. The Minnesotans that have been kind enough to connect are most appreciated.
I find myself wondering just how unseeming I must seem to the locals. I'm not too good at self-censoring. Why, just by writing this post am I violating the norms? Is there a playbook somewhere I can decode?
So, native Minnesotans and recent transplants, is their some truth to the idea of MinneSorta Nice? What do you think?