I realized a long time ago I had a Northern State of Mind.
The clichés behind a North-South divide in attitude reach back far into history, and in many regards persist today. Behind every generalization is a kernel of truth (or at least a propagated myth).
The North: high-speed, high-energy, zero-pleasantries, get-to-the-point, hyphenated-ness.
The South: slow-paced, slow-service, languid, perpetually cordial hospitality, where stories last eternity.
My Experience as a High-Speed Northerner
The Southern Mind doesn’t have to be below the Mason Dixon. Indiana is the South of the Midwest, and I stand by that. Listen to a drawl in Indianapolis and you’ll be pinching the screen on Google Maps, wondering where you are in no time.
The first time I understood this mindset divide was in college. On the soccer team, we had an away game in Atlanta, and naturally we visited Chik Fil A, the greatest Southern restaurant of all time. (Perhaps.)
A bunch of college soccer players from all over the North swarmed the restaurant, and what should’ve already been a trying endeavor for the staff took a lifetime of waiting. It took an hour, from ordering to tossing out the trash, at a fast food restaurant. A fast food restaurant. We all left dumb-founded.
To me, if you enter a restaurant, the pleasantries should be brief until the food is served. I don’t necessarily like writing that on paper; it sounds impatient to an impermissible fault. However, watch a bunch of Bostonians or New Yorkers in a restaurant who haven’t been given iced water within a minutes and they well squirm and hem and haw. Like clockwork, every time.
While I think we should stop to smell the roses on occassion, and food deserves to be enjoyed, there are also certain places for that. For instance, I’m used to eating fairly slowly to the point where my friends are uncomfortable. My brother moreso. I’m accustomed to two-hour dinners, European style. But that’s after I get the attention of the waitress and also not at fast food joints.
New York City requires cashiers to push through a ceaseless line of insatiable customers. It’s just life in the Big Apple. Any Ps and Qs get in the way.
Southern Mind in West Virginia
So in West Virginia, I was curious where on the spectrum the folks would lie. Intuition would be corroborated as I discovered every gas station, each restaurant had painfully slow service.
To be fair, I wasn’t really going anywhere so quickly I needed faster service. But it was jarring, like pulling behind that jackass doing the speed limit on the interstate. Another 8MPH never hurt no one, right? But really, we could all slow down a bit I suppose.
I shamelessly entered a McDonald’s on one of the legs of the journey, tuckered out from a July 4th on the town in Louisville. Grease with a side of Quarter Pounder was all I wanted.
I walk straight to the counter, demanding, “a Number 2 with a large Coke.” Done. To me, this is simple and a few keystrokes later, I’ve got a receipt in my hand. I needn’t waste any more words or time on this moment.
Whoa, slow down sweetie, Okay you wanted a what? A number 2? What’s that, Quarter Pounder. Oh my, that’s a good sandwich. You’re gonna like that. And what would you like to drink?
Holy moly, that’s mind-numbingly stupid chatter. Get me my sandwich.
A Coke, all right. And would that be large? [checks my furrowed eyebrows indicating a large at McDonald’s is not for human consumption, but large animals only] Ok, ok dear, medium it is. And would you like to pay with credit card, debit card or cash for this transaction?
This might seem routine at a Macdos, but no. It’s not. You don’t ask at a Mickey D’s how I’m paying. You simply take whatever form of currency in my palm. Extra words cost seconds in between ordering and sinking my teeth into steamed beef patties.
All right now. So what you’ll do is take this receipt and check your number. You may sit. When they call you’re number you’re gonna want to do is.
What I’ll do is take that receipt and shove it up your…
The Northern State of Mind is too Quick
In some ways sure. But it’s just a preconditioned feeling. It’s a frame of mind that we cannot eschew very easily, even with all the yoga and meditation in the world.
It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, things get done and we’re onto the next thing. On the other hand, what else do you really need to get done?
In West Virginia, things aren’t going anywhere. The state and the people have dealt with too much outside influence, too much pilfering to be perturbed by the swift-temperament of a Bay Stater. Time controls all.
In short, I understand where I come from. I get agitated seeing slow service left and right. But I recognize the Northern State of Mind, when I’m in a Southern state, and let it happen. Because whether I’m in my own country or not, it’s a chance to learn more about myself and more about others.And what’s better than that?
This is a multi-part series on a road trip to West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. Check out the other pieces here.
Like what you’re reading on the US? Check out some other related articles in: The US Chronicles!!