Things Southerners Are Really Picky About
Have you ever noticed how the same Southerners who are great at making others feel comfortable and accepted will silently lose their minds if they taste sugar in the cornbread? Or break into a cold sweat if they're forced to walk past the instant tea display at Publix? Tell them you don't care whether Alabama beats Auburn or the Dawgs whip Tech, and they will lose all respect for you—even as they smile and offer you a pimiento cheese sandwich. Wear white shoes before Easter, and Mama'n'em will shake their heads in pity, bless your heart.
And those are just the things we agree on, for the most part. Atlantic Coasters can't understand what Gulf Coasters see in those calm waters, while the Gulf crowd wonders how people on the Outer Banks live without the Flora-Bama. And we're all sure we know "the best way to get there," wherever "there" is.
The truth is that Southerners have more regional "this is how it's done" rules than most. And our internalized rulebook has chapters: Manners, Church, Food . . . We took an informal poll (which is to say, we asked our Facebook friends) and asked them: What are Southerners picky about? Here's what they said—let us know what they missed.
It is still not okay to skip the RSVP or the thank-you note. (Infants and toddlers may have their mothers write Memaw and thank her for the teddy bear.) Men and boys should always open doors for women and girls. It is not old-fashioned. It is respectful. From the moment they can approximate language, children should be taught to say "yes, ma'am; no, ma'am; yes, sir; and no sir." We respect our elders down here. Also, the young'uns should be taught not to call adults by their first names. If their relationship is formal or distant, use "Mr. Anderson" or "Mrs. Johnson." If the relationship is close and affectionate, add "Miss" or "Mr." to the adult's first name: Miss Kathy, Mr. David, etc.
We choose carefully when it comes to houses of worship. Many Southerners fall into one of two church camps: traditional or contemporary. Contemporary worshippers are fine with jeans on Sunday morning, and you can expect some serious amplification during the praise music. There will be drums. And a big projection screen with the song lyrics so that worshippers' hands are free to clap along with the music. Traditional people . . . not so much. They want their hymnals in hand so that nobody expects them to clap. Clapping makes them nervous. They consider a piano and organ (with occasional chamber ensemble for special occasions) all that's Biblically required for services. They want an Easter dress—with proper shoes and handbag. Also, they have a regular pew—and it's their pew.
This one we'll have to break down because it's a huge category. As it turns out, we're pickier about food than just about anything else in our purview. Fasten your barbecue aprons—here we go.
Mayonnaise: We're pretty sure families have divided over this one. Duke's people can't abide Hellman's people and vice versa. Throw Blue Plate and Kraft into the mix, and you've got mayo mayhem. Which brand is really the best? Whatever Mama uses, of course.
Ketchup: Sweet, tangy, thick, thin, homemade, store-bought—everybody's got an opinion.
Iced Tea: Try offering us instant, and we'll smile politely and say, "Oh, water's just fine." Also, there should be enough sugar in there to make ice cream. And fresh lemon.
Cornbread Dressing: Actually, we don't even agree that it can be cornbread. Coastal folks are down with the oyster dressing. (But it really should be cornbread.)
Catfish: No batter, please. No cold grease, please.
Fried Chicken: How fried is fried enough? Light brown, deep gold, super crunchy, lightly breaded? That depends on how Mama did it. Juicy and tender on the inside, crisp and golden on the outside, Southern fried chicken is an art form. Approach that cast iron skillet with reverence.
Gumbo: Without a proper roux, it's called "soup."
Grits: Is it okay to serve instant grits? No. No, it is not.
Barbecue and BBQ Sauce: The best barbecue in the South is pulled pork from Alabama, served with white sauce. Isn't that right, Texas and North Carolina?
Syrup: Are you a Yellow Label or Golden Eagle fan?
Chicken Salad: Step away from the Miracle Whip.
Pimiento Cheese: Can't be soupy, can't be dry, and needs just the right amount of kick.
Tomatoes: Rich color, firm texture, big flavor—these are requirements. Southerners would rather eat a lightning bug than a mushy, mealy tomato.
Greens: We're not sure any of us can master them till we have grandchildren. Like fried chicken, greens are an art form.
Coleslaw: The shred of your cabbage says so much. Any big, unwieldy chunks tell your guests that you might wear velvet after Valentine's Day.
Mac and Cheese or Chicken and Dumplings: Never from a box or a can.
Okra: Must be slime-free. And fried.
Bourbon: We'll let y'all speak to this one, Kentucky. But we will say this . . .
We like to think the best judges of quality in almost any arena are our grandparents. And they seemed willing to make the sacrifice to help us with this taste test.