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I'm considering setting a future book in the South, likely small town Alabama, but not yet sure. Are children still taught to say yes, sir, no ma'am, Ect? If so, is it toward anyone older, or mainly those in authority such as teachers, police officers? If you have any other tidbits to share about Southern manners, cultures, I'd love to hear.  :yourock
#1 - November 09, 2014, 08:45 PM
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I feel like I need a giant disclaimer that I don't speak for everyone in the south, but I'm going to say we teach kids to yes ma'am / yes sir all adults.

When I moved from IL to GA with my native southern parents around third grade, one big difference I noticed was that kids called familiar non-relative adults such as friends of parents or parents of friends "Mr. Firstname" or "Miss Firstname" instead of the very casual "Firstname" or very formal "Mrs. Lastname." I don't know if that's strictly a southern habit, but to the kids of my friends and friends of my kids I'm Miss Shauna, not just Shauna or Mrs. Reynolds.
#2 - November 09, 2014, 09:44 PM
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I taught at Auburn--gulp--nearly twenty years ago now, but I don't think a great deal has changed. There was definitely a lot of "ma'am" going on. It just seemed natural pretty soon. My students would come up and say, "I lost my syllabus, ma'am, may I have another?" I'd say, "Sure," and they'd take it and say, "Thank you, ma'am."

Cornmeal is sold in comically large bags.

The police officer who lived across the street came over (in uniform, with gun on hip) after a shift and introduced himself and asked our names. As he was leaving he said, "You know the difference between a Yankee and a damn Yankee? A Yankee goes home." So there's that.

There's a lot of crepe myrtle and the grass is brushy and hard on your feet. Lots of magnolias and azaleas, and the public planters have pansies in winter. The red dirt stained my shoes more than brown Midwestern dirt does--or maybe I just noticed it more. People have their washer/dryer and sometimes water heater outside under a little roof, and lots of roofs over cars instead of actual garages. Lots of nasty little red ants, and one time we had a pizza delivered and when we opened the door a 3" cockroach ran into the house and across the living room and I screamed and screamed. I'm not normally a bug screamer, but if we'd saddled that thing we could have given rides to children. Oh, and a bright green lizard--maybe 4", with a 4" tail, got into our study and lived there. We couldn't get him out--he was incredibly quick--so we named him Larry and let him stay.

I walked home from campus (2 miles), wearing my professor suit and tennis shoes. People frequently stopped to offer me rides. When I politely declined, explaining I was walking for exercise, it took them a while to believe it. One time I got a ride offer shouted from a stopped car at an intersection. (I was visibly pregnant at the time.) When I explained the guy couldn't believe it, and turned and shouted to the cars behind him that I was walking home on purpose. Several other people shouted the news on to those behind them.

One January day I was standing outside my classroom building talking to a student. He finally said he couldn't bear the cold anymore and ran off. It was 45 degrees. He was wearing a coat; I was wearing a skirt suit. Oh--and everything shuts down when there's any snow at all. On New Year's Eve people stand on their stoops and beat cook pans with metal spoons.

And--and I don't mean this disrespectfully--but at least Alabama drivers are just appalling. Maybe because they never have to deal with ice, so they just assume the car will respond every time? But lots of body shops for the size of town. Oh!--I saw a guy in a body shop pay with moonshine one time. No foolin'. And when we moved there, two different people explained that if you're out hiking and come across a still, you should put your hands out a bit to show that it was an accident, and then find a stick and add it to the fire. That way you're an accessory, and whoever's watching you with a rifle won't shoot. Then get the heck out, and don't tell anybody where you found it.

My husband learned quickly that if he ordered iced tea he got sweet tea.  He started making a point to order unsweetened tea. Unsweetened tea is tea that only has one bag of sugar in it. He never could get anybody to understand that he wanted tea with no sugar in it at all.

I said something snarky in class once about the KKK. It was just an offhand remark, and it didn't even occur to me that it could be controversial. But it was a class of 246 people, and it went so quiet I could hear their blood circulate. After class three young men in Braves caps (all the guys wear Braves caps, and they all have short hair. All the women wear brighter lipstick than in the North, and a little more makeup overall. Oh, and they dress nicer for church.) Anyway, these three guys said they wanted to go to my office. We walked across the street together, and they didn't say a word, and I was pregnant and the youngest person on faculty and therefore had the office at the far end of the hall. I kept thinking I had to make them go in first so that I could make sure the door stayed open, because I could not get beat up right then. I just couldn't. So we walked silently up to my third-floor office, and I opened the door and tried to get them to go in, and they wouldn't go and kept trying to usher me in, and I wouldn't go. This went on for a while. Finally one of the young men said, "Ma'am, we don't want to go IN your office, we just wanted to walk you TO your office." Then they all tipped their caps and walked away. I had a security escort, and didn't even know it.

Hope some of that helps.
#3 - November 09, 2014, 09:45 PM
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Interesting anecdotes, Dewsandamps.
#4 - November 10, 2014, 04:46 AM
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Definitely interesting stories, Katie!

I was born in the North to Northern parents but moved to the South when I was nine. I've spent about half my adulthood in each place, so I guess you could say I speak both languages. I will say it drives me CRAZY to read a book set in the South where the author has made everyone simplistically cutesy or folksy or whatever--there was one that was highly praised in reviews (by northerners) that portrayed Our Sweet Heroine and all her friends as practically noble savages. Also, she used "y'all" wrong. Every. Single. Time. It has grammar, it's not just a cute way of speaking. (Ie you don't use it to refer to one and only one person.) So... I might be a bit touchy. :) Yes, they have the internet and electricity and schools and stuff in the South.

But it's pretty different from the North, like Dewsanddamps said. I have had kindergarteners introduce themselves to me by shaking my hand. Yes, you do call adults ma'am and sir--even your parents! That was the thing I couldn't get over when I was a kid. (Well--I guess it depends on where you are. In Arkansas, where I mostly grew up, I didn't see that, but I sure did in my brief stint in Texas.) You also establish eye contact and smile at strangers a lot more. We had neighbors--an older, retired couple--across the street from us in South Carolina. We had to wave and say hi EVERY time we went out of the house if they were there. Even if we'd done it that day already. And you could always tell the Yankee tourists on the street, because they'd avert their eyes and pretend like they hadn't passed anyone--no doubt thinking that would make them unobtrusive, only it was like a neon sign over their heads! (And when we later moved to Michigan and would look at people and smile at them in the grocery store aisles, they'd grimly whip their carts out of the way and sometimes mumble an apology--apparently that's aggressive behavior there??)

I've never seen palmetto bugs in Arkansas or Texas, but SC is full of those things. They look like those toy plastic bugs--and then they move. They tend to show up in the fall--I think they stumble inside to die or something? They don't fly in SC, but I hear they do further south. YEEEEUUUUUCCCCCHHHHH!
#5 - November 10, 2014, 05:08 AM

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I live in Florida, and I notice that kids don't use nearly as much profanity as their counterparts in California, and taking the Lord's name in vain is a big deal. Also, as Shauna mentioned, children in the South use proper surnames, like Mrs. Smith, or the more familiar, Ms. Jane, if that's how they've been introduced. My son's friends who have known me for years would never dream of calling me by my first name. It's either Mrs. Floyd or Ms. Sarah. There is also more small talk between adults before getting down to business, such as chatting about the weather. Olmue already mentioned friendly eye contact--very Southern. :sun

Katie, I was fascinated by what you wrote about your experiences at Auburn! The security escort incident--wow. 

#6 - November 10, 2014, 06:14 AM
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Oooh ... This is all so helpful, and fascinating as well! Thank you.  :thankyou
#7 - November 10, 2014, 06:40 AM
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Not sure if this relates to kids so much, but I had a aunt who once told me that in the south you can say anything you want about anybody as long as you add, "Bless his/her heart" at the end.  ;D
#8 - November 10, 2014, 08:16 AM

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Ann--that is so true! I know someone who covers almost every criticism with that tag: "Those two will never get along, bless their hearts!" Or, "She needs to learn when to push away from the dinner table, bless her heart."
 :lalala
She probably blesses my heart, too . . .  :-\
#9 - November 11, 2014, 08:42 AM
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I don't have to much to add.  But like others have said ma'am and sir are definitely still used!  And in NC, it's true, we can't handle the snow.  Here is some hilarious Stay Puff Marsh mellow man proof: http://www.wral.com/wral-tv/image_gallery/13392751/
#10 - November 11, 2014, 05:58 PM
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Way too funny, Lauri  :lol5 and to Ann and Butterfly Girl, I'll do by best to throw in at least one "bless your heart."  :love5
#11 - November 11, 2014, 06:18 PM
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I love all these anecdotes! Dewsanddamps, that was fascinating. I grew up in Virginia but haven't lived there since 1993. And I lived in South Florida but honestly it feels less Southern than the northern part of the state does.

My southernness comes out in specific phrases: for example, if you make a big pot of something you don't say it will make lots of leftovers, you say "We can eat on this for a few days." That's one that has stuck with me and every time I say it my husband cringes because he thinks it's so weird! haha
#12 - November 12, 2014, 07:32 AM
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This thread cracks me up, esp. the bless her heart!

We're transplants to the South and it's noticeable how polite even the children are. Also, how nice it is to have eye-contact with people. I always thought people in the NW were rude to pretend you didn't exist, and even though I lived there for umpteen years, I never got used to it. But Charleston felt like home right away.

The culture is also more relaxed, slower paced, which I love.

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#13 - November 12, 2014, 09:24 AM
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Yep. The yes ma'am, yes sir, no ma'am, no sir is taught very early on. I'm considered heretical for not requiring it. After nearly 20 years as a military officer's wife, I really don't care to be ma'am-ed at home. I expect them to speak respectfully and have told them certain people expect the ma'am and sir stuff ESPECIALLY on base.

I grew up in middle Georgia, and what dewsanddamps says it spot on.

#14 - November 12, 2014, 02:10 PM
Making metaphors out of molehills for over thirty years.

I grew up in GA as well, and had all the ma'ams and sirs drilled into me from an early age. Can vouch for the Miss First Name thing as well, i.e. all my friends' moms were Miss Amy, Miss Karen, etc.

Strangely enough, when I was about sixteen my parents told me I didnt have to call them sir or ma'am anymore, and yet I can't stop. If my mom calls me from another room I'll still reply with "Ma'am?" instead of "Yes?"

So yes, it is very ingrained in a lot of Southern kids!
#15 - January 29, 2015, 05:46 AM

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This info is probably old now, but I agree with much that has already been said. I grew upin Tennessee then moved to Alabama then a brief stint in Connecticut and Ohio before moving to Georgia where I am now.

There are huge differences mainly in the formality of things. But depending on the type of story will show the authenticity of being southern. Southern kids now are more like northern kids. Some still say yes sir and ma'am but many don't. I had a kid I was working with on a project just call me by my first name. His mother was so embarrassed, but he did do it. The more in the city you are i.e. Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte the more relaxed the kids tend to be. The more in the country or smaller cities like Montgomery, Athens, Auburn, the more restricted.

All Southerners do make eye contact and say hi or salute when they see someone. To not say anything is rude. Sometimes I see kids not say anything back, but most still do. Kids are given mixed messages like "Don't talk to strangers" then "Why aren't you saying anything? Don't you see the man talking to you?" LOL

Southern kids also have more race issues to deal with (if that's part of your story). Racism is still strong in the south but it gets better with each generation. So it may be common to see kids at ages 0-9 playing together regardless of race, but in middle school the transition begins. But again, depending on where you are this may not be as prevalent.

Southerners as said above don't like to be cold. We hate it! I hated Connecticut and Ohio. 14 Degrees outside? Who lives like that? We are literally afraid of snow and ice. We like it warm. Hot weather doesn't bother us, but we don't stand around in it either. We like the shade. We come out an hour before the sun sets to watch people walk along the street and to catch fireflies.

We love to BBQ. We love Football over all other sports. We love to tailgate and to sit around and talk. Beer is a must.

They are right, we are scary drivers. But Northerners are crazy drivers! LOL There's less of a need to rush in the south. Everyone has a car. Public Transportation is a joke. Lots of people have trucks and make a living with their hands. Everything is spread out, so it takes a long time to get places.

We use lots of idioms - "Faster than a greased rabbit". Every soda to us is a Coke. So you say "Can I have a Coke?" and the response is "What type of Coke would you like?" The same thing with shoes which are "Tennis Shoes" generally which means "Sneakers."

We generally bury our dead and are done with it. When I was in New England I was surprised by people visiting graves on the deceased's birthday. We generally don't do stuff like that. I've heard about people doing "reenactments" of the civil war, but I've never known anyone to do that. Also about 1 out of 5 White Men I know hunts, maybe 1 out of 20 black men hunts. Never heard of any Asian's down here hunting. Rebel flags are common and still taboo in some ways. But about 1 out of 30 cars has a Rebel flag is some sort of it. The further you go from the city the more you see it and the more real flags you see flying.

Southerners consider themselves "Christian" even if they don't follow the bible at all. LOL They do bad deeds and then "Hope God will forgive them." There is more respect for the church and for the man/woman of God over it. The Pastor/Preacher is given a lot of respect and the wife is generally called "First Lady." Mega churches are common in the south filled with a mix of Prosperity Preaching and Gloom and Doom.

No one sits around with reeds in their mouth. We have drugs just like everyone else. We have all races, just fewer of them. Almost everyone has a pet. The average house is probably 3/4 bedroom sitting on about 1/3 acre of land. There are 0-lot line houses like brownstones but we call them townhomes. The ideal for most people is to live in a nice neighborhood with friendly people and a park nearby.

Southern accents while they still exist are slowly ebbing away. I think TV/Movies has a huge affect on that. So yes you still get "ya'll" and "gonna" but not as much as it used to be. So watch the dialect. I've heard of people using full titles for family members as in your cousin that is named James would be "Cousin James" or your grandmother who is named Tammy would be "Grandma Tammy" but our family never did that. Again, you need to know the region.

A good rule of thumb is the smaller the city the more likely you'll get the stereotypes you see on TV. The larger the city the less likely you'll see those things. The higher the education/economics the less likely you see stereotypes.

Hope this helps
#16 - January 30, 2015, 03:29 AM
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I think it really depends on where you are as to reenactments. I grew up in Arkansas (with a brief stint in Texas), and there were no reenactments at all where I immediately lived (of course, there were no battles there, either). A couple hours west of us, though, was a battle site, and they have had occasional reenactments. I also lived for two years in South Carolina, and there were annual reenactments. I think you have to have an actual battle to reenact, first.

The South is a unit, surely. But there is considerable variation across it, too.
#17 - January 30, 2015, 04:53 AM

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Thank you Aleksander, JLstovall and Olmue for your recent additions to the thread. It's all very helpful!  :like :grin3
#18 - January 30, 2015, 06:24 AM
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Here in Virginia, near the Blue Ridge Mountains, kids say Ma'am and Sir, especially when they are in trouble. (I worked in the office of a high school.) Also kids to parents say, "Yes Ma'am or Sir" when they are  being told to do something, or when their parents ask, "Do you understand?" Preschool kids refer to adults as Miss First Name. (In IL, as a kids we would call our parents' close friends Auntie First Name or Uncle First Name.)

I notice that the Ma'am and Sir thing is changing, though, because so many have moved in from other areas (like NY CITY!!). But it is still certainly true with kids from generations born and raised here.
#19 - January 30, 2015, 12:50 PM

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