April 9, 2018

southern lies

My weekend was a fiendish hell and looked like a seismographic read-out during a minor but detectable earthquake.

This morning, I came to work.  "Hey, how was your weekend?" I was asked by several co-workers.

"It was good, can't complain.  Too short.  How 'bout you?" I replied.

It's rote.  Nobody wants the actual answer.  They want to hear this instead.  It's like honey bees waving their right antennae, greeting each other through instinctive behavior.  We're Southern.  It's what you do.

There is truth, and there are lies, and there are Southernisms.  They're more of an omission of the truth, cleaner than white lies.  It's socially unacceptable not to stay within their confines.

"How's your son doing?"

Acceptable answers:

"He's doing well, thank you!  Growing like a weed, you know how it is.  Eats everything we've got in the refrigerator."

"He's doing good.  Hard to believe he's already in high school.  The time really flies, doesn't it?"

"He's good, he's good ... I never realized I'd be spending most of my time driving him around!"

Unacceptable answers:

"He's all right ... has some anxiety issues now and high school has hit him square between the eyes, but it's going to get easier."

"So-so.  God, puberty is hard!  He can't keep the body odor under control.  I don't mean deodorant; I just mean that sometimes, he kind of smells like ammonia, you know what I mean?  Like, his sweat, or something.  His dad says it's like bologna left out on the counter for three days.  I hope he gets through this stage soon."

"Oh, lord, honey, you just don't even want to know.  I keep having to buy him lotion and Kleenex and he stays in his room all the time now."

See?  The first three aren't untrue, but they aren't the truth.  They comport with a few universals that keep it light and on the surface.  The last three would land you soaked and wet in the town square water fountain of Awkward City.

Spouses are always fine and you don't discuss their chronic health problems, job search, or the argument you had last night.  But if a parent is ill or died, it's perfectly okay, and expected, to say that, and to share every detail.  It's probably been that way for two hundred years.

“Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between."  -Harper Lee

The Southern modes of speech are perhaps the biggest lie.  You really can't take the South out of the girl.  Somewhere along the way, even though I was reared here in North Carolina, I lost my accent and came out sounding network-neutral, when I'm being myself and around my family and friends.  I don't really think like most of the people around me.  But if I'm talking to someone with a Southern accent, mine kicks in, usually involuntarily, and I lay it on thick.  It's my native language.  Someone hearing just my end of a phone conversation with a Southerner (like my daddy) stops and stares and usually gives me hell afterward and makes fun of how easily I just turned single-syllable words into three-syllable ones.  It just ... happens.  "I belong to y'all," my temporary accent says.

That's a walloping Southern lie.  But there's truth in it.

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