Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Stranger in a strange land

posted Sun, 07 Nov 2004

I went to a baby shower for my friend Leigh today. After five years in the south, I still don’t know all the rules here. I was pretty sure I should not wear jeans to this event, but I didn’t know what time I should show up. The invitation said noon, but what does “noon” mean in the south? For a Midwesterner, it means 11:45, as I discovered when I had my aunt and uncle over for lunch last year after they helped my cousin Becky move here from Topeka for optometry school.

For a Miamian, it means 1:00 or so. Whenever. Como sea.

For me, it means noon. But I still haven’t figured out what it means to a southerner.

This is the sort of outfit you would see at a Junior League work session in the south – but never in my closet. I do not know how to shop.
Source: http://talbots.com

The next issue was dress. I was sure not jeans. Nothing is casual here. I learned that the hard way when I went to my first Junior League meeting. (This was before I became a Junior League dropout.) I had run home after work to change clothes. I have three kinds of clothes: work clothes, jeans, and get-dirty clothes (like for yardwork and exercising). I changed from work clothes to jeans because who would wear get-dirty clothes to a Junior League meeting?

I got to the meeting and suddenly I understood where women wear those cute outfits you see at Stein Mart or Talbots. You know – the cute sweaters with the sequins or the tiny bows and the skirts with the ruffles. The outfits that are completely inappropriate for my work, are not jeans, and are not get-dirty clothes.

They wear them to Junior League meetings.

And I was in jeans. The only one in jeans. And they weren’t even cute designer starched jeans with a cute little t-shirt and high heels. (Heels with jeans? Please.) No, they were old, comfy jeans and a comfortable sweater.

Even though I am/was sort of blonde, I felt like I was the only one who wasn’t blonde. I was definitely the only one without accessories or makeup.

So I knew that a baby shower demanded more than jeans, even though this shower was for Leigh, who was also a Peace Corps volunteer. You can take the girl out of Alabama, but you can’t take Alabama out of the girl. Even eight months pregnant, Leigh is cute as a bug. She was wearing a black knit tank dress that stretched over her cute little pregnant tummy. She is a cute pregnant.

I wore my tan suede jeans that I got at the Junior League Thrift Shop for five dollars (there was one good thing to come out of JL; my friend Aimee is another) and a red sweater. Whew. I got that right. I arrived at 12:15, which was a little early.

The next hurdle was making it through the small talk. I didn’t know most of the other women there. Sitting next to me were two anthropology professors and a legal aid lawyer. We began talking about infant mortality and poverty. I realized quickly that my table leaned to the left, but I didn’t want to get into any arguments. Instead, I wanted to understand why they believed as they did. I decided this was a good chance for me to practice being diplomatic, so instead of challenging their beliefs, I asked what they thought the solution was to the high infant mortality rate. Part of that high rate, one of the profs said, was because of the high number of crack addicts giving birth. (So perhaps it’s not really possible to let people take drugs at will – they do ruin other lives in the process.)

“Better health care,” was the answer. But how do we get that? Better education, better schools, free condoms in the schools. OK. I was agreeing with the strategies until the free condoms part. (wsquared – that’s one of the things I mean when I say some liberals want to run our lives: the government should not be making these decisions – i.e., condoms – about children: the parents of those children should be making those decisions.)

I carefully asked, “Do you really think these girls – and I am assuming here that for the most part, we are talking about unwed teen mothers who drop out of school – don’t know how pregnancy happens and don’t know how to prevent it?” Remember, I wanted honest discussion, not defensiveness and hostility.

We went on for a while in this vein. We didn’t solve the problem, but no blood was shed, either. I don’t think any of Leigh’s other friends will whisper to each other later that I was such a complete bitch that they hope they never see me again.

Anyhow – that’s my new challenge – an old one, actually – to learn to keep my opinions to myself while making polite conversation with others. This is the south, after all, and that is one of the rules. That one I know.

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