1. Southern food is truly the best. Whether it’s spicy gumbo, fried chicken and biscuits with honey, sautéed greens, or BBQ meat that falls off the bone — the south has it locked up. You grow up with that food and it is the stuff you will be craving for the rest of your life. The day I arrived back in America after a few years abroad, the first meal I had was fluffy biscuits with sausage gravy, two sunny side up eggs, and a glass of real sweet tea. It was transcendent.
2. Hot asphalt and hot vinyl car seats are the stuff of summer nightmares. RIP to all the bare feet and thighs that have been lost to their merciless sizzle.
3. “Southern Belles” and “Southern Gentlemen” still exist, but the people who openly identify as such often embody neither idea.
4. People really are ignorant. The same people whose parents didn’t want them to be in science class when we learned about the Big Bang are the same people who, at age 25, are flagrantly posting Facebook statuses about Obama being a Muslim or gay marriage being dangerous to society. And on the one hand, you realize that they were kind of doomed from the get-go, but on the other hand, they have a vote. (Of course, this doesn’t mean that the stereotype about all southerners being backwards conservatives is true, either. There are Democrats and Republicans, just like you have anywhere else.)
5. Getting the most honey out of a honeysuckle is a fine art. Many a southern summer is spent hanging out by the bush in your back yard, consuming about a full cup’s worth of honey out of 700 tiny flowers, and occasionally avoiding bees.
6. Where you go to church says a lot about you. As a kid, you were constantly asked if you were First Baptist, First Presbyterian, or the Pentecostal tent revival that sounds like a molly-fueled rave for five straight hours on Sunday. Your answer was extremely important to your schoolyard life.
7. Spankings are definitely still a thing. When I moved up to Maryland (which some people still consider the south, but that’s debatable), I realized that a lot of my friends’ parents just “negotiated” with them from age two and beyond. This is not acceptable in the south. One of my most formative memories is being popped in the mouth by my grandmother in front of the entire line at Winn-Dixie because I called her a bitch. It was a moment equivalent in education to about four full years of schooling.
8. There is no limit to how many foods can be fried. And, let’s be honest, you’ve tried (and probably enjoyed) 99 percent of them.
9. American flag clothes are very much in fashion in parts of the country. My neighbor as a child had a collection of NASCAR memorabilia in his living room, including a box of limited-edition Dale Earnhardt Bugles (the corn chips). This man’s clothes were at least 40 percent covered with American flags.
10. There are a million Honey Boo Boos. And the famous one is far more articulate than most of them. I had several Honey Boo Boos in my neighborhood except, instead of spouting adorable sayings, they mostly just ate push pops until their whole faces were orange and threw rocks at animals.
11. Southerners can be extremely fancy. Yes, there is a lot of the aforementioned trash factor. But there is also a huge population of Fancy Southern People who are from #OldMoney and are some of the most terrifying people you will ever encounter. They have names like Austin or Claire and they wear nice hats and they proudly mention that their family used to own a plantation. (This is a real thing, btw.)
12. The holy trinity of condiments is salt, pepper, and hot sauce.
13. There were very liberal “riding your bikes in the neighborhood” rules. Everyone pretty much had free reign all summer, and people were very rarely indoors. The sound of the crickets coming out (and the moms yelling from the doorways) were the only indicators of what time it was or that the day was actually over.
14. All sodas can be referred to as “Coke,” even though this objectively makes no sense and only makes ordering drinks a step more complicated than it needs to be.
15. There are always a couple of old people that hang out at the general store, sitting in chairs and talking shit about people for hours and hours on end and sometimes drinking tea. You are sort of afraid of them as a child, but your parents will often force you to talk to them.
16. Reprimanding other people’s kids is acceptable. I’m sure it happens as a kid up north, but in the south, there are definitely fewer barriers around “can I scold a child that is not my own?” They won’t hit you, of course, but you will get a “Don’t you talk to your momma that way!” from a rando in the grocery store. And this isn’t seen as a bad thing because…
17. Respect for elders is the most important thing ever. Talking back to an adult in the south, or not calling someone ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ is a one-way ticket to being punished into another generation. If you don’t have respect for grown-ups, you have no home training, and life is just going to be a struggle for you. To this day, as a 25-year-old, I still call older people “Mr.” and “Ms.” out of force of habit. I’ll likely do it until I am dead, and honestly, I’m a better person for it.