Southern-ish

I am a city girl. Born and raised in the New York City of Brazil – the prettier version, in my opinion – in an apartment building, surrounded by other buildings, rush hour traffic (which with the turn of the century has turned into 24-7 traffic), noise, pollution, noise pollution – yes, there is such a thing – people bumping into you in the crowded downtown streets, you know, all those perks that come with city living. But despite the daily frenzy, I really did enjoy growing up in Rio. Not that I had a choice, but… city life was fun. THE BEST PART: the beach! And I guess the fact that there are no natural disasters was a plus too. But the beach, oh, the beach. In particular, Ipanema Beach, my favorite hangout spot.

Life was grand when I was 18. I could finally drink alcohol (legally), drive, I had the best friends in the whole wide world, nothing could stop us … and I now that I come to think about it, I have a slight suspicion that Sex and the City was loosely based on our lives, sans the sex part. So, at what I thought was the peak of my life, this then 18-year-7 1/2-month old girl hops on a plane to “The South“. I knew very little about the town I was going to live in for the next 4 years and for some reason made no effort to learn more about it before leaving home. I guess I thought I already knew what it would be like. After all, I had been to the U.S. before. I was in Orlando for 10 days when I was 15. Disney World. Sure, that is the same. Silly little me.

It’s hard to describe what that change was like. I guess you could say it was like moving from Manhattan to Boise. Maybe not that extreme, but at 18, I felt like I was in a different world. A world in which people you don’t know say hi to you in the streets. It’s true. I am walking down the street and… what the hell?! Did that guy just say hi to me? Have we met? Well, he is kind of cute. He must be in one of my classes, or in my dorm. Oh, I wonder if he is my roommate’s boyfriend. It was kind of dark when I met him the other night. Wait, why is that old lady smiling at me? I know she is not in my class and she definitely does not live in my dorm. Why is everyone nodding and smiling? Oh, God, do I have a booger hanging out my nose? A giant pimple? I better go find a restroom.

It took some getting used to, but now I am one of the weirdoes saying hi to people I don’t know. It is the polite thing to do, the southern thing to do. I also say y’all. Yep, y’all is part of my vocabulary. I haven’t been able to say “I’m fixing to go cook dinner”, “Bless your heart”, or learned to refrain from using my horn, but maybe some day.

Speaking of horn, that was one thing that was so hard to get used to, and still is. See, in Rio, people have to have their horns replaced every 18 months (think NYC or LA traffic), because they get used so often. But here, people only use their horns when they drive by someone they know. So one day I am a passenger in my friend’s car, we are at a stop light and the light turns green. The car in front of us doesn’t move and we just sit there. “Use your horn”, I tell her. She responds with a confused tone “Why?” (she probably didn’t even know where the horn was). Look, I know people live at a slower pace here, but do I really have to explain why? Because that car in front of us is not moving, of course, and we just wasted 9 seconds of our lives sitting here. I didn’t actually get to respond because she finally got it “Oh, don’t worry about it. He will move eventually”. And he sure did, after the light turned red then green again. As soon as that sucker turned green the second time around, I slammed my left hand against the horn and there went the car in front of us. There, done, easy, now we can go on with our busy lives. My friend was so shocked that she never allowed me in her car again. I never quite understood why, after that day, she always asked me to drive separately whenever we went to the movies, or shopping… until I ran into a friend we had in common a few years later. Somehow the horn subject came up and she mentioned that our friend was so traumatized after that day that, after she graduated, she moved to a small rural town about 3 hours away, where they literally have ONE stop light.

Bless her heart…