After spending a handful of days visiting my folks in the Maryland mountains over fall break, I was overjoyed when we returned home to Central Kentucky with its friendly faces and hospitality. You see, there are certain Southern mannerisms that are frowned upon in northern states.
Having spent more time in Frankfort than I have in my hometown of Cumberland, Maryland, I have noticed that, unlike Kentuckians, many northerners carry a permanent scowl. Smiles, it seems, are reserved for friends, family and festivities, not the people you encounter in your daily life.
Actually, eye contact — even of the peripheral sort — is strongly discouraged. As strange as it sounds, they simply don’t acknowledge each other and therefore have no need for phrases like “good morning” or “how are you doing?”
I will never forget a few years ago when we were visiting in the spring and our oldest son was 7 years old. While waiting at a stoplight, he waved to the driver in the car next to us and in return got the one-finger salute — and not of the “we’re-number-one” variety.
Being the protective mother bear that I am, I quickly redirected the kids’ attention to a non-existent deer family through the windows on the opposite side of our vehicle and promptly returned the man’s friendly gesture.
Over the years, other drivers have also flashed that particular finger so I finally settled on telling the kids that is how Marylanders say hello. Don't worry — I have stressed to them that it is never to be returned.
Of course, we also get the occasional ribbing for our Southern accent or, as they term it, “twang.” But nothing compares to the funny “huh” looks you get when you mistakenly drop a “y’all” in conversation. Apparently it is not considered a real word north of Virginia and must be translated to “you all.”
Two other words that are also lost when crossing state lines are “hon” and “darling” — two names I prefer to be called rather than the geriatric-sounding “m’am.”
But it is not just the language barrier that must be mastered. We are a family of huggers, which can be strange in a foreign state where the handshake — even among family — is the customary greeting. It creates an awkward mid-air collision when one person is going for the hug and the other is extending a hand.
We try not to stick out like sore thumbs, but that is not always easy to do, especially since we are usually decked out in UK gear. Despite some of the people we have encountered, the trip is always enjoyable, but it is also a relief to come home, where smiles are returned and greetings are answered. I like to tell people I wasn't born here but I made it here as quick as I could.
Chanda Veno is managing editor of The State Journal. Her email address is email@example.com.