June 11, 2004
It has taken me a while to figure out how things are done here in the South. The South is not to confused with Texas, which is where most of my US acculturation has taken place. Texas is sui generis. M’town is another place. I am used to saying ‘no’ if that’s what I mean. That’s not how it works here. Saying ‘no’ is an art form and I can’t even stay in the lines.
I have been on the receiving end of these artistic ‘nos.’ Perhaps lots of practice will help me be on the delivering end some day. Here’s how it works: You call someone to ask her if she will chair a committee. This project will require lots of time and work and generate criticism no matter what. My stock answer would be “Yes” because I wouldn’t know how to say ‘no.’ But the true Southerner says this, “Thank you SO MUCH for asking me! I am so flattered and it sounds so neat. I would really really like to but…. I just can’t.” The trick is to make it sound as if you are turning down a favor rather than getting out of an unwanted task.