I am by no means any kind of expert on Southern women, nor do I mean to lump all Dixie darlins into one stereotypical category. But, having wondered where it was I always seemed to go wrong, I began to notice a few key elements of being a certain breed of woman in the South. Should you wish to make a better impression than I have, you will need to take the following to heart:
- Get dolled up for all errands, including morning preschool drop-off. If you roll up to the classroom without espadrilles, drop earrings and a Bumpit, or at least a color-coordinated Under Armour gym outfit with a Bumpit ponytail, you won't ever need to explain that you're a foreigner whose mama didn't raise you right. They'll know.
- Speak in a voice at least one octave higher than your natural register. Squeak if it's someone you really can't abide and whose religious deficits you plan to discuss at your next Bible Study meeting. The women at my son's preschool address me at a decibel only dogs can hear.
- Apologize before expressing a request or an opinion, if you dare offer one. "I'm sorry, but would you mind asking James Ryan not to jump on my coffee table in his cowboy boots?" "I'm sorry, but Pat Robertson says Halloween is for slaughtering kittens and that Jesus wants us to Trunk Or Treat in the church parking lot."
- Southern hospitality be damned, mi casa no es su casa, and if I forget to refill your sweet tea you will smile silently and wait for me to remember my hostessing duties even if your tonsils are on fire. It doesn't matter if we've been having bi-weekly get-togethers for three years and I've seen you covered in baby vomit and jumping nekkid into the pool after too many Mint Juleps, you will not open my fridge and dole out a refill. If the flames have turned your tonsils into charcoal and are now headed down your esophagus, you might eventually squeak, "I'm sorry, but would you mind if I had more tea? James Ryan, honey, please don't jump on Miss Patsy's coffee table."
- Pray on it. If asked where your child will be going to Kindergarten or whether you're going to Myrtle Beach in August, don't say you've been thinking about it or trying to decide. Tell the person you've been "praying on it." Replacing cognitive reasoning with prayer is an unquestioned convention which will elicit from the non-conversant questioner a brief startled silence, followed by mechanical nodding and a rubbery smile (you know, like that grin Farmer Ted gives the prom queen in "Sixteen Candles" when he's trying to convince her he's Jake?), whereas Biblical comrades will... well, I don't really know. I can't imagine what the proper response to such a statement would be, so I stick with the nod, realize it will be only moments before they find out I don't go to the right church anyway, and try to back away at the earliest opportunity.