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February 6, 2012 4:52 PM   Subscribe

I have to go to Dothan, AL for a few days for work. What should I not do?

What should I not do in regards to culture and personalities? I don't want to pop into town and offend people with every word or action, so I thought I'd ask the hive :)

Ooo!!! And do you know any good food joints? The spicier the better.

thanks for any advice.
posted by zombieApoc to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
you know, they aren't exactly aliens down in Alabama. :-|
If you treat people politely, you'll be just fine (sort of like any other place in the world).

/spent a lot of time in Georgia and Alabama, and found the people kind, interesting, and friendly.
posted by HuronBob at 4:56 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Speaking as a Southerner who transplanted to New England and then came back - Be nice. Don;t assume you know everything. Don't make fun of things that are new or strange, you never know who you might be offending. Be nice to waitresses.

Basically be nice, and you should be fine.
posted by pupdog at 4:59 PM on February 6, 2012

Don't talk about the Confederacy? Seriously, just be polite to people. You're likely not to see these people again.

Are there specific concerns you have that make you think you will offend someone?
posted by dfriedman at 5:01 PM on February 6, 2012

I really feel like the only things that were culturally difficult for me when I spent time in Alabama (I am from New England) were that everything moved more slowly, which was fine once I got used to it, before that I was just agitated all the time "AAAHHH Why is everything taking so long?!" and that there are a lot of religious people there and so if you go into a public library or something, there is a special Christian section and it is large. Other than that, people were exceptionally friendly, very gracious about basically everything and the food was amazingly delicious [I went mostly to Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Selma] and I had a wonderful time.
posted by jessamyn at 5:01 PM on February 6, 2012

Are there specific concerns you have that make you think you will offend someone?

HA! No, I just thought I'd ask just in case there was some key thing people said not to do.

I ask because if someone asked the same question about where I live currently (Minneapolis) I'd like to share some of the nuances of the city and personalities here.
posted by zombieApoc at 5:07 PM on February 6, 2012

Small talk is important.

Other than that, just be friendly and you will be fine.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:09 PM on February 6, 2012

Lived in Alabama (Auburn) for 15 years. My parents still do. Just don't get weirded out when people are SHOCKINGLY nice, and maybe a bit forward. Ask around (hotel front desk maybe) for local food recommendations, but don't be surprised if they say, "We have an Applebee's!" Try to find barbecue, fried chicken, etc. I don't know the specific area; sorry.
posted by supercres at 5:10 PM on February 6, 2012

Don't drive up to the front of your hotel and wait for the valet. 'Cause after waiting a good long while in front of a hotel in Montgomery I finally realized that there was no valet and you could self-park. That may sound odd, but coming from L.A. where basically every hotel forces you to use the valet and it's gonna cost $27/day, I was shocked. Of course, I may just be an idiot and/or Californian.

Also, I was strolling around Montgomery on an early Sunday morning, and I came upon Dr. King's church, but I was afraid to go in because I was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt and I thought it might be insulting to the churchgoers for me to be dressed so casually. Later some locals assured me that it would have been just fine to go in dressed as I was.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:15 PM on February 6, 2012

Of course, I may just be an idiot and/or Californian.

I grew up in Berkeley *rolls eyes*. So that makes me laugh extra hard :)
posted by zombieApoc at 5:18 PM on February 6, 2012

Don't go around all googly-eyed asking everyone you meet if they or anyone they knew was on the TV show. Beyond that, nothing that small talk with people you come in contact with (wait staff, retail store staff, etc.) is usually appreciated and very common in the South.
posted by pecanpies at 5:24 PM on February 6, 2012

Dothan does have a seedier neighborhood. A friend of mine used to stop there to sleep because it was halfway between her college town and her hometown.

Avoid the prostitute hotels if you can. But that's true of any city, right?
posted by bilabial at 5:35 PM on February 6, 2012

The "just be nice and people will be nice to you" advice seems a little obtuse to me, given that the actual behavior that counts as "nice" is one of the biggest cultural points of contention and friction between Southern culture and a lot of the rest of the country (including where your profile says you live). The Southern version of "nice" includes way more obligatory small talk and way less hands-off respect for other people's privacy and personal space than a Northern-culture person may be used to; people may ask you personal questions and strangers may expect you to have what seem like very long small-talk conversations, and they may be annoyed if you seem at all curt or brief or uninterested. In terser Northern culture you can use brevity and curtness to signal you want to leave, or end a conversation with a stranger by walking away — there are many little ways of doing this that are absolutely fine in other places in the US but are seen as very bad manners in the South. If you're normally outgoing and you normally warm easily to strangers, you'll be fine; if you're not, you may have to fake it.
posted by RogerB at 5:45 PM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

My dad works there! Apparently the Conestoga Steak House is good. I have never been personally, so maybe it is actually a place where we harvest the kidneys of yankees to use for fuel to heat our creationism museums!

I don't know what to tell you, I'm a terse, geeky atheist introvert and nobody really bothers me here in Huntsville, AL. (Not a big social circle either tho :/ ) I don't advertise my views, but I haven't had any big problem with prying questions. I could stand more prying questions. I've been to New England and I can't really tell the difference in terms of manners, everybody seemed equally polite to me. (Zero social skills tho, so I may have failed the check to be capable of failing the check to read emotions). I can tell the difference in terms of racism though, unfortunately you might notice that in a southern town. Your original post doesn't mention, are you a person of color? Because if so I'm sorry to tell you that your experience will probably not be like mine.

The horror of all these towns to me is that they're suburban houses, strip malls, and churches. I just don't see this southern community that people talk about, just more individuals growing more and more individualistic.

If you run into somebody who is a super-sharing fundamentalist, my advice is treat it like somebody who is really way too much into stamp collecting. If they insist on showing you their stamp collection, you have to make a choice about whether a good relationship with them is worth feigning interest, or if honesty is necessary even if it does offend. These people are used to the "ohhhh, that's nice I guess" type response, I see them get it all the time.
posted by SomeOneElse at 6:35 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hey, I have some relatives in that area! One thing to know is that it's not a huge Alabama metropolis. That's not to say anything bad about it, just that it's not on the cutting edge of AL culture.

Small talk is important.

Underscored a thousand times. One of the things that causes people from elsewhere to get off on the wrong foot in the South is not understanding that it's customary to kind of "pass the time" with people - recognize their humanity a little, take a moment - before launching in to what you need. It's sort of all about that different relationship with time that Jessamyn noted.

So say, for instance, you want to know a good place to get barbecue (*Recommended). Instead of walking up to a clerk in a gas station and saying "Hey, do you know a good place to get barbecue?" You'll get a lot farther if you start by passing the time, as follows:

"Good morning!"
"How are you today?"
"[Comment on the weather]."
"You seem like you know this area. Do you mind if I ask you a question?"
["Why no, I don't mind a bit."]
"I have heard that there is some excellent barbecue in this area. Is that true?
["Why yes it sure is true."]
"Is that right?! I'm happy to hear that. Now, I wonder if you could tell me where I might go nearby here to get a sample of that barbecue."

This kind of thing, I know, seems utterly ridiculous to many people from elsewhere. But in the deep South, this is polite, shows respect, lets everybody have some dignity, and greases the social wheels to a great extent. Not everyone will insist on it, but nobody will be upset by it. Be ready to pass the time of day with people. Everything's not in a rush.

This region is a good place to avoid opening up discussions with relative strangers on the topics of race, politics, and religion. First of all, the general courtly atmosphere of the region sort of mediates against having these discussions with strangers. Secondly, you will at some point likely encounter views or customs that you really don't agree with. Social harmony is prized, and especially advised for a visitor. If you do stray into topics like this with people who aren't your fellow travelers, you'll may find that all of your problematic views will be ascribed to the fact that you just 'don't understand' how things are in this place. That may well be true, regardless of whether or not it's right.

And I really don't mean to characterize a whole region as non-progressive. There are many, many, courageous, lovely, forward-thinking, intellectual, and progressive people throughout the South and you'll run across them. You may exclusively be around them. Just be aware that you might run across some regressive strains of social viewpoint that are a more out in the open than you'd see elsewhere.

The food will amaze breakfast out, eat in mom and pop joints, get grits. As far as regional specialties you'll find good barbecue, but also look for family style restaurants that will serve you chicken or pork with all the sides, like beans, cornbread, greens, squash, and pickles. I strongly recommend the Roadfood forums for good tips on where to get food.
posted by Miko at 7:25 PM on February 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh, and "sir" and "ma'am" go a long way with strangers.
posted by Miko at 7:35 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to live there. Like somebody said, we're not aliens, and it's not like people in south Alabama are unaware that the rest of the world exists. It's not Mayberry, there aren't that many front porches, and as long as you're not a total asshole who looks down your nose at people, you will be forgiven for not being chatty or saying "yes, ma'am." Unless you're thinking of moving there, nobody is going to prosthelytize or try to get you to come to church with them.

Rule of thumb: Southerners have just as many preconceived notions about you as you do about them, but they're generally polite enough not to mention it and make you uncomfortable. Return the favor and you'll do fine.

There are a few things that are guaranteed to offend people though - for the love of God don't talk about politics. Don't be disparaging about guns, hunting, religion, conservatives or suburbia or how everybody is overweight and eating fried chicken (some stereotypes are just true).

Definitely bring some books or DVDs or something, because there is not much to do other than eat out. As far as restaurants, Conestoga is a great steakhouse. Blue Plate is a good family-style, meat and three place. And Hunts Seafood is totally worth it. Warning: Tastiness is usually inversely proportional to atmosphere. If you avoid the chains, you'll get great food that's often locally grown.

Cowboy's is the name of the local country bar if you're up for some real redneck culture. There are usually least a couple of gay bars open - MeMail me if you're interested and I can find out what/where those are now. And of course you can find some generic clubs or live bands on the weekend.

Speaking of music, people in Dothan love their live bands, and especially frat-tastic college sounds like Phish (or whatever the current equivalent is). So if you're into live music and around at the end of the week, definitely check out a local band.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 8:39 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't do what I did 36 years ago and get born there. Things have been messed up for me ever since.

Family moved out when I was only 3, and I've only been back once so I can't answer from a town specific perspective, but as a general Southern-ism, you should be warned about the sweet tea.

It's sweeter than you'll be expecting. Really. We're talking a beverage that can fell Wilford Brimley or any other diabetic from 500 yards out. In my experience, the usual brewing method brings the sugar content just shy of the supersaturation point, but there have been a few glasses I've had where I'd been afraid of tapping the glass too hard to lest it precipitate back out.

If you order tea, sweet tea will be the default. You can request unsweetened, and you may get some eyerolls if you do, but most places can accommodate that request.
posted by radwolf76 at 10:01 PM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thank you for the advice everyone, this type of information was exactly what I was looking for.

Off to the airport. (literally now, otherwise I'd do some smalltalk)
posted by zombieApoc at 2:21 AM on February 7, 2012

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