I grew up in Memphis, TN. Memphis is decidedly Southern in culture, but it’s also decidedly urban. I grew up with slow talkers and deep accents, and with gangsta’s and bling. Porch swings and lemonade, and rap music and purple drank. Pick-ups with gun racks, and low-riders with hydraulics. Civil war re-enactments and drug war casualties. … And one of the truths of growing up is that when it’s all you’ve ever known it all seems normal.
At the age of 26 I joined the Navy. This led to living away from home long enough to start calling the new place home for the first time in my life. 2 years in (or rather near) Charleston, SC followed by 4 years in (near) New London, CT. My experiences here were not those of a person completely immersed in a culture, in part due to the ubiquitous presence of my stunning wife, but also due to the insular nature of the navy culture. However there were moments when it really struck me. When we moved to CT my wife was desperate to eat some fried chicken livers. Not only did the yankee version of KFC not carry them, but the girl behind the counter thought that she was making a racist joke. Rotel cheese dip cannot be found in the yankee grocery stores, but thankfully was available at the commissary on base. I introduced several guys to it at my 30th birthday party.
Once after shopping at Ikea in CT we were heading back to the car and I saw a pregnant woman with 2 carts and a kid trundling slowly across the parking lot. Without thinking about it I walked over and put my hand on the larger of the 2 carts and said “Can I get this for you?” and she looked at me like I was growing a second head which was saying “Quaid, start the reactor.” When she asked me “Why?” I probably looked at her the same way. I replied “well I guess I just hope that someone would do the same thing for my pregnant wife.” At which point she notices my wife who waves disarmingly and then she grudgingly lets me load the large boxes into the back of her SUV. Her monosyllabic gratitude is why this story ranks as the least satisfying gentlemanly deed of my life.
Here I’d like to take a moment to say that the death of chivalry has gone hand in hand with the death of gratitude. Very few damsels would’ve been rescued if there was no hope of hearing “my hero” sigh from between said damsel’s pretty lips. Women of the world, I beg of thee: If a man comes jogging out of a restaurant after you with your cell phone in his hand please, for the love of all civilization give him a heartfelt thanks which makes him feel like a hero. Let him think back on that moment for years to come. Let him devote his life to chivalry and kindness as he chases the feeling that your “my hero” gave him that day.
Wherever you are, you will become acclimated to the local culture. It will fade out like white noise and you will not even notice it. I didn’t realize how accepting I had become of yankee culture at the time, but when I returned home the differences jumped out in bold contrast. The first restaurant we went to, and the waiter didn’t wait to be signaled that we wanted refills, but rather brought out full glasses unrequested before the first glasses were empty. It was the same feeling I used to get when we drove up on “the new bridge” across the Mississippi after a vacation that had us away from home for days. Sort of a warm comfort. Like home-sickness turned inside out. A warm smile creeping across your face. Sort of nostalgic, but in a present tense. It’s good.
To contrast I heard a yankee once tell someone “Jesus man, you look like shit. Are you feeling all right?” The amazing thing about this quote is that to his ears he was being nice. He was offering sympathy to an ailing comrade.