Sunday, July 17, 2005

A Yankee Boy Speaks….

I am a Yankee. …or am I?
I am a New Yorker. …or am I?
I am a New Englander. …or am I?

Culture abounds all over. Some of it has good connotations and some of it has bad. You can hear people label you with your cultural characteristics as a compliment or as a criticism.

I grew up in Western New York and we had a drink that we called pop. It came in all sorts of flavors and it was sparkling with bubbles. When I moved east I learned that this word was never used to describe this drink. In fact this word was never really used except maybe to describe the action of suddenly deflating a bubble or balloon. The drink was a soda. Words and expressions that give you sudden or bizarre looks are quickly discarded. I now use the term soda and will be one of those people that look at you strangely if you use the term pop. From what I understand Southerners call all these soft drinks a Coke.

Language isn’t the only demarcation. We find these cultural lines drawn by personalities as well. People see New Yorkers as rushing around living too fast. We don’t know how to relax. The cultural connotation is that we are all tight asses. The culture perception of southerners is that they move way too slow. The critical connotation is that southerners are lazy. New York men are rude and self centered while Southern gentleman are the epitome of charm.

Cultural lines are fuzzy at best and are used broadly by people. Who exactly are Southerners? Traveling south do I start labeling everyone a Southerner once I cross the Mason-Dixon line? There are too many people living in Maryland that just don’t act Southern. They don’t talk Southern. They don’t look Southern.

Is Dixie a state of mind?

They say New York is a state of mind.

… I grew up in western New York State. Closer to the Midwestern states than to the east. When I grew up I moved to the opposite side of the state. I married a lady from Vermont. We live on the border of the two states. From the Vermont’s point of view we are flatlanders and always will be flatlanders. I am not a New Englander. From the world’s point of view the only New York is New York City. I am and never will be a New Yorker. Even as I sit here in my home having lived here for over 15 years, I will never be a local. Some cliques and groups will speak around me. I am an outsider living in a land that is in between.

As I gaze down at Dixie I see areas that are filled with transplants such as me. Florida is a whole state that has virtually lost its Dixie status. Atlanta is filled with Northern bankers making it more like a northern city than a Southern town. How many generations do you need before you can be included in a culture.

Acceptance. Acceptance of who we are and where we fit in is a complicated venture. You can’t take a map and draw circles neatly labeling each with a nifty word. You can’t take a list of frequently used words and determine a person’s classification. You can’t even take musical tastes and use that because if you did you would see that my heart belongs to Southern Rock.

We can however take this rich culture and remember stories from our past. You share yours and I’ll share mine. Yours will have the flavor of the south. Mine will have the flavor of the north. What they will show is that we all have roots that help shape who we are. Roots that transcend those labels. You’ll find a few of your roots will pass into the north and I’ll find a few of mine will pass into the south.

At times I hope that you can see me as Southern Gentleman because there is a little Dixie in all of us.


Bridget said...

You say pop, I say soda... Isn't there a song in that?! :) Terrific insight, Michael, and so very true.

Idgie @ the "Dew" said...

Excellent article! I love it. And it's so true. I personally believe that in today's age what/where you are is a state of mind since there is so much transition in the world.

Atlanta is not very Southern anymore, but the true Southerners there cling to their Southern-niss like pit bulls. They will not give it up or have their accents diminish.

I moved away from the South for years and when I came back the change was phenominal. I could have been Southern, or I could have been something else entirely. But I dug into my roots like my own personal pit bull and pulled that Southern Thang right out!

Think I'll go get me a coke. :)

the girl said...

I remember the first time I heard the word bubbler I was thoroughly confused.

What the heck was that?

They pointed to a water fountain and said, "What, you've never seen a bubbler?"

So much variety in this lovely world and you only have to travel a little way to find it.

But are we willing to embrace it?

aka_Meritt said...

Smiling at the soda references. I've lived all over the USA and now I guess mostly pop and soda. Even after living in the south I still couldn't/didn't call it "Coke" when I was ordering a Fresca or Diet Sprite! LOL.

poopie said...

Big old hug to my favorite Yankee ;) Wonderful words.