Today's post comes to us from former founding chair of HYP, native of New York, self-professed "bird nerd," and professor of biological sciences at GSSM, Rebecca Heiss.
Several ways to tell you're not a New Yorker in Hartsville, as observed by a New Yorker in Hartsville.
Reading last week’s post on 5 ways to be a Hartsvillian I was struck by two things. The first insight was that I, a northern soul, not only knew most of the Hartsvillian ways, but had partaken in many of these “activities.” Having thoroughly read over the list it was blaringly obvious that I have adapted to a few of the cultural traditions. This was more than a touch disturbing for a girl who always responds quickly (as a proper New Yorker should) by affirming my northern roots when asked the “And just where are you from now,” question.
My second insight from last week’s post I’m not going to reveal just yet. First I want to take you through the mind spin I went into after recognizing just how Hartsvillian I had become.
Let me start with my origins. I’m what several of you Hartsvillian’s would call a Yankee. I come from New York but settled here in Hartsville, SC, in 2012. Some of you may have a specific name for exactly what kind of Yankee that makes me, but we’ll let that go.
I have adjusted to a few things since the initial shock of my arrival here, but there are still several points of confusion and traditions of the South that, to this day, raise suspicion in the deep-seeded northern mind of this foreigner:
1. Your love of football and obsessive pride in the state.
I was completely unprepared. Okay, I get it, football is big in the South. At the several universities I was associated with during my northern education, none of them even HAD football teams. To be fair, when I started my journey south I attended University of Memphis for a few years, but let’s be honest – football is not exactly what gives Memphis its name. It wasn't until I moved to Hartsville that I got a real education about fighting chickens and the finer points of pairing orange with purple. And, trust me, I needed an education. Let me cite a couple examples:
Exhibit A: I told someone I was riding a bike in Death Valley (the big desert in CA). Naturally, they asked if I’d been to Clemson before.
Exhibit B: I took it as a joke when someone mentioned they would have to check the game day schedule before committing to a wedding date. I should not have laughed.
Symbols were tricky. There were all kinds of new flags to sort out. Palmetto trees, tiger paws, and gamecocks. I’d never seen more flags before in my life. I’m still not sure I’d recognize New York’s flag, but I can darn sure identify the South Carolina state, or a South Carolina-affiliated university's , flag now.
Okay, this is just bizarre to us northerners. I know about the whole Southern hospitality thing and, for the most part, I like it. People open doors for me, call me Ma’am (and Baby, and Sweetie, and Honey), but the waving thing really throws me. If you were getting waved at in New York it was probably a sign you were on fire. Not so in Hartsville. People wave all the time. To neighbors, friends, and complete strangers. I’m finally adjusting but if you wave at me and I give you a sort of bizarre, suspicious look, don’t’ be offended.
3. Nicknames and real names.
McDonalds, McAlister's, McBee…do you understand why I still can’t get this one right Okay, MAC-Bee. OR do you mean Mac’s? Or wait, you are going where? To Happy’s? Is that a person? Or a place? Or a state of being? For the most part, names like Birddog, and Red, and Happy, just make me, well, happy, but do us Hartville newbies a favor and just use them with a bit more explanation. Remember, I'm still getting used to not getting WAHTA with my bAgel and come from a place where "fixin" to do anything just meant something was broke. The accents are tricky enough to adjust to, but sometimes I've felt as lost in the Southern language as I have trying to interpret student text messages to each other -FWIW IMHO.
4. Southern clothing.
Men: Sock-less dress shoes, bow ties, and seersucker. Oh and pastels! I can’t remember the last time I saw this much color. Period. I know New Yorkers aren't exactly known for our festive wardrobes but sometimes I feel like I’m living in a perpetual Easter – or a Skittles commercial.
And Women: Pearls, pearls, and more pearls. Now, I’m not exactly a fashionista but the high-fashion football outfits never fail to blow my mind. Heels and pearls were not my go to accessories for attending a sporting event where men smash each other in a sweaty clash of flesh and blood. Then again, see point 1, as I haven’t really ever had a formal education in football; perhaps that would have included dressing etiquette.
5. The shag.
In one of my first weeks working at the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics here in Hartsville, a very charming, and very young, student of mine innocently popped up beside me and asked if I’d like to shag with him that evening.
As I fumbled to hide the shocked expression on my face, sure that I had heard him incorrectly, he proceeded to explain that he and a bunch of other students (and probably a few other faculty as well) were all getting together that night to shag. The explanation failed to clarify anything. My utter horror could not be contained. I started rummaging through my head trying to form a coherent sentence about how wrong that was on So. Many. Levels. Where was I to begin?
So, just a word of caution to all you fine Hartsvillian’s:
The shag is a great dance. Tons of fun and I’m glad I figured out exactly what that whole jig was about. But seriously folks, help us out-of-towners a bit to help minimize super awkward misinterpretations.
Bringing it back home
For all its quirks and slightly bizarre traditions, the South is feeling more and more like home. The charm of Hartsville, its people, and customs have officially won me over. Even if I do still come across as a stubborn Yankee at times, all five original ways of southern life that gave this girl so much initial confusion have slowly integrated their way into my own life. I have a South Carolina flag waving outside my home, I’ve got the basics down with the shag, and Happy is a great person, place, and perpetual state here in the South.
My second insight after reading last week’s blog post was this: I’m proud to be a Hartsvillian, and it’s time for me to adjust my response to the question, “Where do you call home?” New York will forever run in my blood, but maybe next time you see me I’ll be wearing pearls – just don’t be offended if I seem nervous before waving back at you.