To be the stranger

It’s not so much culture shock, or a clash of cultures. It’s more like a subtle awareness of something different, and trying to define the nuances of it…

The Civil War is everywhere in the South. That is the history that was made here; that is the baptism in blood of these places. I live – have always lived, now that I think about it – in places rich in Revolutionary War history. I have walked the Freedom Trail in Boston; where I live now in the mid-Atlantic states, major battles took place and every town has at least one street named for Washington. (As battles moved back and forth across the area there were seemingly no end of encampments along the way, and “George Washington slept here” is bandied about so readily that one might get the impression that our first president did a lot of sleeping around.)  Even on my first international trip, the birth of the nation is what followed me…

So it is strange, in a way that is hard to articulate, to spend time in other places and realize that the history is tied to other events, other milestones. Or that those milestones are viewed so differently from how I see them. Or that it’s still alive, despite two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, 9/11, the war on terror. My tour guide at the Depot gives me a glimpse of perspective, cautiously mentioning as if he isn’t entirely sure which side I might land on, or just how I might react to hearing it, that some people still cling to the idea that the South didn’t really lose. Apparently with some visitors on these tours he has to dance a bit in his phrasing, changing from “…what contributed to the South losing the Civil War…” to something more like “…what gives some people the false impression that the South didn’t win the War of Northern Aggression…” He says it with a smile that tells me he’s embellishing a little. But not entirely. Half-teasing. But only half.

Battle lines give way to gridlines. Football is a huge deal in certain parts of the country. I’ve watched the movie Friday Night Lights… even if I don’t understand the sentiment entirely, I get that there are pockets of the nation where football is life and death, hope and freedom. Which is odd, juxtaposed with ties to actual wars. Even sort of understanding that it’s true, it’s strange. Strange for me, who never attended a single football game of her own alma mater (for shame!) to see the unbounded enthusiasm — not just for major milestone games, but for all the games, any of the games. Football is religion in these parts, my tour guide informs me, as if to warn me against accidentally starting a religious war; as if I might stumble blindly over a landmine if I am not careful.

The language here is different. English, of course. But slower, more drawn out. It’s almost lyrical; pretty in its way. I slow my speech pattern a bit, let my ear guide my tongue to inflect a bit of the subtle local drawl. I’m sure I fool no one – no matter, as fooling anyone is not my intention –  since when I excited I slip back into the overly fast, clipped tones of the northeast. It’s not about trickery; the attempt to blend in is natural, innate.

But in the end, it only underscores that the something different here is me.

5 thoughts on “To be the stranger”

  1. I do love those Southern accents. On women, anyway…guys just sound stupid when they possess a drawl. Go figure. I also love football – it’s not a religion to me, per se, but it’s definitely something to worship on Sundays.


    1. No sir. I disagree. I suppose any accent can sound idiotic on any particular person… but just the right hint of just the right Southern accent (and there are roughly 1000 varieties of drawl) can totally make my toes curl.


      1. LOL. Well, you’re a woman – I’m a man – so that makes sense. What curls your toes probably wouldn’t even make mine twitch. 🙂

        I just think a French accent, for instance, sounds great coming from either sex. But…okay, fine…especially a woman. Ooh-la-la!


        1. I have to admit, the French accent does sound rather ooh-la-la, especially on women. And British accents on men. (Though I can see where maybe you don’t notice as much.)

          For the record… we have gone to a really weird place here. 😉


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