Source: Distinguished Company
I cringed the moment we walked in the door. Ugh. The Post Office. The long lines, the card display tempting the kids, the total disdain USPS employees show for the public… It’s all too much for me.
But there I was with one of those little green slips in hand, waiting at the end of a line of ten people (yes, TEN!) to retrieve an undeliverable package. You see, my post office has done something totally brilliant, separating the people with these green slips from people waiting to buy stamps, mail a package, or whatever. Yup, we get our own separate line. Smart, right?
The only problem on this particular day was that no one was manning the line. All ten of us stood in line at a counter where no one was working.
At the front of the line, a woman about my age rested her elbow on the counter and her chin in her hand. She sighed impatiently as the rest of us waited in silence. After ten minutes, she just walked away.
My illusion that the person working our line was struggling to find her item in back evaporated. There was no person.
By this time, the kids were getting squirmy, and I started asking questions. “Excuse me, ma’am. Have you seen someone working this line?” The woman in front of me wore a hijab and answered in a thick accent: “No one.”
WTF. Are you kidding me? We’re sitting here waiting in a line just hoping someone will eventually take our green slips? As it got closer and closer to lunchtime, I knew the odds were stacked against us.
After about 30 minutes, the kids were moaning about hunger and boredom, and the time for being patient had passed. I did what any good New Englander would do: I addressed the issue head-on. Butting in next to someone buying a roll of stamps, I asked the man behind the counter, “Do you know who’s supposed to be accepting these green slips?”
“Ma’am, I’m with a customer. You need to get back in line,” he said impatiently. (I love throwing “ma’am” in front of something totally obnoxious!)
“Um, I’m a customer! And I’ve been standing in this line for half an hour without it moving at all. Where’s the manager?”
“Ma’am, get back in line.”
Oh, hell no. Now I was pissed. I’d gone from being confused to inquisitive to irate. Who was this man to dismiss my totally valid question? Why was I the only one trying to do something?
When I did finally get back in line, the other customers looked at me with something that resembled admiration. They smiled; one even patted me on the back, literally!
Then, an elderly black gentleman turned to me and said, “It’s good you said something. You can. If I’d done that, they’d be sending the police over for me.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. It’s moments like this, living in the South, that I realize I’m a stranger in a strange land.
I may have been the hero when the manager himself came out to serve our line, taking back all our slips at once, but some people definitely also thought I was being a bitch that day. I hadn’t intended to be, but this sort of straightforwardness is totally foreign and unwelcome in the South.
Growing up in New England, everything is on the surface. If someone likes you, you know it, and it’s genuine. If someone can’t stand you, you know it. If someone perceives an injustice, an error, or a solution, they speak up. That’s just the way people are—very direct. But not down South.
This societal disconnect has been a major source of confusion for me since we moved to Texas. I never know if everyone’s favorite phrase, “Well, bless your heart,” is patronizing or kind. I can’t figure out if other people genuinely enjoy my company, or if they’re just being polite. And I often come off as the uncouth Yankee, I’m sure, because I tend to say what’s on my mind.
I’ve learned that I’m okay with that, though. I’m okay with telling people exactly where they stand with me. I’m okay with raising eyebrows. And I’ve learned how much I appreciate sincerity.
I’m all for treating people with kindness and dignity, but I’m not sure there’s anything “charming” about lying to someone’s face when it comes to Southern Charm.