I've lived in the south for over 30 years. Having grown up as a New Yorker, there were some changes to get used to once I crossed the Mason-Dixon line.
Language was a big one. My parents were well-behaved in public, but behind the closed doors of our home, they taught me all kinds of interesting vocabulary words, as they took their everyday frustrations out on one another. "Jerk" and "bastard" were two of the earliest ones, but by the time I was about eight, I knew pretty much every one of George Carlin's pet no-nos.
It was only in college that I met people who were outspokenly offended by swear words. The ones that raised eyebrows initially were related to religion. I began to think twice about using "hell" and "damn," and was politely informed one day that "God's last name is not 'dammit.'" So I gradually began censoring myself a bit, which was probably a good thing, once I joined the work force. Macy's customers and office colleagues seemed to have more sophisticated vocabularies and during the day I didn't hear much "blue" language. But among friends, you could say pretty much anything you wanted, especially when emotions were running high.
The thing about New York is, some people might be offended, but as mentioned above, that applies generally only to religious folks. Aside from them, people are pretty hardened up there. Verbal abuse, especially on public transport, is something you often see on YouTube videos. If you can't deal with someone cursing you out for some social faux pas like beating them to the last empty seat or taking up too much space, then you probably ought to find a different environment to exist in. But you do have to be extremely cautious about body language. I wonder if words carry less weight in New York because it's so noisy, people might not hear you.
Things that can get you beaten up in New York are:
- Making too much eye contact (you know you're wading into dangerous waters when someone asks "What are you lookin' at?")
- Giving someone the finger
- Pounding your bicep and forcefully bending your arm at the elbow in someone's direction (with the hand forming a fist or midde-finger) -- this is generally known as the forearm jerk
- Scraping your fingers along the underside of your chin in someone's direction -- known as the chin-flick
- Bumping into someone or touching them, even in a crowd
Here are some links to more information about provocative gestures:
But in the south, I think perhaps because it generally isn't as crowded and there is less pressure and stress among other things, you don't see people resorting to gestures. But people do pay extremely close attention to words. You can find yourself in hot water simply by saying "Yes" or "No" -- if you forget to put a "Sir" or "Ma'am" after it. That one took me awhile to get used to -- growing up in New York, those respectful titles were reserved for military drill sergeants or prison matrons. Not in the South. We will address our friends by these titles -- "We goin' out drinkin' for Girls' Night Out?" "Yes, ma'am!"
Another common point of etiquette in the south is tacking the title "Miss" onto any woman's first name. In New York, you could call a friend's mother Mrs. Burkett or Danielle, depending on which one she invited you to use, but once you go down south, you'd just better remember that if you're being informal, her name is Miss Danielle, or you're in a heap o'trouble, and your mama's gonna hear about it, too!
I guess being a woman perpetually addressed as "Miss" (or "Miz") has the psychological effect of making you feel a little bit more genteel and refined. My next-door neighbor Niles, who never fails to call me "Miz Vol-E," expressed great surprise as I was driving him to work one day and yelled out "the S word" when my car stalled at a light. He clearly doesn't regard me as family, since his wife and mother-in-law are Brandie and Reba, respectively, with no Miz anywhere in sight.
More about "the S word." All the nasty words are referred to here by their first intials. I guess George Carlin would refer to them as the "S, C, F, MF, CS, P and T" words. The N and R words are included there too. But any religious references are still taken pretty seriously.
I once saw a man threatened with jail by an elderly usher in a courthouse. He'd stumbled into the County courthouse by mistake, when he should have been across the Marietta Georgia town square in the City courthouse. He was clearly from "Up North," which didn't help his case any. When the usher informed him he was in the wrong place, he unthinkingly replied "Okay, so where the hell do I go?" I think every other person sitting there (including me) flinched. About half were genuinely offended by the language, but the other half were feeling sorry for the guy, who didn't know what he'd said but was sure about to find out. The usher made sure he got some schoolin' but he prefaced the outraged lecture on social etiquette with -- you guessed it -- "Sir."
More recently, the strict rules seem to be relaxing just the slightest. I've heard younger people, even southern natives, pepper their language with "cuss words." I even had a supervisor recently tell me how "sweet" she thought I was. "Don't you ever curse?" she asked. "Only in places I can't get fired from," I told her.
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