Looking for America

Yankee Elitism and Southern Hospitality

I’ve been writing a lot lately about stereotypes, misconceptions, and open-minded travel (see: Understanding Istanbul and An Opportune Moment is Going to India). Learning from travel rather than confirming our own previously held beliefs is important to me, and it’s a topic that will continue to appear regularly on this blog.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Charleston Tea Plantation and my first visit to South Carolina. This week, I’m writing about the other new-to-me state I saw on that road trip: Georgia.

Spanish Moss in Georgia
Spanish Moss in Georgia

But first, some context:

I was born and raised in New England and I’ve spent almost my entire life here. I’m incredibly liberal (I’m actually from the state with the highest percentage of democrats after the District of Columbia), and I don’t mind sharing my political leanings on my blog because they’re important to who I am. I mean, seriously, if you think feminism is useless or we live in a post-racial society or LGBTQ people don’t deserve the same rights as straight and cisgendered people, we’re not going to get along very well. If you think Reaganomics work and government regulations are the root of all evil, well, firstly, you’re wrong, and secondly, we shouldn’t hang out on weekends.

Unsurprisingly, my politics are linked to where I grew up. It almost seems like part of being a middle-class, white teenager in New England is being really stupidly liberal before actually learning about politics and stereotypes and how the world works. An unfortunate piece of the “being really stupidly liberal” stage is unfairly accusing the Southern states of being awful places full of ignorant, close-minded people with unfortunate accents. Yankee elitism is, unfortunately, not a myth.

The worst part might be that I perpetuated these stereotypes without having ever been south of Washington, D.C. (with the exception of Florida because grandparents and Disney World, unsurprisingly). While there are generally more conservative people and Republicans in the Southern states than in New England, there are closed-minded bigots everywhere. Ahem, it was rather closed-minded of my New England teenager self to stereotype The South in such a way.

Even though I stopped being such an asshole in my later teen years (my then-boyfriend was a conservative Christian) and especially in college (liberal arts education, for the win), I didn’t visit the Southern states until I took a road trip with my boyfriend, E, in 2011. It was the summer before our senior year of college and a few months after my father passed away, so a vacation was in order and we decided to visit E’s sister in Asheville, North Carolina.

On the way, we stopped in Maryland to visit our friend, Lisa, and when we left her house a few days later, we crossed into West Virginia. I’d never been this far South before, and suddenly I felt nervous about it. When I told E, he laughed, and reminded me that I wasn’t going to talk politics with the gas station attendant.

Welcome to the Bible Belt! (Not really, this is in Delaware, but I didn't have any good photos of the hug crosses by the side of the highway in Virginia.)
Welcome to the Bible Belt! (Not really, this is in Delaware, but I didn’t have any good photos of the hug crosses by the side of the highway in Virginia.)

I was making “The South” out to be a different world and, while Southern culture is distinct, it’s still the United States. No one was going to hear my New England accent (before you ask, no, I don’t have a Boston or Rhode Island accent, but I don’t sound like a Southerner either) and ask me if I voted for Obama. (I did. Twice.)

And, I mean, come on, Asheville is one of those liberal oases in otherwise conservative states anyway, so I had nothing to worry about. In fact, I loved Asheville, and I could imagine myself living there.

On that trip, I found out I actually love Southern accents, especially the ones in North Carolina. That’s honestly an accent I wouldn’t mind having. While I was there I even started matching other people’s speech patterns and slowing down when I spoke — E teased me for it. Plus, and I know this is a stereotype, but at least it’s a positive one, Southern people were friendlier.

Loitering in Asheville
Loitering in Asheville

So, back to talking about Georgia:

The road trip I took in May with my friends, Sarah and the aforementioned Lisa from Maryland, was my second foray into seeing the Southern United States. On this trip, I had no apprehension about going South, just excitement.

Unfortunately, we didn’t actually spend much time in Georgia, but just made two stops: Savannah and Jekyll Island.

Now, because we arrived in the evening, we didn’t do much in Savannah besides eat dinner, but, oh, what a dinner it was. I chose a restaurant called The Distillery based entirely on its beer menu — only craft brews. The beer was good (although not good enough for me to remember what I ordered) and for dinner, I had a catfish po’ boy.

Now, I felt a little touristy ordering a catfish po’ boy but, when I visit somewhere new, I want to eat foods I can’t (easily) get at home. So, in Vienna, I ate wiener schnitzel and in Poland, I ate pierogi, and in London, I ate pasties because, and I can’t stress this enough, food is important to me. One of my favorite parts of traveling is trying new foods, traditional foods, and foods that aren’t easily accessible when I’m at home. You know what isn’t super accessible in New England? Okra. Grits. Fried green tomatoes. And catfish po’ boys.

I’m fully aware that po’ boys come from Louisiana, not Georgia, but they’re still a Southern food, and that’s what I was hoping to eat on this trip. I promise I’m not trying to conflate Louisiana and Georgia, I’m just trying to eat yummy food.

The other stop we made in Georgia was sort of obscure. After spending the night in Savannah, we hopped in the car and drove an hour and a half South to Jekyll Island where we visited…

The Georgia Sea Turtle Center

Sea Turtle!
Sea Turtle!

The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is a hospital for ill and injured seas turtles as well as an interactive, educational center for the public, and it’s pretty awesome. When you visit, you get to learn about Georgia’s sea turtles — where they live, what they eat, etc. and you also get to see some of the turtles being rehabilitated.

The main reason we decided to stop here is because Lisa is a huge biology nerd. She loves birds, cuttlefish, and everything in between, but sea turtles are probably her favorite animals. And Sarah and I thought the Center sounded pretty interesting, so we obliged Lisa’s wish to commune with the sea turtles.

Green Sea Turtle getting rehabilitated.
Green Sea Turtle getting rehabilitated.

Between the Sea Turtle Center and The Distillery, Georgia was educational and tasty, which is a far cry from how I imagined it when I was 14. After this second brief visit to The South, I feel comfortable saying I like the region. Although, when I shared this information on facebook, I got a mixed response from friends and family. A friend from high school who got his undergraduate degree in Georgia said he loved living there as long as he didn’t get too invested in political arguments. A friend of my dad’s told me I should try living in The South before I pass any judgements, and E was a little disappointed.

He lived in Tennessee until he was 14 when his family moved to New Hampshire. As an agnostic, vegetarian kid, he was a bit of an outsider down South, and isn’t too keen on moving back there. I’m not eager to move away from New England either, but I definitely want to keep visiting and exploring the Southern states. And it would surprise my teenage self to know that.

Emma Holliday is well-traveled. After 5 years in Boston, she and her husband upended their lives to move to Berlin where she is currently writing a (funny) book about travel and grief and attempting to learn German.


  • Colleen Brynn

    So… as you know, I was just in Boston. I think it’s really interesting that you mention Southerners are more friendly. As a Canadian, I’m told all the time how kind and polite we are and how we say sorry all the time for every little thing (which is pretty much true), but actually, I don’t think I’ve met kinder Americans as when I was in Boston. I really hadn’t expected that. Either Southerners are REALLY nice or I just seriously lucked out. I’ve never been apologized to that much before ever, not even anywhere in Canada.
    As for American politics, I like that you touch on it. As your neighbour to the north, it is really interesting to watch. I can’t say I understand it all or would be able to dive into a deep discussion, but it really is… special… entertaining even… sometimes scary.
    Two more things. I’m yammering on.
    I love sea turtles. I scuba dived with them for the first time this summer in the Caribbean and they are like beautiful floating angels. Really amazing to see.
    And last, it just donned on me that through school we do externships in our 4th year, and while naturally, I want one of mine to be to Malawi, we do one externship in the states. That means I DO still have an opportunity to maybe live in Boston (?)… I’m not sure what programs are available there… if not there, then the southern states. I kind of blame True Blood for this (yes, shame, shame, guilty pleasure, whatever) but I have been drawn more to that region lately. I think I would really love the experience. To me it is so different to anything I have ever known!

    • opportunemma

      Okay, I’m going to reply to you comment in four parts:

      First, Bostonians and New Englanders in general, are not known for their kindness. I think the main difference is that we keep to ourselves more than Southerners do. In the South it seems like if you stand still long enough someone will start talking to you, but we’re a little more reserved and private in the North. I could be totally off-base, this is just my understanding of it.

      Second, it’s apt of you to say American politics are “interesting, special, entertaining, and scary” because a lot of people from the US feel the same way.

      Third, sea turtles are awesome.

      Fourth, you should do an externship in Boston! But if you end up in The South, I won’t blame you. I did dedicate a blogpost to my changing perception of the region. And I think there are worse reasons than True Blood to want to visit somewhere. I’m not a big True Blood fan myself (I’ve only seen a few episodes), but there’s no shame in being honest about your television preferences. 🙂

    • opportunemma

      Thanks for the positive feedback! After I posted this, I felt a little nervous about being so frank, so it’s nice to hear I came across as open and self-aware. That’s what I’m striving be!

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