As we are packing up our belongings and making plans for moving, we have been reflecting on what living in the South has taught us. We’ve only spent 8 ½ months here, but because we travel around and explore the area so much, we feel like we’ve really experienced true Southern living. Hey, living through the “dog days of summer” in the South surely has to count for something!
I wanted to take this time to write about the things we’ve learned through living here. I love that we have the opportunity to live in different parts of the country and learn about what makes each area unique. This country is so amazing, and life can be so different depending on which state or region you live in. Sometimes the differences are so subtle or seem so natural that someone who’s lived there their whole life wouldn’t realize their lifestyle is so different compared to someone else’s from another state. Of course you can experience parts of the different lifestyles by vacationing to different places, but the best way to get to really intimately know an area is by living there for a longer period of time. So as a Midwestern girl that has spent 20+ years in Iowa and 2 in Arizona, here’s my take on what we learned from living in the South, and what makes life in Charleston, South Carolina unique. [if you’re interested, here is a similar post that I wrote after living 1 year in Arizona.]
1 | Why Southerners like Sweet Tea. Why Southerns NEED Sweet Tea. The need for Sweet Tea is real. I am forever changed. I would have never considered ordering sweet tea at a restaurant – but after doing so twice in the first 3 weeks of living here, I knew I was in trouble. I started craving it and thinking about it too much. I quickly started perfecting my sweet tea recipe, and we now enjoy it every day with lunch. (made with Rockville Raspberry tea from Charleston’s Tea Plantation!) I am proud to say I’ve also scaled back on the amount of sugar I’m using, but still…the need for sweet tea is real.
2 | There are gators everywhere, kinda like deer in Iowa/Midwest. Just as if you’re in a forested area and you’d expect to see deer, so also if you are in a swamp/area somewhere near water, you can expect to see them in the right season. However, gators don’t run out in the middle of a busy road and total your car (at least not that I’ve heard). There are 100,000 gators that call the Low Country of SC home. If you’re hoping to see one, a warm sunny day in the spring is a great time to see a gator — we saw the most in one day on our visit to Magnolia Plantation.
Yes, that is our car. Yes, that is a gator.
3 | How to get an alligator out of underneath your car. (Learned from experience. True story.)
4 | How to react when being chased by an alligator. (Thankfully didn’t learn this one through experience.)
5 | Fried chicken. Fried chicken is everywhere. It’s around every corner. There are like 5 different chains all over the place, and that isn’t even counting the local places. It’s everywhere.
6 | It’s possible to NOT eat fried chicken while living in the South. We made it our goal and succeeded. It was the easiest goal to accomplish ever – because I am NEVER in the mood for fried chicken.
7 | Dry Heat in AZ at 110º is 100% BETTER than Humidity in SC at 80º (oh yeah, and summer temps get much higher than that – almost to 100. *dies a little inside*).
8 | Winter isn’t “pleasant” like in the SW, it’s simply milder than a Midwest winter – no snow, but cold! It’s totally unfair. Maybe if we had lived in the SE before the SW our opinions would be different…but for now, we can’t imagine why so many people choose East coast over West??
9 | Pretty sure that no matter where you live, you can be completely convinced that drivers in your area are the worst…but trust me, they’re the worst here. 😉
10 | When driving over railroad tracks, you’re required to slow down to about 5 mph to not wreck your tires/alignment. At first we joked about how everyone would slow down so much when approaching them, but then we quickly understood why. It’s probably because they’re just so old.
11 | Those nasty bugs that you see outside and sometimes inside your house…everyone else around the country calls them cockroaches, but down here, they’re “palmetto bugs.” Pretty sure they only call them that so they don’t sound so disgusting, (the differences between the two are color, size, and wing span. Big deal.) but trust me, THEY’RE STILL DISGUSTING. I’ll live through a winter every year for the rest of my life if it means never seeing a “palmetto bug” again! In Iowa and Arizona, you may see a palmetto bug/cockroach once in your home. If you see more…it’s probably an infestation. Here, if you don’t see them in your home, you are either blind or protected by angels.
12 | The weathermen are wrong 80% of the time. (I just made up that percentage on the spot – just like the weathermen in the South do!)
13 | Rain can be predicted for an entire week, and storm clouds can hover over the area that whole time…but not a drop will fall. When it rains, it pours. Just torrential downpours. We met some family that lived in Washington state before moving here and they said they’re sure that SC gets more rain than WA.
Let’s take a break from our silly little rants and appreciate how pretty Charleston can be. Good? Alright, let’s keep going. 😉
14 | Hurricane season lasts from June until November. There are evacuation route signs all over. Immensely thankful that we didn’t have to deal with that (yet…knock on wood). There were some tropical storms, but they only brought rain (as far as I know – we weren’t around the weekend when the bigger one came through!)
15 | So. Many. Spiders. Spider webs pop up everywhere – inside and out – every day. Ew.
16 | This was my first time living in a place where you are literally swarmed by mosquitoes from the moment that you set foot outside. 10/10 would not recommend. The best days are the days after they do the aerial bug spray.
17 | When you live in one area for an extended period of time, you learn how to tell what season it is not by the month on the calendar, but by what bugs are out, what flowers are blooming, and any other weird patterns in nature. Things we learned: January-March the Japanese Camellias are in bloom. Wisteria and azaleas come out in mid March and stay for about a month. Crepe Myrtles fill the South with their lovely hot pink blooms in the hot, hot days of June and July. These nasty black flies were all over the place in May when it started getting hot, and made going for walks miserable. In mid-March, pollen armies attacked the entire city and turned everything outside – sidewalks, cars, houses, anything – a dusty yellow color. Then it rained, and the pollen literally turned the curbsides yellow. My mind had completely blocked that from my memory until I just came across a picture. Yikes.
Pollen. Pollen everywhere.
18 | An interesting cultural parallel: In Northern AZ the Navajo people often subsidize their living by selling pots and fry bread in roadside stalls. Here, the Gullah-Geechee (descendants of former slaves) do the same selling sweet-grass baskets and boiled peanuts (a Southern delicacy).
19 | Being outdoorsy people, we were a little disappointed and underwhelmed by the outdoor scene in the Low Country. Instead of doing outdoorsy things, amusement and activities are found in themed festivals, bars, restaurants, and going to the beach. Outside options for hiking include county parks, walking through thickly wooded and usually wet or flooded trails, or driving a ways inland to a state park or the National Forest for more walking through woods. Sunscreen not necessary, but load up on the bug spray!
“Hiking” in Congaree National Park
20 | The above has made me really think about why I hike, and why I enjoy it. Take the “end reward” out of the picture — a peak, a vista, a waterfall, a cool rock formation — do you still want to go for a hike? Do you hike for the reward, or for the action of hiking in itself? Sometimes it’s hard to be considered hiking if the elevation doesn’t change. In that case, why not just walk around a garden in a plantation, on a beach, or down the historic streets of Charleston? Here, hiking to me means getting away from the big city, from the crowds and tourists, and learning to appreciate the plants and trees and scenery that make the Low Country unique.
21 | Cypress trees are really cool. So are the Live Oaks. After living in a desert, the trees were kind of a culture shock for us, and we loved it! Spanish Moss can be so picturesque. I could never find the perfect way to capture its quiet, serene beauty with my camera.
Beautiful trees on our walk through Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site.
22 | The best way to see Charleston/the Low Country is by water. (We learned this too late – if you’re outdoorsy, invest in a kayak or canoe and embrace it. You won’t be disappointed!)
23 | What the Low Country lacks in elevation, it makes up for in rich history, some of it very important, some minor, all of it interesting. The state is over 300 years old after all! You can find it everywhere – a beautiful house or church in historic downtown Charleston, visiting one of the well-known forts (e.g. Moultrie or Sumter), or some old church ruins off the beaten path (Sheldon, Pon-Pon Chapel, or Prince Frederick).
24 | When I lived in Iowa, people would say how my hometown had “nothing to do”, and at that time I would probably agree. However, I have learned in the past 3 years that each place is what you make it. In Tucson, Arizona, there was so much to do outdoors – and maybe in the city too, but we spent most of our time in the mountains. Here in Charleston, things to do include beaches, historical sites, the historic district downtown, plantations, and museums. When I lived in Iowa, finding things to do wasn’t my focus, because I let myself be tied down to the routines of life: school, work, time with family and friends. None of that is bad of course, but if I were to ever go back, I hope I can take what I’ve learned and really make an effort to go out and try different things. You can’t always control where you live, but you can control how you live and your attitude about it.
Charleston, South Carolina is a beautiful, charming city, and even though we felt it was missing the things we like to do the most, we made the most of every week we were here and are leaving with a mostly completed bucket list and no regrets. We could come back someday, either with the Navy or on our own, but if we don’t, we know that we truly were able to enjoy the beauty and uniqueness of the Low Country. The South will forever be a part of our story, and we are so thankful for that.