Vermont vs. North Carolina

North Carolina, USA

via ferret111 on flickr

When I went off to college was probably the first time that I really became aware of the regional differences that exist in the U.S. From vocabulary to food to traditions, each state is a little bit different. It was at Colby that I learned that not everyone calls the delicious summer treat a “creamee”–to most people this is “soft serve” which at the time blew my mind. Ever since then I’ve been hyper-aware about comparing places I’ve lived. I think it’s a human tendency to compare the unfamiliar to the familiar to try to make sense of it all. I strive to compare without judging one place or the other as better or worse, but I am human and do have preferences, so sometimes it happens. Being in the world of international education and intercultural communication has made me hyper-aware of this, but even so, I stills sometimes struggle to be objective in my comparisons. For example, during a class this past semester, while describing an experience I had when I first arrived in Chile as a study abroad student, I used the word “weird” in the context of describing Chilean slang (something that I find fascinating and love, but was weird to me at first, having learned Spanish in high school and El Salvador). The professor came up to me after and told me how it might be alienating to some people to hear their slang described as “weird” because that particular descriptor has a negative connotation. She suggested I use the word “unfamiliar” or “different.” Although I think my professor was being a BIT nit-picky, I do try to avoid alienating people when I describe how I perceive their culture or way of life. I guess this is just one big disclaimer because during this post I’m going to compare North Carolina to Vermont, the North to the South, and given that this can be a touchy subject, I don’t want anyone to be offended. I love both Vermont and North Carolina and I’m glad to have the opportunity to live in both places.

Last fall I did a series on reverse culture shock about the differences between Chile and North Carolina. Saturday will be my one-year anniversary of living in NC, and even after a  year I’m still amazed at the differences between NC and Vermont, two states in the same country! It sometimes boggles my mind that the U.S. can be made up of such diverse people, places and points of view and yet still remain a whole. So here it goes, some differences I’ve noticed over the past year.

What is tea?

sweet tea

via enigmachck1 on flickr

In North Carolina, when you say “tea” most people think “sweet tea” which is what in Vermont we would call “sweetened iced tea.” It is basically brewed tea with sugar added and then chilled. It is EVERYWHERE. Nine times out of ten, it is too sweet for me, and I rarely drink it. There is also “unsweet tea” which in Vermont we just call “iced tea.” I like this, especially with lemon.

In Vermont, if you say “tea” people think hot tea, normally black. I was at the chiropractor the other day and he asked me about my caffeine consumption. I told him that I drink one cup of tea in the morning. He said, “wait, you drink sweet tea for breakfast?” When I said no, it was hot tea, he said, “Oh, so herbal tea?” Nope. Hot black tea. Yum.


In NC, everyone is “sir” or “ma’am” or Miss/Mrs/Mr First Name. When I’m on my run in the mornings, most people say good morning to me on the greenway and look at me funny if I don’t say hi back or if I only smile. I am much more likely to end up having a conversation with a stranger down here than I am up in Vermont. The clerks at the grocery store will comment on my purchases sometimes (“that cheese is delicious!” “oh honey, do you have a cold, I hope you feel better!” “don’t you just love it when hummus is on sale! I bought two yesterday”).

I don’t think that people in Vermont are less friendly or less polite (note I said Vermont, I take no responsibility for other northern states!). I just think they are less “in-your-face” about it. I was talking to Ben about this difference, and he said that in Vermont, if you are eating dinner at someone’s house, they will ask “Would you like some chicken?” whereas in North Carolina, they will say, “Here, have some chicken.” I think that in Vermont, a smile at a stranger walking down the street is enough to convey friendliness, while in NC, the “good morning” is expected and appreciated.


Creedmoor Church

via wadebrooks on flickr

There are a lot of Christian churches down here. I suppose that is why they call it the “Bible Belt.” People are pretty open about their Christian faith and I’ve been asked on a few occasions whether or not I’m “religious” (a word which I despise, but I won’t get into that here). There is a man who walks around the Brickyard at NC State and predicates about the dangers of sinning and the importance of repenting, which actually reminds me of the evangelicals that did the same thing in the Plaza de Armas in Santiago. One time, I was waiting for a bus on campus and a kid walked up to me and asked me whether I thought it was a sin or not to have sex before marriage. While I was at a Martin Luther King celebration at the community college where I intern, a Christian prayer was said. The graduation for my Master’s program, from North Carolina STATE University, will be held in a Methodist church. In a nutshell, Christianity is everywhere.

I think Vermont is one of the least religious states in the U.S., and the separation of church and state is, well, holy. In general, people do not ask about your religious beliefs unless you offer up the information first. Growing up, I was pretty much the only one of my friends to go to church regularly. I have a feeling that down here, not going to church would have been the weird thing. I think that up north, people regard religion as a very personal thing, while in North Carolina, people make it everyone’s business whether you are Methodist or Baptist or Jewish or Muslim or Bhuddist or Atheist.


I think the accent thing is pretty straight forward: people in NC have an accent and Vermonters don’t. Kidding! My dad asked me the other day if I’ve started speaking with a North Carolina accent. I have not. I think it’s pretty hard to imitate and it would make me sound fake. That being said, I also don’t speak with a very Vermont accent, although there are things that I pronounce differently, like “documentary” and “elementary” (I pronounce the last “t” whereas I guess most people down here do not).

I also pronounce pretty much all North Carolina place names wrong the first time I say them.  For example, up north, Concord is CON-curd. Down here it is CON-chord. Mebane is “MEH-bin” not “MEE-bane”. Duraleigh is “DER-ah-lee” not “DEW-rah-lee”. Ben just got a fence put up in his yard and they guy who built it is from Wendell, NC. I looked at his business card and said “Oh, where’s WHEN-dull?” and Ben said, “No, it’s when-DELL.”

In terms of vocabulary, it’s tennis shoes instead of sneakers. It’s put up instead of put away, curse instead of swear, toboggan is a hat, not a sled, and you fix dinner, you don’t make dinner.

Have you ever lived in two or more different states in the U.S.? What are some differences you’ve noticed? 


4 thoughts on “Vermont vs. North Carolina

  1. I’ve noticed these same differences between New Hampshire and Birmingham, AL (where Kevin grew up). I haven’t spent a ton of time down there, but I have noticed that everywhere you go there is always sweet tea avalable. I kind of hate it. I think it is way too sweet. But Kevin thinks iced tea without sweetener is really gross. Sweet tea is definitely a comfort food for him.

    And ditto on the religion stuff too. Growing up in NH it was considered really rude to ask people you weren’t close with about their religeous preferences. Kevin’s family has been really respectful to me and has never really asked about my being Jewish (even though I would be happy to talk with them about it), but I have noticed that outside their house people in Birmingham, and especially in the baptist community to which they belong, mention God and Jesus in casual conversation all the time. I find it weird, and a little unsettling, but I am trying to get used to it and not let it bother me.

    And Kevin and I have had many “discussions” about the proper use of the word toboggan. Its a SLED. A winter hat is called a winter hat. And somebody from the south is not going to tell me about correct winter vocabulary. 🙂

    • Hahaha! I love that you put your foot down about toboggan 🙂 Yes, us New Englanders know much more about snow and winter, that is for sure! I could write a whole post about what happens when it “snows” down here. The other day Ben asked me what the differences were between New Hampshire and Vermont, which was interesting to think about, although not having spent a ton of time in NH it was hard for me to think of a lot. Having grown up near the border, I’m sure you have a lot more insight into that.

  2. And….she’s back.

    I got so much flack in New Jersey about saying grinder….not sure what Vermonters call it, sub, hoagie???? They’d say to me at lunch, “are you grinding your grinder?”….augh!

    If North Carolina is land of the friendly NJ is land of the rude, snobbish and what are you talking about. I lived in NYC before Jersey and NYC was loads friendlier……

    Nebraska….ohhh that was Bible Belt, there were giant billboards telling me how much God loves me. And there’s something growing there I’m allergic too, I started sneezing as the plane landed and I didn’t stop until I flew away.

    Everywhere is different…

    • In VT I’ve equally heard both grinder and sub. Do they call it a hoagie in NJ?? I think hoagie is a weirder word than grinder, haha. I’ve heard that about the rudeness of NJ, unfortunately. I have a friend (from VT) who goes to Princeton and refuses to establish residency in NJ because of its terrible rep. I’ve never spent time there but I can tell you that I absolutely hate driving on the NJ Turnpike.

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