Bad At Small Talk

Getcha Some

 It’s been a little over a decade since I moved to the south, a move that I never thought would last a decade. And I’ve learned something.

 The biggest difference between northerners and southerners isn’t politics. Or taste in music. Or views on race. Or religion. It’s food. Primarily, it’s the offering of food.

 I was never really taught much in terms of manners or social custom until I reached college, but what little I did pick up I learned from my grandmother. And my grandmother was a northerner: Born and raised in Michigan, attended the University of Michigan and even went steady with a football player named Byron White who did some things after graduating.

 Yankee ideals drilled into me included: Not discussing politics or religion in mixed company, not gossiping and always, always politely refusing an offer of food when you’re a guest in someone’s house.

 There were things I was prepared for when I passed the Mason-Dixon line. People here like Jesus. They want you to like Jesus. Liking Jesus will keep them from gossiping about you, but only to a point, and they most certainly will gossip about you depending on who you vote for. Which they will ask you about.

 One thing I was not prepared for: People here would rather have the skin stripped from their very bones than not offer you food. And a polite “thanks, but no thanks” is akin to scuffling mud across a stranger’s fine carpet.

 This has been difficult for me on many, many fronts. There are times when I am a guest in someone’s home, and am in fact starving, yet my grandmother’s from-the-grave voice chastises me for accepting so much as a Little Debbie. Yet there are other times when I have already taken care of everything I needed to on the food and drink front, yet my hosts continue to insist that no, really, I should get me some food.

 A subset of this dilemma is that there are many staples of southern food that I am simply not cut out for. I tend to not like the smell of fried food. Too much grease often leads later to digestive issues too heinous to mention. Due to a fat childhood, I try to limit my indulgences and control my portions. So there are times when perhaps I am hungry, but I need to avoid the food being served.

 And for the most part, it’s not that southerners look down on someone cutting calories. It’s that they often truly do not get it. I was once in a situation where the following conversation took place:

“Ain’t you gonna get you some chicken strips?”

“Nah. I’m good. Thanks.”

“You sure? They’re awful good. Go on, getcha some.”

“I really shouldn’t. I need to cut down on fats.”

[In a genuinely confused voice] “But…they’re good.”

 This whole cultural difference has led to all sorts of problems. I have left houses feeling full to the point of illness. I have left houses hungry to the point of wanting to eat my arm. I have left houses feeling just fine, save for the sinking certainty that I offended someone by passing on the cobbler.

 Somewhere, I hope my grandmother approves. Not that she would vocalize it if she did. That’s another northern trait.

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December 7, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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