There are more than a couple of rules to follow when you’re talking to a Southerner. If you’ve ever found yourself south of the Mason-Dixon line, you’ve probably discovered a few of these phrases for yourself. In addition to “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir”—which are always polite (and dare we say, required?)—Southerners have some expectations, both spoken and unspoken, for conversation in the South. From food to football to gardening, there are a few phrases you should never utter. Use our helpful list to prepare yourself for future conversations and avoid any linguistic faux pas. We will provide a disclaimer, though: If you do say one of these things to a Southerner, don’t worry too much. The odds are that they’ll be too polite to take offense. After all, more than anything else, Southerners enjoy a visit with a friend or a stranger (who’s just bound to be a friend eventually.)
1. “I don’t know how to cook.”
In the South, there’s no excuse for this one. Even if you didn’t learn to cook a few signature dishes when you were growing up, there are plenty of Southerners nearby who are willing to take you under their wing and teach you the secrets of Southern cooking. (Start with a few of our easy recipes and work your way up to cakes and pies in no time.)
2. “Have to run. I’m in a hurry.”
No matter where we are in the South, we take our time. In conversation, in Sunday afternoon drives, in meals—you name it, we like to enjoy our experiences and savor the moment. That means if you fall into a conversation with a Southerner in the checkout line, it might take a while to wrap up.
3. “I’ll never have a green thumb.”
First of all, Southerners are optimists, and we don’t like to hear the word “never.” Second of all, most Southerners feel about gardening the way we feel about cooking. You’ll never learn if you don’t practice. (You should also never utter this in the presence of our Southern garden expert, the Grumpy Gardener. It’s bound to make him grumpier.
4. “I’m going to turn in early.”
If there’s an opportunity to visit with each other, Southerners are going to take it. Whether it’s over cocktails at our favorite restaurant or on the porch with a glass of sweet tea, we love telling stories, catching up, and spending time with people we love. So don’t even think about making it an early night when there are still things to do and people to see.
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5. “I’m not hungry.”
Our Southern families know that food equals love. When you love someone, you want to feed them—preferably with delicious, home-cooked meals from recipes passed down through the generations. Stopping by a Southern grandmother’s house means you’re in for a meal, or at least a snack. Don’t even think about telling her that you’re not hungry. If you do, you will be met with a plate and an affectionate scolding of “Hush your mouth.”
6. "SEC who?"
Any variation of “I don’t watch football” will probably be met with a blank stare. Falls are for football. Talking about it, watching it, and prepping for tailgating parties takes up most of our time. So brush up on your stats, or at least skim the sports pages before chatting with a Southerner during football season.
7. “You all”
We have a contraction for that. “Y’all” is time tested and scientifically proven. And it just sounds so friendly.