The 10 Commandments of Southern Living

Here in Atlanta, the city and surrounding suburbs often welcome transplants from other areas of the country, as well as international visitors and residents. I’ve enjoyed my up close and personal experience introducing my Ghanaian husband to Southern living, with a front row seat watching him adapt to the funny little quirks that are unique to the South.

So I thought I’d put together the 10 commandments of Southern living, to help those who are visiting, here, moving here, or just traveling through.

#10 – Thou Shalt Not Criticize Dolly Parton, and by Association, the Movie Steel Magnolias.

Some people are just untouchable. Dolly may be a country singer to the rest of the world, but here in the South, and especially Tennessee, she’s a philanthropist and a friend. She generously supports cancer research, diabetes, literacy, animal rescues, veterans… you name it, Dolly is there. And when Gatlinburg went up in flames during the 2016 Tennessee wildfires? She pledged to donate $1,000 a month to homeless victims of the fires for six months. That’s up to 14,000 displaced people that she’s still helping get back on their feet. So don’t get mad if you try to make a boob joke or a blonde joke about Dolly and we don’t laugh.

Oh, and Steel Magnolias? Great film. Just hush and go watch it.

#9 – Thou Shalt Learn Proper Grammar for Southern Slang.

Yes, slang is by definition an improper way to use language. Here in the South, we have a disproportionate amount of slang. But that doesn’t mean you can be lazy. If you don’t know where the apostrophes go on words like y’all and you’uns just don’t use punctuation at all lest you out yourself. The folks at Merriam-Webster are behind the curve on some words, such as mamanem (How’s your mamanem?) and ugly, which has nothing to do with appearance and everything to do with rudeness. Contrary to Hollywood though, no one here says “I do declare” and we actually do use the phrase “bless your heart” to show kindness… most of the time.

#8 – Thou Shalt Not Honk Your Car Horn Unless You’re Waving at a Neighbor

I once brought a friend to downtown Atlanta to enjoy Centennial Olympic Park. His first observation? “This city is so quiet!” I thought it was plenty noisy, but he was comparing Atlanta’s noise to the din of honking cars that he heard round the clock in New York City. No, we don’t honk car horns here unless we’re deliberately trying to be rude, which is almost never. The most you’ll get is a barely audible *beep* if you’re distracted when the light turns green, a good honk to wave high to your neighbor in the Publix parking lot or a long loud honk if you cut us off and we almost accidentally killed you so we need to teach you a lesson. Any other honks are from visitors or transplants.

#7 – Thou Shalt Not Drive Anywhere at all at the Slightest Sign of Snow.

Sigh. Yes. We’ve all seen The Walking Dead-worthy images from back in 2014 when Atlanta was shut down for days over an inch of snow. My own husband was stuck in the melee for 22 hours. A few friends walked home… in heels. The thing is, it’s mostly hot in Atlanta. We get four seasons, but just barely. Investing in snow removal equipment would cost us $80 million but would only be used two or three times per decade. Snow tires are not a thing here (I wouldn’t even know what they look like). And the moment snow hits the warm roads it turns to slick ice. The combination of those things mean we don’t go out in the snow. We shut down the city. People will die if we don’t. What IS allowed are fist fights in the bread aisle for the last loaf immediately after the first snowflake sighting. We won’t judge you for that.

Why are bread, milk and eggs desirable during snow? Forget French toast. For one, bread and (boiled) eggs don’t need to be refrigerated. During the blizzard of 1993, we lost power. We put our fridge food in the snow to keep cold and ate a ton of PBJ and grilled cheese sandwiches and boiled eggs. The milk keeps just fine on the back porch in 30 degrees or less. There. Now you have it.  

#6 – Thou Shalt Not Plan Weddings from August to November.

What are you even thinking? This is football season. You had January through July to get it together. Shame on you. I got married 12 years ago in April. My sister got married last year in April. That’s the perfect marrying month, before the heat hits and no important playoffs are happening.

#5 – Thou Shalt Be Prepared to Sweat At Any Time, In Any Month.

Until you’ve been to an outdoor event in 105 degree weather with 100% humidity (yes, that’s possible without rain), you don’t know sweat. In the South you will get intimate with sweat. You will understand that sweat and Spanx do not go together. You will know how to choose your fabrics. You will pray for relief. July heat and humidity plus a polyester sundress is a recipe for a stroke.

My air conditioner once went out when I was nine months pregnant… IN JUNE. I laid perfectly still on my couch for three days straight trying not to die. When it broke down again two weeks later, I went into labor just for relief. That is not true. But still. A broken air conditioner in July is the devil’s work. Jesus be an air conditioner.

#4 – Thou Shalt Not Give Directions Using Actual Directions.

If someone asks directions, you must never use the words East, West, North or South. You may only use landmarks for the most accurate directions. Turn left at Harry’s Farm. Keep going straight until you see the Big Chicken. Never use the word “the” before interstates. We say I-75 or 75, or I-40 or 40. There’s no such thing as “The 24” or “The 75.” You sound lost when you do that.

Bonus points if you use landmarks that haven’t been there for 20 years. Hang a right where the old Piggly Wiggly used to be. Those are always the best directions of all.

If you think your GPS will save you, good luck. Drive 20 miles away from any interstate in Alabama or Mississippi and you’ll be in a cell tower black hole. Alone. With your thoughts.

#3 – Thou Shalt Slow Your Roll.

One of the great things about the South is that time is relative. Yes, we do watch the clock like anyone else, but if the line to the Six Flags coaster is 2 hours long, we’ll wait. We’ll talk. If the post office line has a 45-minute wait we’ll stand there quietly. If our commute is an hour longer than usual because there was a traffic accident, we’ll say a prayer for the victims and try not to sweat it too much. Sure, we get stressed out like anyone else, but it looks different on us. This is a place to take a deep breath and smell the dandelions while you wait. Strike up a conversation with your neighbor. Complaining and worrying doesn’t make anything go faster.

#2 – Thou Shalt Eat

The Food Network might make you think that all Southerners like to eat are biscuits, gravy, fried chicken, greens and pork. And that would be correct. But we aren’t sitting around gorging on platters of carbs and fried foods all day every day (unfortunately). We have a great restaurant scene in the South that includes everything from sushi to tacos to barbecue. So there’s plenty of variety regardless of diet. But if you come visit my house? I’m going to ask you to stay for dinner. Dropping by to say hello? Have some sweet tea. Kids over for a playdate? They’re gonna eat. Dropping off a package? I’ll leave a cold drink by the mailbox for you to take with you. I always feel just a little bit sad when people decline my food. I started my son’s birthday party in February with the words, “If y’all don’t start eating I’m going to be offended.” So yeah. It’s kinda personal for us.

#1 – Thou Shalt Get Comfy with Jesus.

Before you get all squeamish, I didn’t say thou shalt believe in Jesus. I mean, clearly, we do – Angie and I named this blog with Jesus’ name built right in so we’re sold. But if you live here or come for a visit, you’re probably going to hear about Jesus. Not in a conversion sort of way, but just in casual conversation. Most of us are going to pause and say grace before eating. If you’re in someone’s house, we’re going to say grace aloud in Jesus name, probably while holding your hand. If you ask about our weekend we might mention a church service. In political discussions we’re going to accuse each other of not being Christ-like. If there’s a murder or natural disaster we’re going to mutter a prayer under our breaths. We know other religions are alive and well, sometimes in very large numbers, and that’s all good, we’re going to respect that unless we’re one of the insane types. But Jesus is a friend to a whole lot of us in the Bible belt. So even if you’re not a total Jesus freak, you’re going to want to get comfortable hearing about him like he’s right in the room with you.

So there’s your top 10 commandments of southern living. What would you add to the list?