I used to think I was southern, and then I moved to Georgia.
As a Floridian, I always felt an association with the south. Even my family was from the south. My mom’s side of the family is from rural Georgia, but my great grandparents relocated to Florida in the state’s post-war boom.
Florida has all the trappings of the south — you can find plenty of sweet tea, soul food, country music, and friendly locals. We eat grits, know what collard greens are, and politely smile at everyone. But, as any Floridian will tell you, Florida is a strange amalgamation of cultures. So, alongside that sweet tea you will also find guava pastries, Cuban sandwiches, and lots of geriatric Canadians lol. We also have a huge population of transplants from the northeast, which might explain my Dunkin Donuts coffee obsession. Many joke that the further south you get in Florida the more north you actually are.
While this blending of people and cultures is awesome, it also means that most Floridians (besides the panhandle and north Florida) are not very southern at all. Honestly, Florida is a weird place, and for those of us who were born and raised there (only 1 in 3 people in Florida are actually from Florida), we don’t really have a larger cultural identity (unless “Florida Man” counts). Perhaps that is why I just always assumed the “south” was my closest cultural association.
Boy was I wrong. Living in a small town in Georgia has been a major culture shock. The only options on the radio are literally country or christian music. That is it. I guess I better develop a taste for country music (I have always enjoyed the sound of country music, but I struggle with the misogynistic and patriarchal undertones).
Obviously, I am missing the creature comforts of city life — no grocery deliver service, a severe lack of cuisine options (why is everything fried and what is with pimento cheese?), no cute coffee shops, and no Nordstrom or Trader Joe’s. I also always feel overdressed since no body here seems to wear anything other than shorts, jeans, and t-shirts (of course that feeling changed a bit when I started working on campus). And I am pretty sure my “wild feminist” t-shirt is not going to go over as well here. Oh, and downtown has not one, but two Confederate memorials. I have also been a little shocked by the number of abandon and run-down buildings and historic homes.
I almost forgot about the accents! Wow. Just, wow. At first I kind of chuckled when people spoke. I was not making fun, it just seemed so unreal, like an actor trying too hard to sound southern. It felt like a parody. But nope, that is really how people speak here. I am starting to get used to it though, and honestly I like it. I wonder what I sound like to them? Northern? Do Floridians have an accent?
But I don’t want to paint the picture that it is all bad. People are insanely nice here… like crazy nice. When everyone lost power thanks to Irma, I had more offers that I could count for a place to stay and a warm meal. People genuinely want to know about you. They don’t ask out of politeness, they really listen and engage with you. And there is no getting away with not telling someone your life story. I have also not had to open my own door or carry anything heavy since moving here. Not one person in Tampa offered to help when I spent 2 days struggling down my 3 flights of stairs and out to my car (then again, I didn’t expect anyone to). And while there are a lot of historic homes in shambles, there are also many that have been carefully and lovingly restored (there does seem to be a lot of wealth inequality here).
Apologies that this post is a collection of random thoughts, but I always find it interesting what we learn about ourselves and our worldview when we are placed in a different environment, out of our comfort zone.
While my move has been overwhelming and exhausting (as all moves are), I have tried to embrace my new home and look for the positives… and drive to Atlanta whenever possible. I would love to hear any Atlanta recommendations you have!
Have you ever moved somewhere completely different? What did you struggle with?