Dallas, Texas

Talking South

By Marie Park

I was born in South Carolina and have lived in Texas temporarily for the past 36 years. I thought I would go back, but it hasn’t happened yet. Unlike some Southerners who end up in California or above the Mason-Dixon Line, I like the South; I don’t resent my Southern roots or my upbringing there.  I like to visit often and have lots of friends and relatives there.

More than once, I have been drawn into heated discussion about whether Texas is in the South. It’s not. You can make a case for Texans that live behind the Pine Curtain in the east, but that’s it. East Texans are more like Southerners than Texans. Most Southerners are Southern first and then from Georgia, South Carolina or Alabama. Most Texans, even the ones behind the Pine Curtain, are Texan first and after that, Southern.

Talking is one of the most distinctive Southern traits. Good talkers need good listeners. There are lots of both in the South. Texans talk as much, but not the same as Southerners. Someone above the Mason-Dixon Line once told me that Southerners never say what they mean. She said she was a Yankee and everyone always knew exactly what she thought.

While I was wondering if that was a good thing, I explained that the longer I lived in Texas, the longer it took me to transition when I went home. Texans, Midwesterners and Yankees have more direct styles of speech. Often Southerners gather and express information indirectly.  In the South, people have a way of asking what everyone else thinks before they tell you what they think. It doesn’t mean they don’t have a strong opinion; it just means they are offering you the courtesy of asking what you think first. Or, they might be polling for a majority opinion to figure out a course of action. When I first moved to Texas, I often came home blurting opinions, only to be very gently chastised by Carolina cousins. Hence, the transition problem.

My sister and I went to South Carolina when my mother was recovering from breast cancer to cheer her up. My sister left the South as soon as possible and has never looked back, spending most of her life in the Northeast and the Bay Area. She does not speak indirectly, ever, even though she was raised in the South. Going to school in the Northeast beat it out of her.

We had decided to take Mama to lunch and a movie.

After lunch, my sister said, “‘Borat’ is on, do y’all want to go to the movie?”

Mama said, “No, I have to go to the grocery store.”

Before lunch, Mama had agreed to go to the movie with us.

After a minute, I said, “Mama, what movies are on?”

Mama said, ”Well, ‘Borat,’ ‘The Queen’ …”

She listed the other movies.

So I said, “Mama, if we went to see ‘The Queen,’ would you be available to go to the movies?”

She was and we did.

Sasha Baron Cohen was not something my mother would waste her time and attention on. Since my sister and I would waste our time on him, we were told indirectly but clearly that if we were rude enough to come to town to cheer her up and pick a stupid movie, she would rather go to the grocery store. It was easy enough to know what Mama thought if you were listening. In some places, they might still be wondering why she needed to go to the grocery store right after she just had lunch.