Advice to Al

Al writes:
Dear Mister Manly,

The other day, while I was out shopping with my family for some new body armor (I’m thinking about a quick trip to Iran “to buy sweaters…”), I saw an older lady laboring with several packages, headed towards the door.

So, after ushering my own tribe through the door, I remained to hold it open for her.

As she finally huffed and puffed her way through, she gave me a look like I was Charles Manson at a Girl Scout Campout…

What did I do wrong?

Hey, Hebrews have it hard enough in the south. What in the hell are “grits?” And why do they insist on serving them with every meal?

Mazel Tov!

“That which does not kill you… Probably leaves a cool scar. Chicks dig scars, eh?”

Hi Al,
There are several possibilities as to the woman’s attitude.  Being new to the South, you most likely have a noticeable accent, or you present visual clues as to your foreign nature.  Combine this with the Southern trait of assuming all foreigners are from the North, and thus Yankees, and it’s quite reasonable to assume she figured you were waiting to mug her.  Another possibility is that she was another import and was mentally unhinged by the generally high level of courtesy common down here.  I’ve seen this happen to several Yankees who, being convinced that anyone who went out of the way to do them a favor was setting them up for some sort of scam, were agitated so much of the time that they had nervous breakdowns.  Or, she may just have been an aging feminist.
Grits are coarsely ground dried corn.  They originated as a Native American dish.  This was adopted by European colonists as the best method to preserve and prepare said grain.  It became very popular in the South, where corn grows well and since, well, most everyone was dirt poor.  Our ancestors did, however, improve the product by making grits out of hominy, which is corn soaked in a lye solution from which the outer layer is then removed, before it’s dried and ground.  It’s served often because, well, it’s still cheap, but also because it’s a traditional dish and, in the face of bland movement over the last few decades to homogenize our country, there has been a counter movement to preserve the unique culture of the region.  Once you acclimate and pick up on more of the local history, you’ll notice more signs of this, such as the proliferation of restaurants serving traditional cuisine, increased membership in historical societies, and a noticeable rise in the number of professional people who don’t attempt to modify their speech patterns to conform to what they hear on TV.  It will help you adjust if you think of grits as the local version of couscous.
On the subject of body amour, if you are so unfortunate as to live in any of our larger cities, Memphis for example, that item may serve you well in daily life.  I live near Memphis, which is number two in the nation for high rate of violent crime in high population areas, and the morning talk radio host answers calls with, “You’re on the air and I’m glad you haven’t been shot yet.” 
As to Hebrews having it hard down here, I suspect you are correct in some areas.  I, for instance, grew up in a very rural area and never met a Jew until I went to college, a State one in another remote area, and then not for a couple of years.  On the other hand, I also wasn’t aware that there was any local animosity toward you.  That came a bit later when, while my friends and I were shooting pool in the student union and a graduate student asked us to take a survey for her project.  She was cute, so we did.  One of the questions was, “Do you hate Jews?”  While I checked “no” since I didn’t have any reason to do so, one of my friends asked, “Am I supposed to?” 
This was a pivotal moment in my life, as I immediately realized that he didn’t necessarily want to add another group to his hate list, but, not knowing anything about the subject, but he also didn’t want to make a social mistake by going against the common grain.  After a few years of contemplating this, I came to two conclusions: a real man makes his own decisions or puts them off until he knows the facts, and, while the concept of hating a general group can at times serve a good purpose, such as hating Nazis during WWII, those times are rare, and even then, aren’t very manly.  After a few more years of mulling this over, I’ve decided that, while at times it is necessary to hate for the emotional boost, in general that emotion isn’t manly at all.  Really, if someone offends me so much that I find it necessary to administer a thorough ass kicking, but I’m going to allow him to live, the only logical reason for it is to teach a lesson.  If you want to teach someone, then you are doing them a favor, and, therefore, can’t rationally hate them.  This theory, by the way, is still a work in progress, and I reserve the right to adjust it as life rolls along.
Scars, if you have a good story to go along with them, are manly.
Mister Manly
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2 Responses to Advice to Al

  1. MJ says:

    She could have been pissed because she would rather he carry the heavy stuff instead of just holding the door open… but I think he did the manly thing by holding the door open, considering she probably would have screamed “thief!!” if he had attempted to relieve her of her packages.

    Oh, and grits are pretty good with butter and a little salt – or with cheese. That was something I learned to eat pretty quickly when I moved to the South. I still won’t drink sweet tea though.

  2. mistermanly says:

    Hi MJ,

    Excellent point. As to cheese grits, I would point out to my guests not of the South that there is also a baked dish where grits and cheese are combined and come out of the oven in a savory cake like form. I would also mention that, with a bit of sugar and butter, grits are a marvelous accompenient to breakfast. Properly done, they provide a marvelous contrast to the salty smoky firmness of bacon.

    On the subject of sweet tea, that’s the Southern equalivent of sugar in coffee. That brew was used in England as a cheap pick you up drink for factory workers during the Industrial Revolution. Sweet iced tea is our local version of the tonic since, really, much of the year it’s way too hot to consume heated beverages with lunch. Still, we’ve moved along enough that, if you ask, unsweatened iced tea is available at most dining establishments.

    All of which suggests that I need to do a post on Southern culture. Thanks for the idea!

    Mister Manly

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