My take on the cultural differences between the northern and southern portions of the United States, as learned through living in both locales.
As dawn rises on another day in coal fields of Southeastern Ohio, its citizens are awakened by the familiar sounds of whistles from trains passing through town on the train tracks and by roosters that are sitting on clotheslines – expressing their voiced pleasure with the crisp autumn’s air. This has long been versed as the beginning of a typical day in the sleepy farmland known as Jackson County, Ohio. It is not just Jackson County, Ohio, however. Small communities throughout the Midwest experience these same instances, each and every morning and through time and years that pass – this lifestyle becomes a common place. Becoming a set routine by which each family lives from birth until death with very few changes in procedure. That is, unless one by choice, decides to leave on their own.
Just as in most small communities – there is town gossip, there are people who have lived for generations under one set of rules and are not wanting of change. But then, there are those who realize that the small town life that they’ve lived forever and a day will never be adequate enough to enjoy the lifestyle they so wish to enjoy. A person with a want and need to change their livelihood and their lifestyle – through a change of scenery.
This event happened to me in the middle of 1991. I was a ten-year-old who was not widely accepted in the community, who was not overly blessed with friends, who had a decent life – but was not completely satisfied. Although against the idea to leave my small community and my extended family to move over a thousand miles away to the Gulf Coast of Southeast Texas, when you are ten years old, you do not have much say in the matter. So, into our van – my family and I went and onto Texas we began traveling. I was anxious and somewhat frightened, by the thought of being in a new environment and unsure of what to expect. I had always heard, growing up, that people in the South were kind and laid back, but also knew from circles of gossip in my small hometown – people can say anything and that does not necessarily make it the truth. After all, pigs do not actually fly and money does not grow on the oak tree in the backyard.
My family and I began our long journey of approximately one thousand, two hundred miles on June 30, 1991. This trek took us through parts of four states, through a different time zone and across many areas of diverse culture. For the first time in my life, I experienced the lives of people across the country – not just in the coal and iron industrial region where I had been born and raised. My hometown, though a village of approximately two thousand residents, was the birthplace of some of the iron that was used in the making of the battleship Monitor, which was used in the United States Civil War. Iron and coal are a long way from the horse industry of Kentucky, the country music industry of Tennessee, the great Hot Springs of Arkansas and the steer raising industry of Texas. Learning how diverse the cultures of each independent state were, I gained much more respect for the area in which I was raised and did not look to my small town as a lifestyle trap any longer. I saw my village to be that of a fun-loving, close-knit community that may have been a bit nosy, in the sense of gossip, but I now thought that maybe it was for good reason.
My culture shock was only beginning, however. Upon arriving in Texas, the first thing which caught my attention was a road sign at a farmer’s market along Highway 59 near Lufkin, Texas which read: "Beans and Tomatoes, Howdy Y’all!"
‘Howdy, Y’all?’ – "What foreign language is this?" I thought to myself. In the Midwest, the common greeting is the term, "You’uns" – I assumed that Y’all meant the same, but I was very uncertain. With that sign, my fun was only beginning.
We arrived in Galveston, Texas on July 5, 1991 and after traveling for days, it was nice to arrive in our apartment. Thus, came my second new experience – a machine that we all have come to know as a dishwasher. Our apartment had a dishwasher and I had never seen such a contraption in my life. In my first ten years of life, the only dishwasher I had known was that of my hands, a rag, some soap and a dishtowel. I was bewildered and baffled that some man, at some company, had thought of the idea to solve dishpan hands. Now, all we needed was food to place on our plates, so I could try my new toy – a commonly known dishwasher.
My trip to the grocery store was a humorous event, as well. Many items known in the north by certain names are called by entirely different names – down south. "Pop" became "soda water" and I learned quickly to give the name of the soda to avoid confusion and a pained nose. If you say, "Give me a pop" in the south, you could be asking for serious bodily injury. Chicken and noodles became chicken and dumplings. And what in the world is Gumbo? All things that over the course of the next decade would become things that I would have to learn and that now seem so natural.
My first few weeks in Texas were rocky, but enjoyable. I became acclimated with the Gulf of Mexico and would go wading for seashells, until I learned of the sharks in the water. Then, of course, I wanted to go fishing for them.
Fishing was a whole other concept that I had to learn. Up north – the waters are freshwater and the fish are along the lines of bass, crappie, bluegill and sunfish. The south had blessed me with saltwater – sharks, stingrays, red drum and black drum. In Ohio, one used worms for bait. In Texas, one used shad, squid and shrimp. Whereas one could throw a worm into the water and know the outcome of their effort – usually in the form of a catfish or bass, on the Texas Gulf Coast, if one throws a shrimp into the water, they could reel in anything from a two ounce catfish to a two hundred pound shark. That makes for an interesting concept for any person, not just a ten year old child.
I found the weather to be vastly different, also. In Ohio, the seasonal changes are noticeable. Spring brings the birds from the south, buds on the trees and greenery all around. Summer brings pleasant temperatures, occasionally reaching ninety degrees but usually not until late July. The autumn months bring crisp air, gorgeous colors upon the trees, and a breath of newness in and of itself. Then, there are the northern winters – which generally range in temperature from twenty degrees above zero on the average day, to twenty degrees below zero and the potential for upwards to forty inches of snow in an average storm. The seasons in Texas are much different. The springtime is usually a pleasant time, with comfortable temperatures, fresh outlooks on the coming year and a brief enjoyment period before the heat of summer. The summer months in the South, especially along the coast – bring high heat, high humidity and another meteorological event that I feel is the worst of all evils – the threat of hurricanes. (Summer in the south is much less enjoyable than that of its northern counterpart.) The autumn in the southern United States is quite enjoyable. Cooler temperatures, pleasant breezes and a much more comfortable atmosphere in which to work, play or relax. Winter in the south, dependant on where in the south you reside, can be a vast change in culture, as well. If you live in the western portions of the southern states – parts of southern Louisiana, southeastern or southern Texas, the winter climate generally ranges in temperatures from the thirties, on a rare occasion to the sixties and seventies with very little or no snow. If you reside in the eastern sections of the south, the climate is more similar to that of the environment of the north with colder temperatures, lack of wintertime growth and a great threat for ice and snowstorms.
However, confusing as the weather in the south can be, that confusion is compounded when one takes into consideration that the state of Texas ranks as the third largest state in the nation and is diverse in culture and weather – alike. The northern panhandle of Texas is very similar to the seasonal changes that occur in the northern half of the country, with cold temperatures in the winter months, hot weather in the summer and the threat of tornadoes. Needless to say, like in the occasion of the dishwasher, the difference is speech patterns and that of the grocery shopping experience did nothing to prepare me for the climate of southeastern Texas.
As you can see, as in all realms of society and all walks of life, there are good qualities and bad qualities in both the northern and southern halves of the United States. Whether beans and cornbread or meat and potatoes, whether heat of summer or brutal cold of winter, whether Y’all or "You’uns" – I will forever be tied to both my Southeastern Ohio roots and my Southeastern Texas pride. For I do not consider myself as an "Ohioan", just as I do not consider myself as a "Texan". I am not a Yankee or a rebel. I am a good, old-fashioned, flag-waving, sports loving, American human being. Now, could one of Y’all buy me a Pop?!
© 2003 – Jill Allison Eisnaugle
Reader Reviews for
"The Thin Line Between North and South"
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|Reviewed by Leann Marshall
|Jill, I can wholly sympathize with your initial confusion. I moved from St. Louis, Mo. to Nashville, Tn when I was seven. I had a hard time understanding my teacher so my grades went down. But I've lived in the south ever since and love it: the weather, the friendly grace with which (many) people treat others, and the beauty of its beach and mountains. Thanks for giving me cause to think about it!
|Reviewed by Annette Hendrix Williams
|A pop? Is that anythang like a drank? From Mississippi. Have you noticed that ice storms are becoming less frequent? I don't think I have seen a good dangerous ice storm in fifteen years or more.|
|Reviewed by Mary Coe
|Great write. I enjoyed the read. Thanks for sharing.|
|Reviewed by Carol Chapman
|Having moved down here from CT I also experienced the changes in dialect and food. Found out that calling a long sandwich (also known as sub, po boy, or hoagie) a grinder made eyebrows raise in the restaurant. And in the North the pizza toppings are under the cheese not on top of it. It's the little things that make the difference Y'all.
|Reviewed by Mr. Ed
|What flavor, Miss? I enjoyed this very much.|
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|oh, boy, jill...i can relate to the feelings i felt when i came to texas...it was like visiting another country at times, especially with the mexicans not speaking english! i was NOT used to that (still am not!)! YIKES! cool write, jill; enjoyed~! (((HUGS))) and much love, your fellow buckeye-texas friend, karen lynn. :D|