Thursday, January 1, 2009

Mason-Dixon Line and Shopping

Last night at a New Year’s Party, one of the guests was from Scotland. And since it’s always fun to listen to someone with a cool accent, lots of discussion ensued. At one point, someone marveled to me about how large the United States is and how similar the people of each state are. That got me to thinking. Granted the difference between each state is minimal compared to say the difference between Germany and France, especially in language. (Though I will point out that when I was a child living in a small town in Georgia and then moved to Hawaii where some people spoke in pidgin, I could easily have been in a foreign country—I couldn’t understand a word some of my classmates said. That’s where I developed a “polite I-have-no-idea-what-you-are-talking-about smile,” which has served me well as a pastor’s wife.) But, back to the issue. In order for someone to say there isn’t too much difference between states, they clearly have not recently moved from New England to the South.

There are so many differences that this might be a recurring blog theme. But the first topic is: Shopping. When we first moved here and walked in to the local grocery store, the cashier called out, “Good Morning!” Luke turned to me and said, “Why is that lady talking to us—we don’t know her.” I said, “I think she’s being friendly.” Luke looked suspicious; he didn’t quite believe me.

But it’s not just the friendliness. Once when I was in the local Connecticut Walmart, I found a coffee maker that had all the important features—it could make coffee and wasn’t too expensive. But, there weren’t any coffee makers in boxes, only the model on the shelf. So, I tracked down a saleswoman and asked her if she could find out if there were any extras “in the back” or, if not, if I could buy the floor model. She nodded and made other noises and gestures to indicate she understood and acquiesced to my request. Then, we waited. We contemplated the floor. We studied the other coffee makers, toasters, waffle irons, and long metal sticks with whips on the end whose function we didn’t quite fathom. Then, the kids decided, since there was nothing better to do, they’d play a standing version of tag. At that point, Cal decided to take them on a tour of the store. By the way, if you don’t already know, kids do not enjoy a tour of Walmart. And still, I waited.

After the tour was finished, I decided to “find” the salesgirl. I was a woman with a mission. I drew up my mental picture and hunted her down. And I found her. Before I came in for the kill, she must have had some primal instinct to turn and she did. She saw me—and took off running. Yes, as my kids can verify, the salesgirl ran away from me. Foolish girl. I’ve been running since I was 14, which is many, many years ago. If I’ve been running through four kids and a fortieth birthday, I can catch anything. When I had her cornered, she shrugged, gesticulated, and made vaguely hostile guttural noises that meant, “This is a bad day for me, go find your own stupid coffee maker.”

Fast forward to the South. I’m at BiLo, the local grocery store who, despite the “lo” in their name, charges way too much but is close to my house so I shop there anyway. I am buying yogurt-vanilla handsoap for the church bathrooms.
The cashier says: “Umm, umm, I love the smell of vanilla. Honey, does this soap smell good?”
Me: “Uh, I don’t know.” So, I unscrew the top and take a deep whiff. “Yeah, it does.” I hand the open bottle to the cashier. (Don’t forget there’s a long line of people behind me with whom I am trying very hard not to make eye contact.)
Cashier: “Oh, this does smell good.”
Me: “And it’s on sale.” Oops, I’ve now involved her in conversation—this is going to take a while. The people behind me now hate me.
Cashier: “How much is it?”
Me: “Uh, I don’t know.” She takes the receipt.
Cashier: “That is a good price. I’m gonna have to get me some of that.”
Me: Trying to avoid the gaze of people behind me who surely must be wishing instant death on me for taking so much time, “Yeah, that would be a great idea.”
Cashier: “Y’all have a great day, baby.”
Me: Though I am sure there’s only one of me and that I am not her infant, I say, “Thanks. You too.” At this point, as I gather up my things, I cast a furtive glance over my shoulder at the long line. Each and every person is completely unconcerned by my long conversation with the cashier. They are in contemplation mode, and even one lady may be vaguely irritated that she now can’t finish the People magazine article on Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

On my way to the car, I ponder their patience. If I’d been in line behind a chatty soap buyer I would have been tapping my foot, making guttural noises and thinking, “Buy your soap and get on with it. I have things to do.” And Ariel would have said her standard, “Be patient, Mom. This is the South.”

I guess I’ve got a lot more New England (or maybe it’s the Dutch “use each and every minute effectively”) in me than I thought.


  1. You can catch anything??? Is that a challenge...

  2. Yeah for cool accents!! Woohoo!

  3. I do have to agree with you... a lot of times people from the north are not as pleasant as their sothern neighbors.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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