Things I’ve Learned on the Road

Any Alpha that I have had the pleasure of meeting usually finds out fairly quickly that I’m interested in a wide range of subjects. I pride myself on being extremely observant. One of the best benefits any Alpha Visitor gets from this position is the ability to experience the unique life of a college student at 32 of the top academic universities in America. Periodically I want to share with the rest of Chi Psi the little bits of culture that I’ve been able to gain.

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My first few stops have led me throughout the South. Here are a few things I’ve noticed along the way:

  • Cheerwine. Besides Washington & Lee this might be one of the best kept secrets of the South (at least from some kid that grew up in Ohio). This soft drink really has everything that makes drinking the equivalent of 30 sugar packs worth it. Founded in North Carolina, it has the creative motto of “Born In the South, Raised In A Glass”. It’s extremely carbonated. (Aside–If any of you prefer soda fountain pop over pop found in cans and bottles carbonation is probably the reason why. Because it’s extremely fresh and prepared in the moment, soda fountains produce pop with the highest amount of carbonation.) Its unique cherry flavor isn’t really found in either of Pepsi or Coca-Cola’s line of products. Mountain Dew’s Code Red comes closest, but Cheerwine is much better. There have been discussions with Pepsi (which was founded in nearby Winston-Salem, North Carolina) about nationwide distribution of the soda. The goal is for this to happen during the year Cheerwine turns 100, in 2017. But for now you can order Cheerwine online at a very reasonable price to other sodas, and they will ship it to your Lodge.
  • Pop. I had seen the map of the United States that showed how different regions called Pepsi/Coke/Root Beer by different names. I was prepared to hear soda in some parts and coke in others. However, I wasn’t prepared to have people make fun of me for saying ‘pop’. Growing up in the Midwest you hear pop, soda, sodapop, et cetera all used interchangeably. I will use pop subconsciously, but it isn’t weird to say soft drink or soda. Some regions are not as accommodating. Put simply—it vexes Southerners to hear the word pop. Some of them will physically recoil. At the very least they will make a comment about why it isn’t pop, but coke, soda, or a soft drink. The reaction on the West Coast was completely different. Although they primarily use the word soda there is no double take, no dirty look when the word pop comes from my mouth.
  • New Balance. My whole life I’ve been a witness to the evolving brand of New Balance casual shoes. When I was younger they were predominantly worn by middle-aged men. Over time I noticed that they became a fixture in the alternative music/indie rock/hipster world. Over the past three years or so, they have become acceptable prep frat casual. I have been surprised at how much I have seen New Balances paired with croakies, southern tide, and vineyard vines during my time with Southern Alphas so far.
  • High Socks. Also new to me is the development of high socks in the South. My school is pretty well-known as J Crew U in the Midwest for how preppy the student body dresses. One of the biggest culture shocks during my week at Georgia was seeing how everybody seemed to be wearing high socks as opposed to short ankle socks. I don’t really have a personal preference for sock length, but it is interesting that some people do.
  • Polite Southern. I’ve learned relatively quickly that people in the Midwest are viewed as being more direct than people from other parts of the country. There is perhaps no greater difference between my region and the South than Polite Southern. The concept behind Polite Southern is that politeness isn’t just about offering things to people, but knowing when to accept someone’s offer. In the Midwest, when something is offered it is usually completely genuine. Southerners might offer something like a home cooked meal that they really do not want to provide, but they offer it because it is polite to do so. It is up to you to realize when an offer extends beyond reasonable accommodation and then politely refuse. At this point, you can figure out whether someone was being Polite Southern because if they offer you the meal again after your refusal, then they really do want you to come over for their mother’s fried chicken.
  • Bless Your Heart. Note: This is not a compliment. This is not a cute phrase. This is pure and simple a euphemism for “you are not being very smart” which is itself a euphemism for something that I can’t print in the Chi Psi blog. It’s a very clever bit of social engineering by the South. It puts on the appearance of being charming, but in reality is a very subtle way of being offensively non-offensive.

I’ll be checking back in over the course of the semester with more bits of local trends that I find on my travels. Until then keep having fun and working hard.

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2 responses to “Things I’ve Learned on the Road

  1. Bless your heart, what a sweet post. I like the phrase “Polite Southern,” though your characterization isn’t really charitable enough. The offer is completely genuine–every time. The subtlety is that polite Southerners don’t take advantage of others, so it’s polite to turn down any offer beyond a simple accommodation. If the offeror insists, it’s then polite to accept if possible (meaning that it becomes impolite to decline unless you are really not able to accept for some reason).
    I grew up in Georgia, though I live in Virginia now, and soft drinks were all “cokes.” You could have any coke you wanted, even bottled water, but the offer was always “do you want a coke?”
    Your next adventure can be figuring out the line(s) where “tea” automatically means sweet tea, where you can specify either and they are both ready to serve, and where “tea” automatically means “unsweetened.” (Heathens.)

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