Culture shock hits when a very nice southern lady asks her Minnesota Yankee relatives a question in a foreign language.
Years ago, when my grandfather died, we drove down to his funeral in Tennessee and met a bunch of our southern relatives for the first time. They were very hospitable, and were as curious about their unknown Yankee relatives as we were about them. Wandering around my grandparents’ small house, I overheard many conversations that were almost incomprehensible from the strong southern drawls. The key word there is “almost.” If we had wanted to, we could have joined in without too much trouble. Then my sister and I went past a nice lady who looked at us like the long, lost relatives we were. She introduced herself as someone she expected us to know, and asked who we were. When we said we were the deceased’s grandchildren, her face lit up and she said, “Oh! Yooner flavormay?” My sister and I pretended we hadn’t heard her. I chuckled, tapped my ear, and leaned forward. “I’m sorry...?” I said. “Yooner flavormay?” she asked again, louder. My sister and I looked at each other like deer sharing a pair of headlights, agreed with whatever the lady was asking and decided we needed to eat something at that table way over there over on the other side of the room. To this day, we have no idea what that nice woman was either asking or commenting on. I wrote it phonetically, as “Yooner flavormay”, because that’s what it sounded like to my unprepared Yankee ears. What actual words she was using, and what information she was trying to convey, are a mystery to this day – at least to us. There’s part of me that wants to drive back to Tennessee someday and walk around bellowing, “Yooner flavormay?! Yooner flavormay?!” until someone’s face lights up and he walked over to chat. Then I can beg, “Please...I’m a Yankee. What did I just say?” Another thing – southerners don’t know how to pronounce Germanic names. My wife Shawn’s maiden name is Hauer, which nearly every Minnesotan knows enough to pronounce as “How-er”, as in “How’re you?” without the “you” part. When Shawn’s older brother Ty enlisted in the Marines, he was sent to a base in Mississippi for basic training. Every now and then the Hauer family would get a call from a Mississippi telephone operator saying something like, “Will you accept a collect phone call from a...um...Tah...Ha-aa-OOer?” The first time, Shawn’s parents said “No” and hung up. They didn’t know any Tah Ha-aa-OOer. They figured it out the second time, though. But until you can explain to me what “Yooner flavormay?” means, don’t you get all Yankee uppity and superior on me.