By Annabelle Robertson
I have been out of the South for nigh on three years now, which, granted, is enough to make anyone lose perspective. But still, I'm starting to get worried. When you live in California, it can become increasingly tempting to grow sympathetic toward the natives – try though you might to resist.
Admiration starts to creep in around their Hawaiian-flowered edges, after a year or so. Two years in, and you're shaking your head -- instead of narrowing your eyes -- when they forget to use turn signals (“Turn signal? What turn signal?”). Three years in and you actually crave carrot juice. Then, before you know it, you discover that you actually enjoy hanging out with these people.
Geographical Stockholm Syndrome, I call it.
But never fear, good Southern people, because this feeling will not last. Just when you think it’s safe to go back into the Pacific (with your big toe only, because them thar waters are cold), you will be abruptly reminded that you are not in Texas any longer.
Why? Because Californians, I am convinced, are simply waiting for the opportunity to horrify the rest of us.
I am not sure whether they do this intentionally -- or whether it is merely a byproduct of their longstanding obsession with all things marijuana (which, if the turn signal situation is any indicator, puts the Lohan to shame). But if there's one thing I have learned, it’s that Californians possess the innate ability to transcend all sense of decency and decorum.
And no, I am not talking about what New Orleaneans do on an average day. I’m talking about shock and horror. I’m talking outrage. I’m talking sex.
A few weeks ago, my husband took his annual all-expense-paid vacation to Iraq, courtesy of the United States Air Force. Having learned the hard way that infinite goodbyes at airports lead to hysterical small children, we bid adieu on the front lawn. The girls were still hysterical, of course. Only this time, instead of their hysteria lasting several days, it began to abate after an hour. Or five.
Because we life off base, this tender scene became the afternoon entertainment for everyone who happened to be watering their lawns that Sunday. Meaning, all neighbors within eyesight. Including, a particular one whom I believed to be a really nice guy.
My husband hadn’t been gone 24 hours when this guy came a’callin’, on the pretense of checking to see if we were okay. Thanks, I said, we’re hanging in there. Followed by all the things I usually say to make people feel better about the fact that my kids don’t have a daddy for the next six months and could get his legs blown off at any moment. Everyday chit chat, you know.
But before I can launch into my spiel, the neighbor asks me out. On a date. As in, me and him, strumming his six string.
Hellooooo? I sputter, thinking that I have surely misunderstood. Surely. You mean, a glass of wine, right? And why don't we invite a few neighbors to join us, while we're at it? Ahem.
Oh, no, he says. He wants to “comfort me in my husband’s absence.” Wink, wink.
Honey, the only thing that’s going to comfort me right now is a one-way ticket back to the South, where men still have manners. And no, I don't mean opening car doors -- or even regular doors, for that matter -- because, with a few rare exceptions, we all know that’s been gone with the wind for way too long. Sad but true. I’m talking about basic old-fashioned courtesy. You know, the kind of thing mothers drill into their sons around the dinner table on Saturday nights.
As in, don't offer unsolicited sexual favors to wives of soldiers. Soldiers who are in Iraq or Afghanistan. Fighting a war. And who also happen to be ministers.
Oh, Southern habits die so hard, though. And I tell you, this is not always a good thing. Caught by surprise – and to my immense belated regret – I did not fire off a caustic reply. Instead, I feigned ignorance. Then I smiled and shooed the man back to his house (and his own wife and kids, bless their hearts).
He called me several times the next day, then again a few days later.
I ask you, is this normal – or is this California?
I don’t have the answer, and you probably don’t either. All I have is the retort that I sure wish I’d given, and which I am fully prepared to use, make no bones about it, next time that hound dog comes sniffing around my front porch.
“Bubba,” I’ll say, holding my head high and looking my California neighbor straight in the eye, “I am a Southern Girl. I have dignity. I have STANDARDS. Which means you won't catch me dating a man who wears socks with flip-flops.”
Annabelle Robertson is the author of The Southern Girl’s Guide to Surviving the Newlywed Years: How to Stay Sane Once You’ve Caught Your Man. It’s not really for newlyweds, though. In fact, you need to be married a really long time to get it.