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?
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.
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?