155: Being Southern

The SOUTH, those states in the USA that are below the Mason-Dixon line, is a unique foreign country with a culture  distinctly alien from that which can be experienced in locales further north, like Miami. Southerners respect no laws but their own. Fortunately, their laws are generally more strict than the laws of other countries, such as New York or Philadelphia, so lawlessness is typically confined to such shenanigans as are common to teenaged males: high-spirited foolishness excused with a shrug of the shoulders and a shake of the head, “boys will be boys,” no matter their actual chronological age. The mere fact of being  male is apparently enough, and everyone knows that when a group of males congregates, their collective I.Q. drops at least 30 points – sometimes it drops into serious mental retardation. Males in a group will do things they would never, ever consider doing if they were alone, and they will do it in concert with their buddies with great pride.

Females know this, which is why groups of males are studiously avoided, unless a girl is “asking for it.” This phrase is similar to the universal southern defense for acts of murder: “he deserved killin,”  and it both explains and excuses various heinous acts as utterly reasonable, under the circumstances. If a female consorts with males in groups, all bets are off.

Driving in the South is interesting, and only recommended for natives. Foreigners are advised to stick to the interstates, and not to stop too often on their way to or from Florida. And God himself help a non-native who arrives at a four-way stop in rural southern Georgia. There is a complicated algorithm that takes effect when two or more Southerners arrive concurrently at a four-way stop that determines who goes first, and it has absolutely nothing to do with who arrived at the intersection first, contrary to what you might have been thinking. These factors include, in no particular order, the gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status and passengers of the person driving. These calculations cannot be completed correctly in the limited amount of time available by anyone less than third-generation Southern. Foreigners are going to have a fender-bender.

And, road signs are completely arbitrary by locals, who are “those in the know.” Various stop signs at railroad crossings in one small southern town I know of were completely optional. Normally, to ignore a stop sign at a railroad crossing in this small town was akin to ordering your casket in advance, because freight trains traversed the tracks, on average, every twenty minutes throughout the day and night. However, SOME  railroad stop signs were on spur tracks that were only occasionally used, and were freely ignored at will. If you try to stop for  THOSE stop signs, you will very likely be rear-ended by a native who was obviously not expecting you to stop.  These little things drive foreigners and immigrants (Northern retirees) crazy.

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