I have been in Birmingham, Alabama for work this week. It's been busy, but I've really enjoyed it. I love my job. I love the people I work with. I get to do something that matters to me and I often get to do it with people who it also really matters to. Cool right? Enough gushing though. My life is often more awesome than I deserve, but that's not what this is about...
This is about the south and how it is, well, the south is, errmm, south of what I'm used to. In good ways. Happy, quirky ways.
I love to travel internationally, but I forget sometimes how much I also love to be reminded of the many cultures in the U.S. and the south certainly has its own - in fact, it has many little subcultures. Birmingham is just a little different than the Alabama I'd previous experienced. It is its own distinct world. I have always heard good things, but had never been here. I'd been with people from here - and enjoyed them, but encountering a culture is not quite the same as immersion.
Since I've been here I've been reminded of many things some that seem like southern constants and others that are a little unique. Here are a few of them that caught my attention.
People love meat - BBQ to be precise. It's everywhere and it means business.
People are friendly - nearly without exception. They make all kinds of eye contact with smiling and nodding and happiness. They want to know how your day is and they have no idea who you are. They are helpful when it is totally inconvenient. We asked directions and a man got in his truck and showed us the way somewhere. It was perplexingly delightful.
People are affectionate. Let me be clear. They are physically affectionate. We're not talking PDA here. It is an overflow of that same kindness and care for strangers that gets you a genuinely interested: "how are you". It also totally removes that bubble of personal space that we don't generally invade in the north. And I really like my bubble, more than most people. I try to immerse though - accept the culture - blend. So, I let the shuttle driver who picked me up from the airport hug me - along with approximately eleventy billion other complete strangers in the last 3 days. It's so sincere. I'd hate to offend it, even if it is all up in my business all the time.
Nonsense is accepted, encouraged, and adored. Complete nonsense. Words that aren't words. Phrases that don't technically mean anything - mostly, terms of endearments. I have been called the run of the mill things: darlin', sweetie, sugar, etc... I have also been called "love dove." What is that? Adorable. I can't ever say it out loud, but they can. And it doesn't even seem odd because they own it. I could never own "love dove" with a straight face.
Birmingham has an extra dose of modern class to match its southern charm. There is an extra civilized air to it all. Serious business is going on around there - without taking themselves too seriously (DC can take itself SO seriously!). There are parts that are really aware of what is chic while holding on to what is charming. I was in a neighborhood called Homewood for dinner last night and somehow this neighborhood managed to be trendy - even a little edgy while being perfectly quaint. Adorable shopfronts line the streets and the stores are full of classic home goods and clothing alongside trendy uniqueness. Storefronts sit alongside traditional local restaurants (we ate at a 4th generation Italian restaurant) peppered amongst them are the trendy cutting edget stuff of "now" - sushi, tart yogurt, cupcakes.
Would love to do Birmingham again sometime - with a little more exploring and a little less working in a hotel conference room (who am I kidding? I love that part too.)
But I'm still looking forward to going home and having a weekend. Life is good.
I love dove it y'all. (and I'm not even sure what that means...)