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Culture Shock and Northern Exposure

Ruth Miller

As the newest arrivals to MIT, my fellow freshmen know what I’m talking about. Culture shock is what happens when you’re pulled from a cozy environment to which you’ve spent years acclimating, and are thrust into a completely foreign situation. Not only are we away from home, but many of us are here from other parts of the country and some from other parts of the world. For entertainment purposes, I would like to share my part of this culture shock. I am from a very different part of the world: the Southern United States.

It might help if I first describe my hometown, just to offer some perspective. Covington, Georgia is about 30 miles east of Atlanta (“The City Too Busy to Hate”), and the whole county has a population of about 60,000, though a third of those people spilled out of Atlanta into the county in the last decade. Covington is overwhelmingly conservative, predominantly Southern Baptist, and local politics are managed by the “good ol’ boys.” I attended a high school surrounded by cow pastures, and I was heavily involved in 4-H. I placed seventh in the state of Georgia in land judging, and first in the county in poultry judging. I would explain what poultry judging is, but that’s my favorite story for people I’ve just met. Parts of the “Dukes of Hazzard” television show were filmed in Newton County, as well as a scene in “Remember the Titans.” As far as I know, “Deliverance” was not filmed in Newton County.

Back to culture shock as promised. I think it’s obvious that I’m going to say that people here talk funny, so I’ll say some of ya’ll talk retahded. Not just the pronunciation, but the vocabulary itself. In a restaurant down South, the dialogue would usually carry close to this: “I’ll have a coke.” “What kind?” “A Sprite.” Coke is basically any carbonated beverage, except Pepsi. Why can’t you understand that?

On the subject of food, I passed a McDonald’s the other day that had lobster. Lobster is about $21 dollars a pound back home. I’d kill for a Zaxby’s club sandwich right now, but of course those are peculiar to the other side of the Mason-Dixon line, so I’m cut off. If you ever try a Krispy Kreme doughnut, remember they are a Georgian invention. Precious, sweet, sugary, light and delicate Georgian inventions.

As far as sports go, ya’ll got it all wrong up here. What self-respecting state would share a football team with other states? This whole communal New England Patriots thing sounds a little off to me, but that’s pro ball and Atlanta has the Falcons, so I’ll end that discussion there.

A sport that fuels many a spirit in the South is college football. I can’t put into words how pissed I was that I arrived here the day before college football season officially kicked off. I’ll be three days into 18.01 when the Georgia Bulldogs maul the Tigers over at Clemson. Going to a high school or college football game in the South is akin to marching into a war. Especially true when playing a rival, and they’re all rivals. You get to the stadium hours before the game to tailgate, which is as ritualistic as baptism, and some fans even go the extra mile to construct effigies to mutilate before kickoff. And when kickoff happens, all hell breaks loose. Last year was the first time my high school played football against our cross town rivals, and all but three city/county police/sheriff cars were parked at the stadium. The stands were packed an hour before the game for a round of lewd comments. We won, of course.

Speaking of wars, no one up here seems to understand the significance of the American Civil War. I was advised before I left home: “When they talk about the war, they don’t mean the one where we fought the Yankees, they mean the one where we were the Yankees.” Yankees, I’ve learned, don’t care about the Civil War, and I think I see why: it wasn’t fought in their backyards. There’s a sign in front of the Covington Baskin’ Robbins marking General William Tecumseh Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea.

Yeah, we’re last in SAT scores, and we have a principal who thinks MIT is in Mississippi, as he takes the baseball team out of school to go fishing, but at least we’ve still got southern hospitality even after somebody torched our state. But whatever our differences, there will always be one thing Atlantans and Bostonians can agree on: Yankees suck.

Ruth Miller is a member of the Class of 2007.