Wednesday, March 24, 2004
The quick draw of the slow drawl
By RONDA RICH
I, for one, am tired of people making fun of the way I talk. Its so humiliating the way that folks will just walk right up to me and mockingly spit my words back into my face.
Theres seems to be an unwritten rule in the universe that the drawl of Southerners is fair game for the wicked of heart. I have never heard a Southerner gather up the odd-sounding enunciation of someone from Long Island or Boston and throw the words hatefully back in their faces. Were much kinder than that. We wait and do it behind their backs.
Still, I face this prejudice wherever I go. Though, it does infuriate me more when it comes from someone who moves into my territory and then takes issue with the way I and my fellow Southerners speak. I wonder why they would move into a region where the local dialect and accent seems to grate on their nerves so.
I was coming out of a restaurant in Beverly Hills recently, after lunching with a producer friend of mine. I stooped down to speak to a toddler who was sharing her stroller with a puppy. Her mother smiled sweetly as we talked and then asked - and I promise that she did not ask it in a malicious way, just a curious one - Where are you from?
Georgia, I replied with a smile, thinking I had found a new friend.
She shook her head in wonderment. When I first heard you speak, I thought you were from another country.
At a speaking engagement in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, a woman sitting at my table asked the same question. When she heard the answer, she laughed and said in a degrading tone, I thought so. I could tell from the way you talk.
Anger flashed over me but calmly, I asked, Where are you from?
She settled back in her seat and smiled smugly. Kentucky.
Kentucky? Please. At first, I was indignant then it occurred to me that its getting pretty bad when people from Kentucky make fun of the way I drawl.
But heres what Ive found: For every one of her, theres 10 - normally men - who melt at the cadence of my words. I approached three male employees at New Yorks LaGuardia Airport and asked a question.
No one answered. Each just stood there, looking at me, all eyes glazed over dreamily. Finally, one closed his eyes, smiled beatifically and asked, Would you just stand there and talk and let us listen to you?
I did a television show with the famed and forever young Dick Clark. Same thing. He softly but sweetly mimicked my words, threw a hand to his heart and said, Oh, dont you just love the way she talks?
So, Ive learned not to be offended, but instead to grab each opportunity and use it to full advantage. I call it the quick draw of the slow drawl. It works great in business, especially in New York. I just let them think that my mind ticks as slow as my words crawl. I use it to charm, cajole and, most importantly, confuse.
As for the woman in Beverly Hills, I laughed off her comment about being from another country.
How clever of you! I replied with a wink and a smile. I thought that we Southerners were the only ones who thought we had our own country!
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should) and My Life In The Pits. She lives in Gainesville, in north Georgia.]