Monday, July 10, 2006

A Yankee Amongst the Magnolias – 3

The only gracious way to accept an insult is to ignore it; if you can't ignore it, top it; if you can't top it, laugh at it; if you can't laugh at it, it's probably deserved. ~J. Russel Lynes

There are three things Northerners don't understand about the South. First, they don't understand barbecue; second, they don't understand the terms hillbilly and redneck. Third, they don't understand how to use “y'all”. Well, I tell a lie. Actually there are a lot of things Northerners don't understand about the South, but these are the only three I'm going to talk about. Barbecue first.

The Food Channel has worked hard to educate people about barbecue, but even that source complicates the issue at times. Barbecue up North is a dismal affair. Most often, it's some sort of overcooked meat soaking in a ketchup sauce served on a bun. It's a kind of sloppy joe without character. I'm no expert on the preparation of barbecue, but I know what I like. And what I like is only available when you go South.


Barbecue is served in Alabama with no sauce. The sauce is on the table, and, in my humble opinion, the non-sweet sauces with serious bite are the best, the hotter the better. Some of the best barbecue I've had was found at a gas station in Union Springs, Alabama. I don't know how they prepared it, but it had more flavor in the meat than I've ever come across. Their idea of sauce was a bottle of Tabasco on the side.

Good barbecue places will never insult you by putting their sauce on the 'cue without asking first. Generally, it'll be served in a styrofoam cup on the side so you can determine how much you want. Good barbecue places are simple, but they pride themselves on their side dishes. Great cole slaw, brunswick stew, and other goodies can fill out the meal. But, for me, just bring on the meat, and I'll be happy. I've had wonderful ribs in Montgomery and fantastic chopped pork in Selma, but the most unusual place was in Oneonta.

Evidently, this place had been a Dairy Queen or some such in the past. When they folded, a barbecue place moved in. You paid for a sandwich or a meal then went to the buffet and served up yourself. You could stuff yourself silly there, and it was good 'cue. I don't recall the name of the place (I was only there once), but if you're ever in Oneonta, just ask someone.

Now about rednecks and hillbillies. When I lived in Virginia, I learned that the ultimate insult you could deliver was to call someone a redneck. Virginians are a reasonably genteel group, although there are areas up in the mountains where folks are liable to shoot first and ask questions later. But while some of their compatriots may not be as gentrified as they, most Virginians will never stoop to calling them rednecks. This insult is normally reserved for West Virginians, who have never been forgiven for choosing to remain in the Union when the rest of the state seceded at the start of the Civil War (or, as it is known in some parts of the South, “The Recent Unpleasantness”). So, in Virginia, redneck is a fightin' word.

In Alabama, on the other hand, redneck is taken altogether differently. I discovered this fairly quickly. On my first trip to the state, I was listening to a Montgomery rock 'n' roll radio station on a Friday afternoon. Suddenly, the DJ came on and hollered, “All right, you rednecks! It's Friday!” Definitely not an insult down here.

It seems that if you want to look down your nose at someone here, you call him (or her) a hillbilly. Now, my wife is from Kentucky, where there are a lot of hillbillies. True hillbillies have one leg shorter than the other so they can keep level while running around the mountains. Well, that's not true, but I can't use that line when my wife can hear me, so I had to get it out of my system. I'm not sure what Kentuckians call someone when they're mad at them, but I don't think you can hear it over the shooting.

To Northerners, though, everyone is a redneck, thanks mostly to Jeff Foxworthy, who is funny guy, but, to be truthful, by his descriptions, a lot of people in Minnesota could be considered rednecks. A Yankee visiting south of, say, Columbus, Ohio, could get himself into a lot of unnecessary trouble by incorrect use of terms. I mean, there you are, in White Hall, Alabama, just stopped in their notorious speed trap, so you try to ingratiate yourself to the local constable by telling him you're just love the hillbilly folks around here.

You'd be amazed how many things you can be fined for in the average traffic stop.

Or you could be cruising through Mt. Sidney, Virginia, when a Sheriff's deputy pulls you over to tell you your license plate light is out. Telling him you're proud to meet a redneck like him in this fine state is not a good thing to do.

Do you know there are hundreds of reasons they can confiscate your car?

Oh, and if you think you can fake a good Southern accent in an attempt to ingratiate yourself, let me tell you right now that Northerners will always trip on “y'all”. Don't use it because you'll screw up and give yourself away in a New York minute.

“Y'all” is used when referring to more than one person. A Southerner talking to a single person will never say, “Will y'all have some more tea?” If however, he wishes to ask after you and your family, he'll say, “How y'all doing?” And Southerners never, ever say “You all”. It's “y'all”, period. Northerners seem to get their understanding of Southern argot from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Now I love Bugs Bunny like a fuzzy brother, but his Southern accent is a tragedy. The Bronx Bunny is at his best when he sticks to his native slang.

If y'all insist on coming to visit us down here, just smile and eat your barbecue. And mind the speed limit, because those signs that say “Speed Limit Strictly Enforced” apply specifically to cars with license plates from states north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Jes' some advice from a l'il ole country boy in Alabama.

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