Monday, May 26, 2014

Special Yankee Tea

Tank top available on Look Human.
I was at a party Saturday night. In fact, it was a friend's dad's crawdad boil, in the most glorious sense of that word; crawdads dumped live into a pot of boiling water, heavily seasoned, with potatoes, sausages, corn, shrimp, and whole heads of garlic. Cooked until done, then spread out over tables covered in plastic, wet wipes, butter, and gluttonous guests.

You eat until you can eat no longer; and then you have some brownies and ice cream.
If you're everyone else at the party but me, some awesome drinks as well.
(See? Told you I timed this pregnancy badly. I missed out on the best drinks, the Painkillers my friend's mother makes. Normally I devour them. Sigh. Mine is the saddest of existences, clearly.)
 But none of that has anything to do with the point of this post. I just wanted everyone to be jealous of the delicious food I ate on Saturday.

In any case, when Jason and I first walked into the kitchen I hugged my friend Sherrie, who had a bit of a weird look on her face. I asked her what was up, and she replied, "Someone asked for unsweet tea."

"Pfffft, where are they from?" was my reply.

I gave up on asking for unsweet tea a long time ago. Sweet tea is blood in the veins of a born Southerner; to ask for unsweet tea is to ask for something pale and tepid in their imaginations, to ask for the inferior product. You might as well look a jar of good real mayonnaise in the face and then ask aloud if anyone has any Miracle Whip. 
The room goes silent. 
People stare.
Conversations end mid-sentence as everyone turns to look and see what sort of freak would ask for that.
There's a foreboding, a knowledge that in asking for the wrong thing you have given yourself away for what you are; not from here.
Greenville is a place a lot of people move to. We come from all over; some of us, like me, are coming with their native-born spouse and at least have some help on learning the South from scratch. Many move for work; there are a lot of Germans in this town, thanks to BMW, and a lot of French people thanks to Michelin. There are the older Northerners, retired, moved down for the mild winters and gorgeous, blisteringly green springs and summers. The proximity to both the mountains and the beach - the mountains only really an hour or two away, the beach a mere four or five - makes it a perfectly placed location for someone not from here to move to.

But there are far more people from here than people who have moved here. And there are certain ways things are done, and no one will let you live here too long without making sure you understand.

One: There are two kinds of mayonnaise, and which one your family uses will tell strangers as much about you as any words you could ever use. We use Duke's. I stood in the grocery store aisle the first time I bought mayonnaise after moving here with Jason on the phone so I could make sure I bought the correct brand. There was a woman nearby, looking at pickles, who damn near lost her mind laughing while listening to me trying to explain that I wanted to ensure I had the 'right' mayonnaise just in case any in-laws ever wanted a sandwich at our house. "I've already screwed stuff up about living here!" I said, worried. "I can't mess up the mayonnaise!"

Two: In Greenville, I have found, you like Clemson or you like USC... or you're not from here and they'll give you a pass until the annual Thanksgiving game, when you're still expected to pick one. I pick USC, mostly because my father-in-law ends up vastly outnumbered by orange-wearing people yelling at the TV screen every year and I feel bad. Also I like red better than orange as a color. I watch football the way a toddler might watch Doctor Who; I have no idea what's going on, and it's nice that everyone keeps trying to tell me, but I'm just staring at the shiny moving objects and wondering when more snacks will arrive. I might as well cheer for the red shiny objects.

Three: If you go to a party, there will be sweet tea just the way there will be water. If you ask for unsweet tea, you have branded yourself immediately a Northerner, or at least not from here, and everyone will look at you with a sort of sad resignation. The hostess will probably make you some tea; a Southern hostess is nothing if not ready to help her guests at any moment's time. But everyone in the room will know that is your tea, because regular tea is sweet here and regular tea apparently wasn't good enough for the Yankee. (Do not, by the way, attempt to clarify that Midwesterners are not Yankees in the traditional sense of the word. It... won't help. Just accept it, buy a T-shirt, and start wondering how long you have to live here before it stops. Also I can answer that question; it never stops.)

Four: You can screw every single one of these things up, and the Southerners are liable to love you anyway, if you are even remotely lovable. They will forgive you - but that doesn't mean there won't be some snickers the next time you show up for a party and there's an entire pitcher of unsweet tea next to your plate with your name labeled on it, to ensure you'll have exactly as much special northerner tea as you need.

It also means that after a few years of living down here, you'll find yourself being sort of incredulous hearing about someone asking for unsweet tea.
You'll hear yourself say, "Well, where are they from?"


  1. My only peeve here is that when southerners cross the Mason-Dixon line, they do not somehow inherently know that "northerners" do not put sugar in our tea. I know that if I go one state south of PA, there is sugar in the tea so why don't they know that when they come here there isn't? We know when they order sweet tea that they are "not from here" :) . we also don't serve it anywhere other than macdonalds. There is sugar on the table. (I don't hate sweet tea but I prefer unsweetened tea because I don't use a lot of sugar in almost anything. except fudge- that's just a block o sugar deliciousness)

    I have a soy allergy so we don't eat mayonnaise in our house. at all. ever. Though it does make me kind of sad during picnic time because I DO love amish macaroni salad. which is sweet- like tea :)

    sports here are Pittsburgh v Philadelphia. I generally lean towards Pittsburgh because I like that every pitt team for every sport is black and yellow and I immediately know who is playing. Also, philly fans are meaner than pitt fans. at work I wear a packers jersey, muahahaha

    1. It IS weird, isn't it? Although I was a little startled the first time I asked for tea at a restaurant and it had sugar already in it, so I guess that goes a bit both ways. But I just sort of learned from the experience and moved on, haha. I mostly just don't drink tea down here because most sweet tea has WAY TOO MUCH sugar in it for me.

      And also - if it makes you feel better, no one outside of the Chicago suburbs gives a crap about Chicago in Illinois either, except to hate it ;) I never heard the phrase 'Chi-town' until I was in college. But I bet I know more about Chicago politics than most of our classmates who were FROM the city ever did...

  2. This also reminds me of the fashion girls making fun of me for not knowing what "shy-town" was. Since they were making fun I responded with the truth- on the east coast we only care about NY. No one gives a shit about Chicago. Suck it up.


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