Is the Southern US More Like Asia Than Like the North?

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Wednesday, January 30th, 2013 at 12:08 am

“I wish I had known that this would be such a huge adjustment,” wrote Reddit user forthelulzac about moving from America’s northeast to the southern state of South Carolina.

North v. south in terms of election results, scaled based on number of electoral votes (Creative commons image by Mark Newman, University of Michigan)

North v. south in terms of election results, scaled based on number of electoral votes (Creative commons image by Mark Newman, University of Michigan)

The comment sparked a flurry of agreement from both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.  Americans from the north and the south might be citizens of the same country, but, at least according to those who responded to forthelulzac’s lamentation, they’re from two totally different cultures.

“[Meeting someone from New York] was the first time I had literally no clue what anything a person said or did meant.  I couldn’t tell how he felt about anything,” wrote southerner multirachael by way of explanation.  “For Southerners, everything, everything is in the subtext.”

Southerners have a complex system of rituals and social cues, she explained, contrasting this with the more upfront north.  “[I]f you come right out and say what you’re thinking, it’s considered aggressive, confrontational … If a Southerner labels you ‘rude,’ it’s pretty much the worst thing they can call you …”

“It’s about softening things.  It’s about having a ‘nice’ society. It’s about making things ‘pleasant.’”

User afk_at_work provided this example (half-joking, I hope) of how these subtle social cues work:

I clearly tilted my head and raised an eyebrow when I agreed that he could sleep over if he didn’t feel like driving, why is he curling up on the couch? How rude!

“[P]eople up North don’t understand the double offer rule,” added user mirandapd. “In the South you offer things even if you don’t want to. The proper response is to decline the first offer.  Then if the person’s offer was truly genuine they will offer a second time.”

It's not all north v. south. According to Facebook, the country splits east v. west when it comes to support for the Superbowl contenders (Image: Facebook)

It’s not all north v. south. According to Facebook, the country splits east v. west when it comes to support for the Superbowl contenders (Image: Facebook)

But while northerners failed to understand these southern customs (“As a Northeasterner living in the South for the past seven years, I have to admit (please don’t take this offensively)…I find the Southerners’ way of interacting incredibly passive-aggressive,” wrote penguin8508), others found them a bit more familiar.

“Very much like Japan, or old European customs,” observed GreatScout.

“Sounds pretty close to Chinese culture in some ways,” wrote MP3PlayerBroke.

“And Irish,” volunteered Trachtas.

Even Persian.  User tyronomo explained Iran’s equivalent to the “double offer rule.”  “There’s a Persian word for this – Taarof (or Ta’arof/Taroof – phonic no real English translation). Basically a song and dance of offer/reject/offer/accept.”

Is the culture of the American south more similar to that of Asia or the Middle East than to that of their countrymen in the north?  The following contrast between northern and southern culture, given by user lotictrance, sounds like the contrasts we’re used to hearing between U.S. and Asian cultures:

Where the outside perspective on Yankee culture is more of an “every man is an island” kind of thing, down here it’s more of ‘you have a good day so I can too,’ almost society-wide codependence.

“I went to Thailand this past summer and was surprised at how at home I felt there. Now I see that it’s because some of the cultural values like being relatively non-confrontational and sugar-coating things are very similar,” wrote lifelong southerner countess.

Not every international commenter saw something they related to in southern culture, however.

Wrote Princess_By_Day, “I’m a German woman in New York … I cannot fathom any reason why any people would ever choose to have so little straight-forwardness in their lives.”

Map images:
1) Mark Newman, University of Michigan
2) Facebook 

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