Sunday, February 06, 2005

Across the Great Divide

I'm a transplanted mid-westerner. When I have a chance to head north, the woods are the woods of my childhood, the verbal intonations the sounds of my teens and twenties. When I get a chance to have a couple two-tree beers wit my Wisconsin friends, we have a good time fer cripes sake. Ja, dat's fer sure.

However, I've lived in Florida for 15 years now. I no longer fear the unusual spiky plants harboring enormous insects that I encounter on my farm, nor the plentiful snakes in numerous varieties. I've seen alligators cross the highway near my home, and skied the lakes where they live, hunt, and raise their young. My truce with the woods of my adulthood is one of mature, accepting unease. My children will feel as out of place in the woods of my childhood as I feel in theirs. Yet, we are one flesh, one family; we are also five diverse minds.

Writing in Wisconsin lingo brought a smile to my face. I have history to go with that slang. Florida is such a melting pot that no such definitive lingo exists, but expressions like "y'all" in place of "you guys", "good to go" replacing alright or appropriate, and "bless his heart", by which I mean there are boxes of rocks out there that have it going on over my subject, have crept into my daily speech. I have 12-year neighbors who are Tennessee transplants and the best neighbors I have ever had, friends who are Florida natives and die-hard NASCAR fans who vote Democratic, and co-workers from Mexico working here on green cards. I have friends transplanted from New York and Massachusetts, here as long or longer than myself, and a myriad of acquaintances who speak with a myriad of accents. Other than ribbing the New Yorker over the atrocity of the Bills over the years, I try to make it a point not to presume anything about any of these people. I haven't lived in their previous communities, I don't know the ins and outs.

Fifteen years into it, I do have opinions about my new(er) piece of America. Here's a list, by no means complete, of the things I love about where I live.

Fish. Really fresh ocean fish, in amazing varieties and subtlety of flavors. Also fresh seafood. You have not lived until you have grilled fresh oysters on the grill, carted them in and shucked them on your kitchen table, dressed them up in the toppings of your choice and sent them down the hatch. 'Cuse me, I'm drooling.

Manners galore. Please, Thank-you, Yes M'am, No Sir. Heavenly. Even the toll takers are nice. My friend who works in Gary, Indiana once told me of a toll taker to whom she handed the correct change for toll, and simply told her, "here's the correct change. The toll taker's response to her? "Well f**king duh!" That's just rude. Funny, but rude.

Year round boating. My husband proposed to me on our little boat, on a lake in Florida, in FEBRUARY. Beats shoveling.

Sharp wit. Regardless of origin, Americans are smart asses. You have no idea how comforting that is.

Good writing. I discovered the joys of southern writers; I am drunk with their prose.

Produce. My God in Heaven, thank you for this bounty that will excise the plethora of fried cheese I consumed in Wisconsin. It's all good, all the time. Especially the peaches. Oh, and the tomatoes and strawberries. And the jalapenos and Vidalia onions. And the peaches. Especially the peaches. Amen.

Hard work. I am surrounded by people who walk the walk. When I first arrived in Florida, in the course of trying to land my first job, I'm ashamed to say I told the interviewer I brought an outstanding mid-western work ethic to the table. She was not amused by the implications. Needless to say, I remained unemployed for a bit longer thanks to that gaffe.

I'm hardly the first "Yankee" to tear down I-75 ready to teach these ignorant southerners all about the proper way to do things. Problem is, they have things pretty well managed, are not really impressed with arrogance and lack of tact, and if you could please refrain from using the F-word in front of their Mothers, they'd really appreciate it. Where does all that assumptive superiority come from? Surely it can't simply be the Civil War. One hundred and forty odd years later, the stereotypes run deep and malignant.

I've received many e-mails denigrating southern dwellers as stupid, toothless, racist, uncultured in-breeders. I'm sad to say that most of these emails originated from old friends up north who have never lived in the south. This really bothers me. These same people would never send an email denigrating someone because of skin color. So why do the stereotypes against southerners seem acceptable?

Stereotype is not a particularly pleasant word. A stereotype is a fixed idea that people have about what someone or something is like, especially an idea that is wrong.

Yep, that's pretty negative stuff. Do I wish to be considered less able or intelligent because I'm female? Of course not. Are my children going to be sub-standard citizens because they are growing up in the south? Of course not. Are they going to be toothless, stupid and marry each other? Of course not.

Perpetuating the southern myth is fool hardy. What is really being wrought is worse. As long as we, as Dems, embrace this so called Red State=South / Blue State=North baloney we are allowing ourselves to be manipulated and weakened. Our nation is purple, and we need to build toward that if we want to see real change in this country. To be liberal we must practice tolerance, and here is where we need to start.

I'll leave you with this thought:

Lord, who may have a resting-place in your tent, a living-place on your holy hill? He who goes on his way uprightly, doing righteousness, and saying what is true in his heart; Whose tongue is not false, who does no evil to his friend, and does not take away the good name of his neighbor -- PSALMS 15:1-3, Basic English Bible

Y'all come back now, ya hear?


At February 06, 2005 8:17 PM, Blogger ~Betsy said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At February 06, 2005 8:30 PM, Blogger ~Betsy said...

Splendid, Jet! I'm droolin' too, for the fresh produce. Oh for a juicy tomato to top my burger, or a juicy pear that doesn't rot before it ripens, or a navel orange that drips sweetness as it scents the room... February in "da U.P." brings hard, green produce that doesn't have much flavor, and I assume it's still nutritious so we eat it anyway and dream of summer farmers' markets.

I totally agree about the Dems and Reps needing to acknowledge our purple-ness and try to come to some commom ground. If we don't, we Dems will always be disappointed. The pendulum is swinging farther right every day, it seems.

People email ME the backwoods hick jokes about northerners and Yoopers, and to a degree SOME of the sterotype is earned. I usually know one or two people that fit a percentage of what is joked about. I have seen men and women wearing camoflage to a wedding and to a funeral. Heck, what kind of accessories go with camo? Does your belt have to match your shoes? But I do agree that there are general stereotypes about stupidity and slow mindedness that are not accurate to most of the people I have met up here. Yoopers are usually very nice; they'll stop to help a stranded motorist; they'll plow your driveway without being asked; they'll drop off fresh Lake Superior fish that's still squirming; they'll send food, money and clothes in a heartbeat when someone loses their house to fire.

The semi-Big City rush of Madison is fun for a change of pace and a shopping weekend, but I much prefer my laid back Yooper lifestyle ~ sharing my space near Lake Superior with a family of bald eagles, a timber wolf pack, bobcats, coyotes, rodents galore, and the occasional mountain lion (although I want them to stay clear of our yard!)

Thanks, Jet, for letting me put my 2ยข in.

At February 06, 2005 8:37 PM, Blogger ~Betsy said...

Just so you know, I removed my first comment because I found two typos... EEK! Meticulousness is part of my genetic make up, I can't stop myself. {:^)

At February 07, 2005 7:17 AM, Blogger DJW said...


Great post!

At February 07, 2005 10:26 AM, Blogger frstlymil said...

Wow. Makes me want to fly there immediately for the simple novelty you mentioned called "manners." We don't have that here. We have something called "L.A. Rude" which is not to be confused with "Minnesota Nice." Thank you also for the reminder that the nation is purple. We have a long history of doing everything possible to have one group dominating another, expressing superiority over another, or just exploiting another in some way. 200 plus years later it's still as wrong and still as impractical.

At February 07, 2005 2:38 PM, Blogger Jet said...

I couldn't agree more. Why would anyone subscribe to the doctrine that using half your assets is the best course? Yet, in country after country, women are under utilized, differences are emphasized, opportunities are marginalized. Could you imagine the capabilities of the human race if every brain was treated like the treasure it is? Wow.

At February 09, 2005 12:08 PM, Blogger R said...

I am occasionally guilty of this. But then I can..being an eleventh generation southerner, I AM the ignorance I sometimes make fun of. Yes, we take our old European manners and customs seriously. I would know all I needed to know about a woman who put dark meat in her chicken salad. But we also get very very stuck in our ways and blindly following someone who pretends to be one of us. And that just pisses me off ma'am. Have you acquired a taste for mud bugs yet? (Crawfish) Them's good eats sister.


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