“Could I have some water, please?”
“Iced tea? Is that sweet or unsweetened?”
Being a non-American, in the land of the free and the brave is pretty much like the reverse of trying to find Wally; I may as well have been wearing a branded mark on my forehead to let everyone know I spoke English and not American. But the month I spent with family in the South was brilliant: it was everything I did and didn’t expect.
“So what do you think about Brexit?”
If my accent hadn’t given me away, my fast-paced nature surely did. During the first two weeks in Texas, I quickly familiarised myself with my surroundings and made sense of the quiet, slow pace that people in the South seem to prefer; especially over the stress that most Europeans feel. It is admirable to witness how much Americans enjoy living and take in the simple beauties that the day can bring. From talking to a new person to going to their favourite restaurant, every day is a joy that they cherish and don’t intend to rush.
Soon after, we began the roadtrip by driving to Louisiana, a diverse state with some of the best food in the south. With Cajun backgrounds and most diners and restaurants giving homemade meals, they make you feel immediately at ease. We continued on through Mississippi, continuously greeted by smiles and conversation. By avoiding the infamous I10, we took the highways instead of interstates so that we could drive nearer to the sea for the spectacular view. We made it to Alabama and took the ferry to get to Gulf Shores where we would stay for three days.
“If you want local and good, I’d recommend Shux, best seafood ever.”
Bar the stunning weather, seafood, and charming people, what makes the south grandiose is its abundance in space and resources. Entire aisles in supermarkets are dedicated to ice cream and there are so many choices that you can easily feel overwhelmed by the whole experience. Iced tea is exclusively sold at every cafe, restaurant, convenience store, and gas station you could find. I couldn’t help but feel like I had travelled into the American novels I’d read as a child.
The stay at Gulf Shores was invigorating to say the least. The beach was never as crowded as European ones, the calming waves and white sand healed my sunshine cravings immediately. We travelled to a few places in Alabama to make most of the state; most worthwhile destinations being Foley and Fairhope, especially the latter; which was named after the migration of people wanting to come together with “a fair hope of success.” Amazingly, we managed to have dinner at a restaurant in Florida on one night – since going from one state to the next is so easy.
“I’m sorry but I couldn’t help hearing your accent, where are you from?”
I think my favourite thing was how you could see the transition between states and by the things which make them unique.
My cousin, who had grown up and lived in North America all her life, had seen these sights and wasn’t too bothered.
As much as I loved growing up in cities, there’s something endearing about living in remote places. We soon arrived in Tennessee where we spent a week at a lake house. The most worthwhile places we visited here were, Chattanooga with the Incline Railway, Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls and Rock City. I once again met many locals who were very friendly, to the point where I suspected that it was all a cover, only to be disappointed when realising that being friendly and social is just a common sign of respect in the south.
We then entered the Carolinas and I couldn’t stop marvelling at the scenery. My eyes were glued to the window like a curious child seeing the world for the first time. We mainly stayed in North Carolina, where the scenery was still absolutely stunning. One day we visited Biltmore Estate, still owned privately by the family to this day; who never make any profit since all the money from sales go back into the many staff and upkeep of the estate. We left by the end of the day and drove on through to South Carolina and into Georgia through the night, getting to hear family stories I hadn’t yet heard before- the only downside of being so far away from them. We made our way back to Texas, having driven a total of around 3000 miles throughout the whole trip. We didn’t get to see everything we’d planned on seeing, but with some improvisation and basic planning, the roadtrip went above my expectations.
“You could potentially meet up with a friend in the same state as you for lunch and forget you’re both in different timezones.”
Having lived and breathed the ease of life that the South seemed to exert, my perspective was greatly affected. The most common factors between states were the food, iced tea, fried pickles and seafood (though perhaps not together), I was always met with warmth by strangers who were happy to just strike up a conversation, plus the actual customer service (that one really took me by surprise). Lastly, they all had an ease that seemed to be translated in every walk of life.
It was a memorable summer to say the least, one that I shan’t be forgetting for a very, very long time. Thank you America.