Culture Clash in the South – by Shay Bishop

I got into a fight at church last night.
Furthermore, I got into a fight, at church, over sweet tea.

I had brought my small son to youth group at a church I went to years ago as a teen before I went to college. We moved back home last year, and this is only his second time to go. I am not overly-religious, but around here, church is the main social hub for the kids, with sports being the second.

We live in a small town in a county that actually seceded from the state of Alabama during the civil war to become a pacifist independent state, like Switzerland of the South. See: “Free State of Winston.” For the most part, people here are independent thinkers that support the Bill of Rights in all aspects, but we are friendly, helpful, polite and dang funny. Keep that last part in mind.

So, after the class or activity or whatever, and I was watching my son play with the other kids and decide to sit with the teachers and some other lady I’d never met. Two of them were talking about iced tea and how you can’t order “tea” around here without getting sweet tea.
“…And I can’t stand sweet tea!” said the first. “They make it so sweet.”
“I know,” said the other. “If I get a glass with even just a little sweet in it, I send it back!”

“Who ARE these people,” I wonder. I hone in on the accents. The tea-sender-backer sounds more northern than the other.

“I drink half-n-half,” I chime in, expecting some sort of approval or inclusion. Instead, I was rebuked by looks “up-and-down” and a shared glance of disdain. Oh, no they didunt.

“I’ve really had to get used to it since I moved here,” says one.
“Me too,” says the other. Okay, so they ARE foreigners.

“Are y’all Yankees?!” I quip without even thinking, shocked that my usually indiscernible accent had magnified to a unintentional Scarlett O’Hara saccharine.

“No.” Again they exchanged the unamused glance. Isn’t this church? You are going to be unfriendly in church. I’ll make you….

“So where are y’all from?” The “y’all” slides out again…the accent is sweeter…
“Texas,” the darker one says.
“Kansas,” says the other with the “worse” accent.

“Oh,” I say nodding to the Texan. Looking at the Kansan, “Well, most people around here would probably call you a Yankee, not knowing…”

“Oh no. YOU need to learn your history. Kansas is in the WEST, sweetheart.” She’s not joking. She’s not smiling.

Wow. I mean…okay, with that reply, you just ACTED like a Yankee. Stupid me presses on. “Oh, I know that, but most people around here would….”

She cuts me off, “YOU need to learn your history. Bla bla bla.”
She’s calling me ignorant and not listening to me and has NO intention of a cordial exchange.

“I know that Kansas is in the West. I worked with a girl from Kansas for years…,” and before I can finish my comment about my co-worker and my discussions about Kansas and the Civil War, the lady rudely cuts me off with more suggestions about my education. I foolishly try to stop “it”, “it” being the hurtful rudeness, misunderstanding, whatever this was that was barreling out of control on her part, all the while not yet realizing that I’m not dealing with a cultured, polite person with a sense of humor, but a, well, you know…,”IIIII KNOW but most people from the South call ANYONE not from here…”

“YOU need to learn your history…I try to teach MY kids better.” What the does she mean by that? That my parents must be racist ignorant bigots? Or that I’m teaching my kid prejudice? I stare back at her. At this point I realize she is in fight or flight mode. Nostrils are flaring, breathing elevated, face flushed from blood pumping to allow her a quick get away or to slap me silly, which her icy, mid-west, prairie-blue eyes tell me, “If we weren’t in church.”

“You are serious….” I say with a laugh and fein stunned sarcasm I channel from 15 years ago when I would have debated someone like this just to annoy them, but that’s not what this is. This is her, on my turf, in my state, county, town and sort of church, insulting my tea, my parents and/or parenting, losing her mind.

“And Yankees are easily offended,” is my last dig to exasperate her and return her rudeness, but all it did was drop me to her level. To this, she choses flight. And I feel like a jerk, albeit a slightly confused and exasperated one.

I look to the Texan and say, “I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to offend you guys.” She waves her hand in a kind of “whatever” or “don’t even” motion and walks away. The girl sitting beside me, I used to ride the bus with, so I feel a tad more familiar., “I can’t believe that…I was just trying to be funny.” “I know you were just trying to be funny,” she says but gets up and walks off too.

I’m just sitting there wanting to punch something too. I mean, is it just me, is she in Yankee-denial, or does she have anger management issues, or is calling a non-Southerner a “Yankee” like using a curse word.

I texted my Kansas friend last night with that last question, phrased a little differently, “LOL, Yah they don’t like it very much,” is her reply.

Well, I guess it’s about context, some people can say it and some can’t. I thought the context of a discussion about friggin TEA, it would be a light-hearted jab to get a laugh, but, no.

So it’s been bothering me and I googled and basically this sentence is the thesis for what I was trying to get across to Kansas-lady: “to Southerners, a Yankee is anyone not from the South, not necessarily someone from the Northeast.”

And I would say most Southerners would think that. I would have thought someone from Texas would have been more culturally sensitive about sweet tea…

It would have been been awesome if I’d “hollered” after her, “I’m neutral! I drink half-n-half!”

Will Americans ever learn to keep their cool over tea?

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BTW a great tip for sweeting nasty unsweet even after it’s iced: Simple syrup.

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