Southerners are viscious. There is an entire culture dedicated to disguising this and if you live in the South, you learn to navigate. But it’s been a long time since I had to do so…and there are things you forget. Which is unfortunate, because I am in SOUTH Carolina. Attending the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop, watching Suzie Townsend rock the world. It is very different from living in New York City. As Diana Fox so elequently put it, it's like a vampire walking into the sun and starting to sizzle. It's just clear you're out of your element. I’d forgotten so much, but it’s coming back rapidly and I would be remiss if I didn’t pass this along. I can’t have any more blood on my hands. The below are some guidelines for surviving.
1. Move slowly.
- You’re going to feel exposed and vulnerable. All that flat, “open” space. No skyscrapers. Your weak spots are visible from effing Russia without some skyscrapers running interference. Ignore that. Don’t run. No sudden movements. The Russians are not your concern right now, and southerners, your current risk, consider economy of movement an insult of the highest order. Languish. Walk slowly. Speak slowly. Pretend you’re some sort of royalty; lord knows everyone else does.
2. Make Eye Contact
- I know. This sounds like a recipe for death. In the natural world, making eye contact is a sign of aggression. In New York, this sort of crazy never happens. It’s code for “Hey, let’s rumble.” But that’s because New York is a part of the natural world. You’re in the south, my friend. I tried to ignore the eye-contact-making tendencies for as long as possible, but after the tenth person looked me in the eye and smiled (read: bared her teeth), I snapped. I bared mine right back and did her one better: I snarled. It was only after the woman burst into tears for the rest of the elevator ride that I realized I may have miscalculated. She shouldn’t have cornered me like that.
3. Be friendly
- Come to find out, smiling is different than baring one’s teeth. It’s important not to confuse the two and to realize that, in fact, people in the south consider it threatening if you don’t smile at them. My recommendation, one I’m still experimenting with to figure out all the angles, is just to go with it. Better not to draw attention to yourself when in hostile territory. The risk, however, is that you may end up in the terrifying situation where you can’t extricate yourself. Once a southerner gets their hooks into you, you’re essentially in the grips of a boa constrictor. It could be a slow, crushing death or you could play dead and escape.
- Should it come to that, your “play dead” option is to make “small talk.” Stall. Keep talking. It’s like a trance they go into, and it’s the only way to buy time before their blood lust surfaces.
- Suggested small talk topics:
1. Food allergies
- 4. Religion*
5. Family scandals*
*These have particularly high time-purchasing power.
4. When going through a door, let the southerner get behind you.
- Again, it sounds like a recipe for death. Who would willingly let an opponent out of their sight? Who would give an enemy a clear tackle? But go with me on this. If you argue this point, you will literally die before you emerge from the conflict. If a southerner says “Go ahead,” you better go. Any other response will trigger a long string of “No, I insist.” and “No, YOU go ahead, really.” Years later, you will starve to death.
5. Foster malice in your heart.
- Even as you’re smiling, greeting people, and sauntering along, know that everyone is judging you. Your makeup, clothes, haircut, diction, and lineage. This is their secret, my friends. Southern gentility seems forced because it is. It’s just there to hide an insatiable bloodlust that, as soon as you forget it’s there, will have your throat on the floor.
Fear not. You know the truth, and information is the most powerful weapon you could possibly possess. I have every confidence. Go with God.