Living in Europe and being able to travel to most of the European countries, or anywhere else in the world has its advantages, but there are times when being an international citizen causes an unrest deep within that makes an expatriate hunger to return to the old Southern landmarks.
The United States of America is the country of my birth and Georgia, one of the Deep South states, is where I was raised. Growing up in the Deep South during my childhood demanded flexibility, which meant going to a school that was twenty miles from my home because it was the nearest black school in my area. It meant acceptance of the status quo in a Jim Crow society that was on the verge of change and dreaming that one day I would break out and free myself of the chains I perceived as holding me back. Only the people who grew up in the Deep South environment of the fifties and sixties and dared to dream and challenge the system have moved beyond their own horizon, and many of us have ventured out into the world. Some of us returned to our roots, but many of us walk as beacons of light throughout the different parts of the world, never to return to what was in our past.
Yet the intriguing part is not that we live far from our homeland as expatriates, but it is the memories that are etched in our minds of the past we have not forgotten. It paints a picture of our childhood experiences, which allows us to look back and forgive and move forward with thankfulness in our hearts. It is not that we forget past hurts or system failures, but we have learned to understand and accept the past as we acknowledge that change takes place in the present and in the future and never in the past. Through our encounters with different cultures and different nationalities, our view of the world is enlightened, and, therefore we examine the occurrences in the nation of our birth differently and our opinions about what happened in the past changes. That is expected because we are no longer members of society from whence we came––interacting within the culture, but we are on the outside looking in.
Although this change is apparent, we never forget the old landmarks. These landmarks become for the expatriate living abroad sentimental treasures of the way things were. It is thus a shock when we return to the home of our births and find highways have changed their name. Old family stores have been taken over by large department stores; churches that we grew up in are no longer filled with pews of children learning their Bible verses. Old ‘shotgun’ houses are being replaced by famous restaurant chains. It causes a cultural shock we have to deal with.
As a self-employed person who trains a few managers in international companies located in Germany, the country where I am now living, one of the first questions I am asked is what is it like to live in the Deep South. By Deep South, they mean Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee, the so-called Bible Belt states. This question has become more pregnant because European and Asian companies are moving into these areas due to low capital taxes and remarkably little union activity. The Deep South is not a union stronghold. Unions have a lot of work to do before they will be able to penetrate there.
I almost always get questions like these about the courtesy code, Southern hospitality, politeness and the difference between the North and the South.
- Is it quite a difference between people from the Northern states and people from the South?
- Are the people in the South really so hospitable?
- Do the churches still maintain a relevant place in people lives?
- Are the family values as strong as what we are shown here in Germany on television?
Yes, a courtesy code exists in the South. It may be unwritten, but it exists. Doors are still open for women; children still say yes ma’am and no ma’am, yes sir and no sir. If you visit a family having dinner, when you enter their home, they will still say “Have some,” which is their way of inviting you to sit down and eat with them. If you say no they are usually insulted. People still invite guests to go to church with them, and they expect them to go, because every church-going Southerner loves showing off their visitors at church. The attention paid to small children is still enormous, even though there are some young mothers who have forgotten this principle. This, however, is the exception. The lives of small children have one of the highest priorities in the Deep South, and that has not changed.
Recently, I was asked why I do not move back to the land of my birth. After careful consideration, I said, “You do not move back to landmarks, because they stop being what you have painted them to be. The shine disappears.”
The objective of life is not to go back, but to move on. The landmarks are there to remind you of where you came from.