How To Be a Southern Lady
You’d think moving back to your own country would be a piece of cake, wouldn’t you? We nomads know better. Young people who travel to other countries to go to school know better. Military people know better. Missionaries know better. Diplomats know better. Anyone who has spent time living abroad know that it works both ways – you have an impact where you are living, and where you are living has an equal impact on you. You may go back, but you are never the same.
With this move, AdventureMan and I have been too busy trying to get settled and to take care of the incredible amount of bureaucratic detail it takes to relocate. Even with AdventureMan ‘retired’, the days are flying by, and we don’t know why we are so busy.
For one thing, I am doing my own housework, and I am finding I am not very good at it. Like I am good at getting laundry done, and even folded, but I haven’t ironed in a long time, and the things that need ironing are stacking up. I have bought a beautiful new ironing board, and a beautiful iron . . . and some starch, the liquid kind I like, not the spray kind. . . but I haven’t set it up, and I haven’t ironed, not a thing. I have discovered that all my packed things looked a lot better after hanging in the closets for a week, most of the wrinkles fell out, lucky me. But . . . the day of reckoning is coming.
The worst part, for me, is cleaning my floors. My floors are supposed to be beautiful; wood and tile floors. They actually ARE beautiful, maybe two days a week, the day I clean them and the next day, but five days a week, they need work. I wish I had asked my cleaning lady in Doha how she got my floors so beautifully clean. I wish I had paid more attention. I keep looking in the store for some miracle, a machine that will clean them in a heartbeat and make them all shiny. . .
The wonderful thing about moving into this culture – and it truly is a different culture from the one in which I was raised – is that we have our wonderful son and his wonderful wife to give us hints on what to do and not to do, and we have his wife’s wonderful family.
Mostly, I try to keep my eyes open. Southern women admire things extravagantly, and after living for so many years in the Middle East and Gulf, learning to admire extravagantly goes against all my instincts.
In the MIddle East, when you admire extravagantly, you can make people nervous. Some people worry about attracting “the evil eye” of jealousy, evil intentions, people who envy you and wish you harm. Some people, if you admire something, will give it to you! It’s true, those stories, it has happened to me. So now I have to un-learn my lessons in retraint and learn to appreciate, if not extravagantly, at least enough to be polite.
One of my wife’s relatives gave us a house-warming gift, an iced-tea maker, with a darling card that states Rule #1 is that every Southern Hostess knows that a pitcher of iced tea is a MUST for all occasions. I like iced tea, but I have never kept it on hand to serve, and I guess I need to start!
Her second rule was one that made me burst out laughing – “A Southern Lady, the most interesting ones anyway, know that rules are made to be broken.”
“Just be prepared for people to leave your home saying “Bless her heart, she must be getting forgetful. There was no iced tea!”
And then rule #3 – “The only correct and acceptable way to criticize anyone is to add ‘bless his/her heart!’ and then, anything goes!”
At a party at her house this weekend, I learned a couple more – the first rule being that when you are invited to a great big family dinner, bring dessert! Thank God, I did take a little guest gift, but now I know – bring dessert! And it had better be sweet!
The next rule is would make any Kuwaiti or Qattari feel right at home – spare nothing in making our guests comfortable. This Southern Hostess had seating areas inside the beautiful air conditioned home, and also seating outside for those who don’t mind a little heat. She had a big basket loaded with all kinds of insect repellents to keep her guests from being bitten. She took time with each guest, and although she was running her little bottom off getting everything organized, she made it all look easy, and as if she was having a good time. I have a sneaking suspicion the truly was enjoying having all the people around and that her great big heart loves taking care of the crowd. She was the essence of gracious hospitality. Did I mention she has also lived in Kuwait?
Dinner was “Perlow” an old Southern tradition, made in a huge old kettle from her husband’s mother, and hung from a tripod over a roaring fire to cook. The actual cooking was the men’s work as they sat outside drinking iced tea:
My Middle East / Gulf friends would be comfortable eating this meal – Perlow is a variation of Pilaf, and very similar to Biryani. No alcohol served. No pork. Lots and lots of fabulous sweet desserts.
It’s funny, I used to tell people in Kuwait and Qatar that it was a lot like Alaska; when the weather got too bad, you just stay inside most of the time. When the weather gets good, you go outside as much as you can. When it’s too hot/cold, you run from your air conditioned/heated car to your air conditioned / heated store or movie theater, or restaurant, and then back to your air conditioned / heated car and back to your air conditioned/ heated house.
In the same way, I am beginning to wonder if the South and the Middle East know how much they have in common? In Pensacola, on Saturdays, we have the religious people on the corners shouting at passing cars, not a whole lot different from the volunteer morality police in Saudi Arabia. In the South, as in the Middle East, ‘family’ isn’t just blood, it’s also who you’re married into, and there is a lot of emphasis on family getting together and spending time together. In the South, as in the Middle East, men tend to gather in one area, women in another.
In the South, they drink iced tea; in the Middle East, it’s hot tea. Both have passionate patriots, fundamental believers and a tradition of gracious hospitality. Both have a passion for hunting and fishing. Nobody much likes obeying the rules in either culture. Maybe I’m still in the MIddle East?