Culture is information capable of affecting individuals’ behavior that they acquire from other members of their species through teaching, imitation, and other forms of social transmission.


Hope that caught your attention (I’m terrible at titles, so good, if it did!). I’ve been thinking about this blog for the better part of 7 days, with many observations I’m about to spill. It’s the first blog I’m almost afraid to publish. I fear the backlash and misunderstanding that may result. Some of what I’m about to share put me in a stage of shock and awe. Then I was angry for DAYS. It was righteous anger, I believe, at myself. And it’s not the first time I’ve grappled with this observation. Let me explain.

Before I get my emotions into this one, let’s begin where it began:  at an airport in Charlotte, NC, exiting an airplane from within, aisle by aisle. Now, understand, I am a ‘northerner’ in many ways, but grew up south enough of the Mason-Dixon line to have experienced a bit of the southern culture while growing up. A culture that my sociologist self never came face to face with—nor knew how ingrained it was in me. Until this past week. And, since my anthropological/analytical (people-watching) mind is always observing human behavior no matter where I am—it’s an addiction.  But as a Christian, I always have to measure my observations up against how any cultural practice comes in line with the fruits of the spirit of God. That is my responsibility as well as my duty as a believer. So keep that in mind as I share my heart, here, as someone who found myself passing judgment from my cultural experience, and then felt that of being/feeling judged.

In the south, we talk—to everyone—black, white, Latino, young and old—l mean, we generally drum up conversations in gas lines, grocery store lines, concerts, restaurants—and anywhere where its socially UNDERSTOOD that you generally smile at others, look them in the eye, say “hello,” and speak in light conversation at times, y’all. (Yes, we may seem even annoying to you. Sorry.)

These days, when I go back home, this stark social contrast hits me squarely between the eyes. (Maryland is where I grew up, and I’m now from just below upstate NY) But my now, ‘northern self’ feels like the photo (below) when I’m in the northeast region of the US.

Ever experience this???
“She said ‘hi’ to me!” OMG! Why? Should I say anything back? Just smile? Say ‘hello, and ‘how do you do?’ Will he/she think I’m hitting on them or think it’s creepy when I smile or wave at their children?

THIS IS NOT A CONVERSATION A SOUTHERNER HAS IN THEIR HEAD. (*chuckle*) We just do it. Unless we sense the body language of a northerner that says, “I’d rather not talk, leave me alone.” From the number of people that look at the floor when I approach, I know there is possibly something else at play here. It’s pretty palpable. I’m not going to lie. And I realized it when I felt like group conversation broke out every time I was in a store or restaurant this past week in North and South Carolina. It was such a contrast to what I experienced in my present location, and have become accustomed to (embarrassingly so)! I realize that when I drum up conversations up here in PA/NY, I get looked at like I’m creepy—seriously.  Honestly, I think I look like a harmless soccer mom. It’s really, actually SAD. Some will keep walking, even after I’ve greeted them. Or–they’ll retreat to the safe place of looking at their phone.

I got off the plane in Charlotte, NC for a nice vacation in the OBX with my friend I’ve known since 5th grade. I visit her often and note the interesting workings of relationships and how—well– different we are. To be honest, the southern gentility and hospitality can seem ‘put on’ to those of us from the north, or perhaps ‘too personal.’  (I’m REALLY over here hoping you all are with me and will listen to me for a sec.—ok?)

Since when did people of ALL different races and ethnicity stop talking? Smiling at one another? Looking each other in the eye when passing? Exchanging friendly conversation in public places? Don’t feel guilty here—I’m preaching to the choir—and I’m about to get fired up–so stay with me, y’all! I’m raising my hand with an embarrassed, murmured, “Amen.” I’m not even just talking about engaging with people of other enthnicity–I’m talking all people.

I got off the plane and two ladies of another ethnicity smiled and said ‘hello’ and asked me how my day is going. (WHAT??? Whoa, are you sketchy or something? Hitting on me (?)—ok—a reach—but this is today, folks.) Now hold on—not only that…but aisle after aisle of people from all kinds of ancestry greeted each other, asked ‘how they were doing’, ‘gooed’ over their children, and generally acted like humans were meant to commune together. (GASP!!! WHAT???) It was beautiful. On a plane! And this scenario played out as we visited places of business and walked on the beach throughout our time there.

Social anthropology is the study of human society and cultures through a comparative lens. Social anthropologists seek to understand how people live in societies and how they make their lives meaningful. Anthropologists are concerned with such questions as, “Why do people do what they do? How are societies organized?”

I’m gonna be real here. Nobody judge… please? I’ve already judged myself. I would consider myself ‘that person’ that may annoy you up here in the north, complimenting your clothing, smiling at you, or just engaging in a friendly talk—when you don’t want to.  I mean, I honestly began to wonder if the bizarre nature of all of the talk over wokism, BLM, and the other craziness in the world I’ve been feeling, has somehow been filtered out of everything south of the border. Really! I felt like I was in an alternate reality where people had successfully and healthily navigated two years of hate and division and just kept loving each other and caring for each other. I actually began to wonder if they had their own news sources and media! I mean, it really didn’t get to them. I engaged in enough conversations to test if my theory just might hold merit. Or, I wondered…do they value something we have a blind spot about? (And it’s obvious to us how different we truly are) Well—you judge!

I’m admitting –right here and now—I don’t feel comfortable talking, ‘in general’, since 2020, to other people in our region in public settings (Other than church, of course!). I happen to live just south of the PA border, right below Elmira/Corning, NY area). Around here, I’ve heard of people actually alienating family members and friends for political reasons. They’ve stopped connecting and actually FEAR people. Trust of others has been eroded. I feel it. Especially when I just don’t feel like going out because I may end up in a store when some ‘conflict’ begins. And if so, this non-conflict girl wants to run a million miles away. Here’s where science and human experience collide. As soon as I landed, I decided to interact with everyone in our region like I did in SC for three straight days. I got met with strange looks, scared eyes, people avoiding my smile, looking away, and generally avoiding my ‘space’ (?) But what was interesting (and disturbing) is what “I” did in response, I retracted back into the local culture, and gave up, closing myself back into my quiet world, void of any interaction besides handing someone cash for a purchase. Can I blame myself? Do I want them to feel uncomfortable? No. Can I blame them? No. But when we know better or ‘see’ better, as believers, don’t we want to be more like that? Do I want to go back to my southern culture? Oh yes. But I enjoy that banter and interaction. Some would even call it a ‘preference,’ perhaps. We can make large sweeping observations of a people group, but never judge every single one that way. That, I believe, is the root of where racism begins.

(We southerners are still enjoying the look on your northern faces because we are huggers!! And you can’t stop us!!!)

I stand corrected and humbled by the way I saw people down south treating each other amongst 3 different states and amongst both tourists and locals. I was absolutely astounded and blessed by all of you (if you are one of ‘those,’ you know I’m talking to you!) Thank you for reminding me that it doesn’t matter WHAT a person thinks if I greet them, say something to brighten their day, or just smile at them. (Trust me! I’m not being creepy! I won’t cough on you, shake your hand, or even talk to your children—please, can we just be kind and create a bright spot in each other’s day?)

If you are critical and suspicious of my conclusions, book yourself a trip. It will sober you up really good. I’ve always been teased we live in the “cold northeast” –and by COLD, they don’t mean just the temperature. I’ve lived here 35 years and I 99% agree and look forward to reuniting with my southern self as an obvious ‘snowbird’ candidate right now! Only because I’m comfortable in THAT culture (sub-culture). I realized I missed it. It’s not right or wrong–it’s what I’ve learned, observed, and imitated (having lived in BOTH cultures). But I do believe, in this case, I have to add my Christian bias and say–I like what I saw.

Honor, for instance, is a pervasive value in the south. It can cause you to kill for it, or it can cause you to do things, sacrificially, for the values you stand for, and from those values, you do not waiver. This value has reached its fingers down through the generations and still stands today, in the southern region of the US. This is just one way an ethnography of the US would explain differences in a culture based on regions.

Culture is information capable of affecting individuals’ behavior that they acquire from other members of their species through teaching, imitation, and other forms of social transmission.

In cultural anthropology, we tend to draw conclusions about a culture (people group) based on observation (trying hard to ignore our own, deep cultural judgments). We then write what is called an “ethnography” of that population—many times it’s the last thing we write before graduation where we identify a sub-culture and do an ‘ethnography’ after analyzing our study. But you’d be surprised how shocked and appalled we are when other cultures observe and write about US! Boy, does it turn the tables to see how the world sees ME! If you have an interest in an ethnography of the US since 1900 this would be the read for you:

For the rest of you who find the above as boring as dust—please just hear the heart of what I’m saying. We need to connect more. (I’m preaching to all of us). We need to CONVERSE! We need to smile. I FELT a deluge of human love and kindness hug me in a way I didn’t realize I was craving–and I needed that deep, human embrace, both physically, verbally, emotionally, and mentally. I regained hope in humanity, social healing, and a renewed hope for racial unity.

MY TAKE-AWAY: Yes, it’s my area of study and interest, but I find it such a fascinating degree to be in the social sciences, as, every single day, I observe and watch the nature of man. It prevents me from ‘re-acting’ many times, and instead, forces me to shut my mouth and observe. And as you can see, our natural inclination is to ‘judge’ another culture, but you have no idea the WHY behind it. I challenge you to do the same. Think about WHY you are doing something or reacting a certain way. Take personal stock of possible cultural ‘leanings’ and attempt to take the GOOD things away from the cultures you encounter. Our job as (Christian) social anthropologists is not to pass judgment, but rather to observe, then check our own cultural inclinations at the door and take a look at our own culture and decide, ’Is this cultural practice in line with the fruits of the spirit of God, or not?’ Well, that is our standard. And as a Christian Sociologist/Anthropologist, that is my absolute responsibility and duty. It’s how I process the world around me with my biblical worldview. This particular contrast pointed out, to me, fruits of the spirit I was lacking with my fellow man, and need to practice MUCH more generously (even if I get the creepy look!)  Some of those manifest as kindness, gentleness, meekness, forgiveness, sympathy, tolerance, and above all things, LOVE.

God forgive me. Thank you for my brothers and sisters that always challenge me to be more like YOU. And may my actions be contagious to others.

Speak Your Mind


Culture is information capable of affecting individuals’ behavior that they acquire from other members of their species through teaching, imitation, and other forms of social transmission.