Southern Paradoxes

Since I have lived in Myrtle Beach I have written extensively about my fun adventures and discoveries of Southern culture. I covered everything from the restaurants to the accents to the music. I have taken on the various towns and weather. I have even analyzed snacking habits. But what I am about to do tonight celebrates Southern culture in a unique way that I currently have not addressed.

After eight months in South Carolina I have realized that there are some concepts in this part of the country that might seem to the Westerner as paradoxical or, to borrow a Southern word, wackadoodle. Mind you that I am not saying these Southern ways of life are backwards nor am I implying that Westerners must be living under rocks. Rather I am just happily trying to provide some context and translation that I have picked up on since living here. So very quickly let me go through five habits/attitudes of life in the South that don’t necessarily have wings in the West.

Southern Concept: Dollar stores on every corner.
What Westerners Would Think: Cool, I can now really stretch my dollar bills at numerous businesses.
Reality: Although very familiar with Dollar Tree, before moving to Myrtle Beach I had never seen a Dollar General or a Family Dollar. All of a sudden I couldn’t travel a half mile without passing one of these stores. Initially I thought it was great because I do buy some select items at Dollar Tree and with these two new stores at my disposal, I would have an even wider selection to purchase items for $1. Wrong. Although the name implies that stores such as Dollar General and Family Dollar sell most of their inventory for a buck, this isn’t even close to the truth. Majority of the items are much more than a dollar. The prices are just a tad lower than what you would find at a CVS or Walgreens and the stores themselves are dumps.

Southern Concept: What do you say we do BBQ tonight?
What Westerners Would Think: Sounds great! I love hamburgers and hot dogs.
Reality: I freely say this, us Westerners are so wrong on this. BBQ means pulled pork, brisket, and baked beans. It doesn’t mean using a propane grill to cook food. My whole childhood I grew up thinking that BBQ food consisted of burgers, dogs, steak, and chicken that my dad would prepare on his BBQ at least once a week. I was totally oblivious to the fact that BBQ really referred to flavorful comfort food that had nothing to do with tossing something on a grill and burning it to death.

Southern Concept: Hey bartender, could I please get a shot split four-ways?
What Westerners Would Think: That’s an interesting name for a shot! Does that mean I am getting a shot mixed with four different types of liquor?
Reality: I learned about the craziest drinking practice down South. Bar patrons will order a shot but ask that it be split up between them and their friends. Thus, if you want it split four-ways a bartender would pour a drop of alcohol into four different plastic cups and of course charge the tab for one regular shot. If you wanted to split it two-ways, you and your friend would each get a half of a shot. This is a responsible and noble way to curb overdrinking but this practice hasn’t come close to reaching out west. If it ever does I am afraid to say that people would probably just mock it and laugh at it. The first time a shot ordered this way was when I was with Sidney. She split up some shots and I had absolutely no idea what she was requesting until she explained it to me. I definitely found it very odd.

Southern Concept: USC = University of South Carolina
What Westerners Would Think: USC = University of Southern California
Reality: This really isn’t a Southern thing as much as it is a South Carolina thing. If you go anywhere within these state borders and someone mentions USC, please note that they don’t mean The USC in Los Angeles but rather the University of South Carolina. This persists even though Southern Cal has every legal document signed that says they are the only school that should be referred to by that acronym and even though the 49 other states in the country identify USC as gold and cardinal rather than garnet and black. But I get it, why wouldn’t residents of South Carolina use the natural abbreviation to identify one of their state universities? It doesn’t bother me but it does bother others. Because Myrtle Beach is full of transplants, I have seen several out-of-staters passionately try to tell locals that they are silly to refer to the Gamecocks as “USC.” I found it weird at first but by this time it is just second nature to me…Steve Spurrier is the head coach of the USC football team.

Southern Concept: It is chilly out here.
What Westerners Would Think: T-shirt, shorts, and sunglasses please because I am hitting the pool!
Reality: There is a stark contrast between what Southerners think is cold and what Westerners think is cold. For example, today it was sunny and 65 degrees here in Myrtle Beach. The low didn’t even dip under 40 degrees. I found the weather today and this month heavenly and warm while people who have lived in the South their whole lives call it cold. This is one gap between cultures that will just never be bridged.

I get a kick out of things like these. Although I might joke around and say that one area has it right while the other has it wrong, I realize that these small differences help make this country so great and diverse. I appreciate both Western and Southern cultures. Don’t Blink.

Dollar Stores

This past Friday I reviewed the Burger Shack and when I was describing its location I mentioned that it was by the “..most disgusting dollar store you could ever imagine….” I never know what people are going to latch onto when I write my blog posts, many times something that I jotted down without even thinking about will generate discussion amongst my readers. So while my dollar store comment didn’t really turn heads or generate controversy, I did have two people ask me to clarify my remark. “Why is this dollar store so disgusting?”  Well, not only am I going to answer that question for my two dedicated readers, I am also going to dedicate a whole post to the king of discount shopping, the dollar store.

I make fun of dollar stores a lot. I chuckle at the elementary concept of such places, look down at the depressing atmosphere, and question the quality of the merchandise.  I place dollar stores in a lower echelon than Wal-Mart. But let me make one thing clear: I do go to dollar stores. Though I try to make these trips as sparingly as possible, I have to call out my own hypocrisy, and admit that I do shop at these places that I seem to look down on so much.
So if I do actually shop at dollar stores from time to time, I obviously see something of value in them. Let me start this post on a positive note and explain what lures me to these discount shops:
Greeting Cards: During graduation season, any holiday, or a time of the year where a lot of birthdays seem to be happening, dollar stores can save a lot of money. I am a card guy. I love sending them through the mail and handing them out personally. At a place such as the Dollar Tree, you can purchase heavy duty cards at 2-for-a-$1.  You buy a regular Hallmark card and many times it will cost you $3.99 or more.
Dress Up Props: When I dress up for St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, or just random party nights, many times I purchase accessories such as hats, necklaces, leis, and props at the dollar store. It is convenient because they always have a decent selection and because the investment is so low you can heavily use/abuse whatever you buy while you are having fun and not worry. In fact, every prop that I purchase at the dollar store usually never makes it home with me after the event.
Plastic/Paper Plates, Bowls, Silverware: Need to buy cheap plates and silverware for your picnic or for your pizza party? The dollar store is a great option. Not only is everything just one buck, but you have many more choices when it comes to colors and designs than just a regular store.
Wrapping Paper: At Christmas time, the dollar store is a savior for wrapping paper. Just go in the store real fast, spend $10, and now you got ten rolls of different wrapping paper that will last you the whole holiday season. Just beware, Christmas time in any dollar store is a complete goat rope.
However, if I don’t need cards, props, silverware, or wrapping paper, I am avoiding dollar stores. The agony starts for me right when I walk in and the smell hits me. How do I explain that smell? I think the only word I can think of is cheap. I liken the smell of dollar stores to the smell of all those little souvenir shops that line the Las Vegas strip. There seem to be a million of them but yet every single one has the exact same inventory AND that exact same smell.
The disorganization of these stores tends to turn me off quite a bit too. Cleaning the aisles, picking up fallen merchandise, and tidying up is an afterthought. Although I understand why this might be low priority considering every item in the store is worth a dollar and frankly most people aren’t there to admire the cleanliness of the place, it  scares me away a little bit. I like doing business in places where I feel that customers have an organized, healthy environment to shop in.
But let’s get real here, the major reason why I have an extremely tough time shopping at a dollar store centers directly on the products. While I can buy a greeting card or some wrapping paper, I would never touch any of their personal care items, cleaning supplies, or heaven forbid, their food items. How there are not legions of health code violations against these places I have no idea. I think I would legitimately fear for my health if I ever consumed something such as bread, milk, or hot dogs from a dollar store. I am adventurous when it comes to food, I will eat mostly anything, but I cross the line at eating a can of pasta manufactured by a brand that I had never heard of in my life that comes from a small town on the east coast that carries a company logo that looks like a first grader created. No thank you. I hate to sound so uppity, but I am repulsed at the food section of dollar stores. I keep my distance.

Finally, I just get uncomfortable at  the whole notion of checking out at these places. Dollar stores draw a lot of customers to their stores so obviously lines build up. While I would like to think that the process could go a little faster considering price checks are never really needed, sometimes you can stand in line a long time. This is where I start to feel a little uneasy. I kind of feel the people in front of me and in back of me looking at what I have in my basket and instantly judging me… “Wow, look at this cheapskate, he has to come to the dollar store to buy ______ . Desperate loser.”  I prefer to forgo this part of my shopping experience, yet another reason why I avoid dollar stores.

Before closing out, let me make a distinction that will bring me all the way back to the start of this post. There are some dollar stores that are much more unsavory than others. At the high end of the spectrum you have the reputable chain stores, such as Dollar Tree. If I have to go to a dollar store, I am going to a Dollar Tree. Although not my first shopping preference (or second…or third…or fourth…etc), I trust them before any other dollar places. What I watch out for and what I will refuse to go into unless in an absolute emergency are some of these mom and pop dollar stores that you will see in various towns.  Many of these places are just hold outs for junk. They take up residence in grimy areas and you have to enter the store in a specific way and exit in a specific way to appease the paranoia of the owners who cater to some interesting folks. Don’t let the term “dollar store” fool you either. Many of their items are not even a dollar. Oh, you didn’t see those handwritten signs scribbled on post-it notes alerting you to this fact? Much of the inventory of some of these stores would not even make it to the front porch of a yard sale. You thought some of the brands at the Dollar Tree were off-shoot? Try finding a brand even to begin with on some of the products at these places. My best advice?: Stay Away.

We live in an economy where we need to spend our money wisely and conservatively. Sometimes, shopping at a Dollar Tree is the best option. I understand that. I just like to have a little fun with the dollar store “culture”. I am fully aware that sometime in the future I might be on a dollar store budget and have to make regular trips to the nearest Dollar Tree. When that time comes, please be sure to e-mail me the link to this post. Don’t Blink.