A northerner's guide to how to survive in the south
5 years ago I moved from Boston to Atlanta. It was a huge move. I'd lived in Boston for 15 years and in New England most of my life. But I decided to move to get away from the cold, to live a little cheaper and to have more fun.
It's been a whirlwind 5 years -- it really flew by in a flash. I've made a lot of friends and I've visited loads of new places. I've eaten a lot of good food, had a couple of jobs and adopted a dog. I've also learned a lot about what it's like to live in the south.
In honor of my "move-iversary" here is my guide for anyone considering a move to the south on how to fit in -- from a northerner's perspective:
1) Enjoy the weather!: Ah, the glorious weather. Let me tell you, after surviving 30 (and change) years of winters in the northeast (most of those in Maine), coming here and seeing the sun most days of the year is pretty darn special. Sure you will have swamp ass most of the summer and perhaps a "Snowpocalypse" or two in the winter, but the fall and spring make up for it.
2) Be careful driving: When you have a combo of southerners who don't know how to drive (in good weather and especially in bad) and transplants from Boston and NY who drive like assholes (present company included), it's one big shitshow. One interesting side note: everyone drives like a bat out of hell on the highway. Go figure.
3) Don't expect much from the dating scene (unless you're a guy): There's no real truth to the rumor there are more women than men in Atlanta, it just feels that way. A 2013 poll in Atlanta Magazine asked: Do you think Atlanta has a good singles scene? Response: Women: No, 53%; Men: Yes, 80%. That about sums it up. Ladies, be prepared to have an open mind (I do not yet have one) when it comes to dating in the south. If you are a dude looking to join the fray, c'mon down! We need you on the team. The ladies here are all HOT.
4) Be hungry: The south has some of the best food anywhere. We have celebrity and James Beard winning chefs crawling all over the place (above that's Anne Quatrano of Atlanta; Sean Brock of Charleston; John Besh of New Orleans; and Kevin Gillespie of Atlanta). There are hundreds of great places to eat - fancy, casual and everything in between. And that's just in Atlanta! There's also Nashville, Charleston, Asheville, Austin, Savannah and New Orleans to name a few other great food towns.
5) Slow down a little: People in the south are much friendlier than people in the northeast. That's common knowledge. What you may not realize when basking in the warm embrace of southern folks' charm and good manners is the pace that goes along with it. All of these friendly people being friendly to each other takes time. Be prepared to be very patient (a tall order for us northerners).
6) Adopt the language: Use "y'all" liberally; it's so fun to say and it makes you sound friendly and less threatening. I also like "eye-PRE-shate-ya!" (translation: "I appreciate you") said very emphatically; "Hey girl!" to greet your friends; and "Shut the front door!" - a sanitized "shut the fuck up."
7) Pick a college football team: As I've mentioned before, I don't have a college football team. My advice to anyone thinking of moving here: get one. Start studying up now. This is all anyone thinks about in the fall. It's ingrained in the culture and the social scene revolves around it. If you're into NFL like I am, you may find a few other straggler transplants watching the games on Sundays, but it's not the same.
8) Be prepared for a new array of creatures: The most frightening? Palmetto bugs. Hint: these are giant cockroaches. They go by a prettier name but they're still cockroaches and they can FLY. There is also a nasty rumor that there are poisonous snakes lurking around. And just a four hour drive will put you in the path of gators...and I don't just mean the orange and blue kind.
9) Have a "blessed" day: I might be a touch more sensitive to this one because I am not into religion (don't have one, don't want one). People in the south are not shy about flaunting their faith. You get blessed by someone on the regular - even at work. Just go with it. But on the flip side to all this, here in Atlanta (read: among the liberals) people are more open-minded about your choice (or lack thereof) of religion. It's the yin to the bible thumper yang.
10) Get some festival shoes: Because the weather is always great, there is a festival down here almost every weekend (sometimes more than one), just about year round. It's like a job! But it's a great opportunity to be social and enjoy the weather. Just keep it in check or you'll find yourself day-drinking and drunk-eating every weekend and before you know it, you've gained 25 lbs and ruined all your good shoes. So invest in some festival shoes. Lately this also includes a good pair of rain boots.
11) Be open to the new foods: On the plus side, there's fried chicken, biscuits, grits, red velvet cake, barbecue and pimiento cheese. [Caution: all this stuff makes you fat.] On the con side: greens that are cooked to mush, crawfish (aka "mud bugs"), chit-lins, fried bologna, pickled pig's feet and mayonnaise mixed with...everything. Eek.
12) Be prepared to drive far -- for most every trip: From Boston, you can drive through 3 states in an hour. You can get to NYC in less than 4 hours. You drive for 4 hours here and you still haven't left the state! From Atlanta a decent beach is at least 4 1/2 hours away and it's not uncommon to take road trips that are 6, 7, even up to 8 hours. It takes commitment.
13) Be conservative: What? You're not? Me neither. So this is a rough one. And this isn't just regular conservative. No, no, no. This is southern conservative. That's another ball of wax. I'm sure you've heard about this new "safe carry" gun law that just went into effect. The National Rifle Association called it "the most comprehensive pro-gun reform legislation introduced in recent history." I think I threw up a little.
Thanks to all who've helped me acclimate! It's been a fabulous five years.