The 10-Step Program of Real Southernness

Aug 21 2013

by Wayne Franklin

Over at Real Southern Men, we set out with two goals: 1. Defining what a Real Southern Man is, and 2. Teaching others how to be one. (Actually, we once had the goal of transforming ourselves into RSMs, but frankly, we’re hopeless.)

After a year or so, we took some of the recurring themes of real Southernness to our readers and had them chime in on which are the two most important. We asked for our readers’ help, and they answered the call. Thanks to their input, we now have the world’s first* 10-step program for becoming a Real Southerner. There’s no point in belaboring the … point. So, let’s get right to it:

10. Learn to clean and handle a gun safely.

Not long ago, it seemed every Southern boy owned a BB gun, an air rifle or, in the case of those whose fathers were avid hunters, maybe even a shotgun or rifle. From elementary school age, you were taught the basics of gun safety: keep your gun clean, never look down the barrel, never point it at anyone even in jest, etc. As recently as the early 80s, seeing a group of boys with guns making their way to the woods was not a cause for alarm.

Somewhere, somehow that all changed. Video games evolved from Pac-Man to Doom, Halo, and other first-person shooters. Gun violence in movies started migrating to the streets. Politicians looking to score cheap victories vilified the guns rather than the criminals behind them.

The next thing you know, kids are no longer learning to handle real guns properly, but playing with paintball, air soft and other types of guns that actually encourage you to aim at other human beings. (Blogger James Lileks, source of the pic here, has a great take on this topic … along with some cool old comic book ads for Daisy BB guns.)

It’s time we reclaim the gun as what it really is: a tool and a source of recreation first. And it’s time we teach new generations that guns are to be respected, not abused or treated as toys. We can start with ourselves.

9. Eat grits. Lots of grits.

It’s a classic Southern litmus test. If you can’t eat grits, you’re not a Real Southerner. We’ve written about this simple stone-ground corn concoction before, and the words then bear repeating:

[The love of grits] is about as universal a definition of Southerness as can be found. It steers clear of the controversies of politics, religion, race, class and even team affiliation. It’s not about vices or the more base desires of the Southern man. It’s about food. The humblest of foods, but also the most uniquely Southern.And if you want to test whether a Yankee could ever be converted to the purer faith, just slap a bowl of these down in front of him.

8. Master the grill.

Previously, we’ve challenged you to cook an entire meal on your grill. It doesn’t matter if it’s charcoal, gas, or a simple grate over a campfire, cooking food (preferably meat) over a fire in the great outdoors is a transcendent experience.

Yes, grilling is appreciated everywhere, but to be a Real Southern Man, simply charring some steaks beyond recognition won’t do. You have to achieve a level of mastery that can only be acquired with time, patience and a healthy dose of experimentation.

If you weren’t schooled in the finer arts of grilling by your father, find another suitable mentor to apprentice you. Benefit from the wisdom of those who’ve come before.

Remember, they say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything. Time to get grillin’.

7. Say “y’all” whenever possible.

It’s the ultimate Twanglish word, the South’s favorite contraction. More Yankeefied phrases like “you guys” have beaten it back in even the most strident of Real Southern Men. However, if you want to be taken seriously as a Southerner, you’ve got to bust out a “y’all” on occasion.

You’re even more Southern if you bust it out in places where it might not seem appropriate: a business meeting with executives from other regions, on television or in a college English course.

6. Go to church.

There are those who like to talk about America as a “Christian nation.” However, being the melting pot that America is, and with the increasing secularization of our culture, that claim is a bit dubious. However, one would be hard-pressed to argue against the South being a Christian region.

Fact is, Real Southern Men go to church.

Whether one is a CINO (Christian in name only), a back-slidden scoffer, a Bible thumper, a holy roller or one of the frozen chosen, pretty much everyone in the South has some history in the church.

There are few things more Southern than attending a “dinner on the grounds” on a spring afternoon, with everybody dolled up in their Sunday-go-to-meetin’ finest. We’re not telling you that you have to believe (our reformed friends would tell you it’s not really your choice anyhow), but we’re just saying you need to let your frame darken the doors of the local chapel on occasion.

5. Pull over for funeral processions.

As we’ve said before, this is one Southern trait that will separate the compassionate, respectful Southern men from mere boys. Do this in the South, and no one will think you odd. Do it anywhere else, and you might end up the object of ridicule.

No matter how hectic your schedule, how urgent your business, there’s no business more urgent than treating your fellow man with respect. All you have to do is pull over to the side of the road for a minute or two as the procession passes. It’s the simple automotive equivalent of a hat removed and a head bowed.

So pull that convertible, SUV, delivery truck, big rig or tractor over to the shoulder. The Yankees won’t understand it, but that’s okay. We like it that way.

4. Drink copious amounts of sweet tea.

Diabetes be damned. We will give up every other Southern Sweet in existence to have our sweet tea. It’s the flavor Southern men and women want on a hot summer day. It’s the flavor they crave with a dinner “on the grounds” at a country Baptist church. It’s the flavor no good Southern gathering – be it wedding, funeral, birthday party or a church supper – should ever be without.

We don’t mean sweetener packets dumped into a glass of unsweetened iced tea, either. As a smart man once said of show biz folks out in L.A., “People out here think everybody from the South is stupid, but they can’t seem to get it through their heads that sugar don’t dissolve in cold tea.”

These days, you can buy sweet tea pre-made from chicken places, grocery stores and gas stations. The best tea, however, is made at home. Most Southerners would argue that Luzianne is the best brand, but that’s a debate for another day.

Recipes are as varied as the people who create them: different amounts of water in which the tea is boiled, varying times for steeping, different hot water – cold water – sugar ratios. Some folks add a pinch of soda to take out the bitterness. This RSM had a roommate who took a full 24 hours to make a carefully crafted jug of tea. It just goes to show that the ritual is almost as sweet as the result … almost.

3. One word: football.

As RSM Wayne Franklin explained a few weeks ago, the South’s love of football (or “futbaw” as we would say in Twanglish) is steeped in history. At a time when it seemed the South could do nothing right, and the region was under attack from cultural and political forces beyond our control, football provided Southerners with hope, pride and victory.

And it’s not just a Real Southern Man thing. Southern Belles love their football as much as anyone. There’s a reason schools in the Southeastern Conference sell more tickets and make more money than schools in any other conference: football matters here.

Sure, we go for the victories, but we also go for the pageantry, the sense of community, the traditions and the rituals. It is, in ways so many other writers have explored over the years, like a form of religion. You may not like football, but there are no atheists in this faith. You either worship, or you’re just reacting to those who do.

2. Be a gentleman.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? Just be a gentleman. That’s it. No problem there.Except it’s easier said than done. Being a gentleman is more than holding the door for a lady or not cussing in public.

It’s about living by the Golden Rule, considering your fellow man as more significant than yourself. It’s about common decency.

Sure, there are other elements that are heaped on the idea of a Southern gentleman: a certain well-bred and well-honed demeanor, a standard of dress, et al. However, we think the purest definition, the one that belies class, race and breeding, is the one based on how you treat others.

They say integrity is what you do when no one is looking. Being a gentleman is what you do and what you think at all times. It’s an impossible standard, but that’s okay. Real Southern Men are not afraid of a little hard work.

1. Say “ma’am” and “sir.”

Again, this one is seemingly simple. It’s certainly easier to define than being a gentleman. But few things set apart a Real Southern Man more than a respectful ma’am or sir. Be warned: some people may not react well to it, especially if you live in … ahem … less genteel regions of the country.

Some Real Southern Men will even say these words to contemporaries or people younger than themselves. And they always say it to their elders and anyone in a position of authority.

A German friend once took offense that my wife and I were teaching our daughter to say “ma’am.” She said it was too formal and that no German would ever insist that their child use such terms when speaking to family or close friends. Is there a correlation between not teaching your kids good manners and starting world wars? We’ll let you decide.

Fear not the reprisal of the less cultured and the crude, however, for you are a missionary, an evangelist for the great Southern cause of respect.And thanks to these 10 steps, you’re well on your way to becoming a Real Southerner!

*We cannot verify that this is the first 10-step program of Real Southerness, but we thought you might indulge a little ol’ fashioned Southern hyperbole.



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2 responses on “The 10-Step Program of Real Southernness

  1. nikkilehnhardt

    I can happily say that I am married to a real southern gentleman who meets all the criteria. But you forgot a couple- respects his daddy and defends his momma. And always drives up to the door to let the ladies out before he parks the car.

  2. jarroddaughtrythedixiedish

    Well done, Wayne. Wholeheartedly agree with the list, but strongly agree with #9, #8, #5, #3, #2 and #1. Again, nice work. -JD

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