My first week at my new job was fabulous! Of course there is that overwhelming feeling when beginning a new job, but I find that I take in more than just learning my duties when I am around these people here in their everyday setting. They go about their habits and conversations as normal and they have no idea that each move they make, each catch phrase they use- is being observed by a Southerner as if she landed in outer space. Only instead of little green men or alien monsters, I see very friendly people that just have different habits than I am used to.
One phrase I have heard from different people is “Oy Vey” when someone is tired or exasperated. It is actually Yiddish, meaning “Oh Woe. Most of the people on Long Island speak well but a few people have a thicker accent and will add an “R” in a word that ends with an “ah” or an “aw” sound; Cheetahr, Hallelujahr, Sawr, Coleslawr, Drawr…
Another word used a lot is “Whatchamacallit” (and I am not even going to check to see if I spelled that correctly, because I think it’s a fun word that that you can spell anyway you want!- now, you are about to pull up Google or an app on your iphone to see how to spell it, aren’t you?). This word is used when someone cannot think of what they are trying to say; and because this is not just replacing a noun that they cannot think of but also any verb, adjective, or conjunction- I decided the Southern translation for “whatchamacallit” is: “Um”. Yes, we are pretty simple in the South- but I think that is how we stay less stressed and less uptight, it doesn’t mean we are stupid… we just have learned it doesn’t take much to get our point across.
The most common phrase I hear is “No Problem” ( Jersy translation: “fahget about it!”) – Southern translation: “It’s okay or “that’s fine” (as we wave a hand down in a gesture that puts someone at ease for adding more to our list of things to do). I decided when I first moved to Long Island, that I would not change my way of talking. I still use “Y’all” as much as I want; but I have noticed that I did pick up the “no problem” catch phrase. I caught myself saying it a few times already. Ulp! Does this mean that I will soon begin saying “I sawr a raccoon trying to get into the garbage,”? Nah-ah-(r) .
What I like about the way people talk in New York is that they don’t take shortcuts. They will use all of the words in their sentence. I know that Chattanooga does have some born and bred “Jeff Foxworthy-style-red-necks”, but most Chattanoogan’s know how to speak fairly proper and put on our professional voice if we want to. Yet we get away with “short and sweet” a lot of the time.
New York: “Would you be comfortable to speak with him on the phone about his account?”
Chattanooga: “Would you mind taking this call?”
New York: “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt; I need to inquire about this form.”
Chattanooga: “Excuse me; may I ask you about this?”
It isn’t that all Southerners are “hicks”; but I must say that I am more aware of how I speak now. I do like my Southern accent, but I have noticed that I let myself get lazy in my vocabulary and in my speech over the years. When I am not in a professional setting, it doesn’t mean I should use bad grammar. I did well in English back in high school, but now I find myself saying something like; “I like those shoes an awful lot!” Or “I am liking this town” – and I justify the latter by telling myself I cannot commit to something just yet to make it a matter-of-fact statement, but that I am “gettin’ there”. Sure… it is no worse than the bad grammar used in New York or anywhere else, bad grammar is still bad grammar; but do we care anymore? It is true that I hear colorful words used more freely than I did in Chattanooga; but it really isn’t as bad as what you see on television, you know the “New York movies”. Hollywood goes all out to make it hardcore for the “R” rating and there is barely any dialogue, for all the foul language. But what I like about New York is; you are not “scared” of words. Words will not send you to the devil and it doesn’t mean you are a bad person. Most people in my circle, whether it is Chattanooga or Long Island, do not “cuss the wallpaper off the wall” but on occasion, will use a spicy word to express themselves or sometimes to even be funny. Not to be unprofessional or inappropriate and certainly not vulgar.
Most of the time, I find all the differences interesting to me and I want to observe even the little things; but sometimes… for a brief moment, I ask myself what the heck I’m doing here like a fish out of water. Do you know how you feel when you are on vacation and you turn on their local news station? The news anchors in “vacation town” are not YOUR news anchors. In vacation town; their ways, their speech, their streets, their way of life is not what you are used to. While on vacation it is a refreshing change; but once you get back home you are so glad to see familiar faces and familiar roads and… to just be back in your own bed. Mama always said, “You made your bed, now lie in it!” I never understood that cliché… if I made my bed, I am up for the day and I don’t want to lie down. But I sort of understand the tone of it. I understand that it was my decision to come here. I understand … that I am a little homesick.
But it has only been 3 months and I am not a quitter. I know that I am not stuck somewhere that I don’t want to be. I want to be here. I want to experience new things- new people, new perceptions than what my little ol’ way of life has always been. I can’t tuck my tail and run home to Chattanooga(r)- just because I don’t have the comfort of familiarity yet. It will come. For now, I enjoy experiencing life outside of the South and all the differences and I still heart Long Island.