As I settle in to my new life here in The South I am paying close attention to the differences in cultures given that I am from Southern Coastal California. Last night I was at dinner at a local oyster bar with friends in town for training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). My very well-traveled friend ordered raw oysters from the bartender as we were sitting at the bar and had decided to stay there. The bartender, ever Southern gracious and friendly, repeated the order but I did not hear raw oysters. With his accent I heard fois gras. Now, fois gras (pronounced fwɑˈɡrɑ) is French for "fat liver" and obviously last night it sounded like raw oysters to me. Fois Gras is a food product made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened and is only served at high-end restaurants.
I called to the waiter that my friend wanted raw oysters and he looked sweetly at me like,"I know, darlin'. " He then nodded very politely to emphasize he understood. I am reminded of people who speak another language and are trying to get you to understand but instead of speaking slower they speak LOUDER. I said, "Raw Oysters" louder and the bartender looks at me politely and nods his head again. By now my very well traveled friend is looking at me like I am pazza (Italian for crazy) and says LOUDLY, "Why do you keep yelling Fois Gras at the him" and I explain to him in a very clipped, exasperated SO-CAL fashion as though it must be obvious. He looks at the bartender and explains I am from California and that seems to explain everything.
Here's what I love about being in The South, children and men have manners. Let me explain. I am called Miss Kelly or Darlin' or Hey girl or Ma'am in a way that feels and actually is respectful.
Last week I was walking the hallway at the gym aboard FLETC and there was a class of ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement Agents) standing together waiting for their instruction to begin. As I passed and made eye contact I heard, "Ma'am" down the line. I went back to my office and announced to my new co-workers that I wanted to be called Ma'am but they have not started doing that yet. Perhaps they forgot or did not hear me. Perhaps tomorrow I will repeat my request more LOUDLY but somehow I don't think that will change things. You know raggaze (girls) you have to let them think it was their idea. North or South, some things never change.