1. You don’t belong to a church.
Not everybody in the South goes to church, but almost everyone has a church they’d go to, if they were going to go. If you don’t have a good lay of the land when it comes to local churches, including denominational affiliation and some former experience, it’s a good hint that you’re not from around here.
In small towns, it’s not worth trying to fake it, either. That’s a good way to get caught in a lie — and Alabamians don’t like liars.
That’s a sin, didn’t you hear?
2. You’re freaking out about the wrong weather.
We’re going to have some follow-up questions concerning your origin if, under the threat of a low-category hurricane or tropical storm, you acquire any of the following: plywood, lumber, duct tape, sandbags, extreme rain gear, a canoe.
Seriously, a tropical storm isn’t even going to close schools, especially if you’re a few hours inland.
However, under the threat of snow, you should freak out. We don’t know what snow tires are. Nobody has a plow. Nobody understands how salt on roadways works, or at what point the roads will become icy and slick.
You should rush to the grocery store and purchase all the bread and milk, because it will be gone until additional supplies can be shipped from another part of the country to relieve this state of emergency.
Oh, and it might snow. Maybe.
3. You really don’t want something to drink.
If you’re invited into someone’s home, they’re going to offer you food and a drink. Usually, you can get away with turning down the food, but if you refuse both, you’ll raise a red flag.
Your host wants to feel like they’ve done a good job taking care of you. So, even if you’re not thirsty, accept a drink and just sip it. Otherwise, we’re going to ask you if you’re sure you’re not thirsty at least eight times an hour.
4. You’re polite, but not friendly-polite.
Southern folk are often very open people. It’s not that everyone is walking around with their guard down. An Alabamian’s hospitality can easily cross the line from “polite” to downright friendly, even at first blush.
If you’re not from around here, being polite and minding your manners earns you extra points, so long as it’s not stilted and formal. When your formalities are rigid, it’s a dead giveaway that you’re from out of town. Alabamian politeness is relaxed and easygoing. We’re just as likely to greet old friends and strangers with equal enthusiasm.
5. You said it wrong.
Pronounce the following: Mobile. Huntsville. Montgomery. Anniston. Selma. If you used every syllable, you just gave yourself away.
Even the best-spoken Alabama natives will crush those syllables together when referencing a town to other locals. Mobile becomes “Mo-beel”. Huntsville becomes “Huns-vul”. Selma sounds like “Seh-ma”.
Knowing where to leave syllables behind will go a long way in making you sound like a local.
6. You’re not sure what we just said.
The Alabama accent isn’t quite the same as other accents in the South. It’s a little more rough and tumble, and it can be much harder to understand — especially when taken at speed. Add in a little slang and you get phrases like:
“I’m fixin’ to take this buggy back up front. Get meemaw and pawpaw in the car, and ya’ll buckle up. Tide’s playing at one.”
Which translates roughly to:
“I’m about to take this shopping cart to the front (of the store). Get grandma and grandpa in the car, and everyone should buckle up. The Alabama Crimson Tide is playing at 1:00PM.”
If you’re ever caught in a crossfire of southern slang and you’re not sure what someone said, just ask. We might make fun of you for being a snowbird, but nobody wants you to be left out in the south.
7. You try to imitate our accent.
You’ll get it wrong and you’ll piss people off.
8. You don’t have family over that often.
As deeply rooted as any religious affiliation, Alabama traditions circulate around family reunions and get-togethers. It’s not uncommon to see a ton of cars crowding a relative’s yard when all the kids and grandkids come over to watch the Big Game. If you don’t have a family gathering to attend or family stories to share, we’ll catch on to your estrangement pretty quick.
The good news is that Alabamians are hospitable and want everyone to belong. If you don’t have a family and want to take part, let people know. You’re sure to receive an invite somewhere along the way.
9. You’re not too sure what this Iron Bowl business is all about.
High school football, game day parades, tailgating, wall-to-wall news coverage, restaurant specials. All of these are hallmarks of any football event. It’s a big deal, even at the local level.
The Iron Bowl is a statewide war, with battle lines drawn in crimson and orange. Take any “normal” game day and multiply by a factor of ten.
We’ll think you’re a little strange for not taking part.
10. You’re not sure why autumn is such a big to-do.
Fall in Alabama is a return to order and outdoors. Kids in the state get the summers off, usually from May to August when the temperatures soar. This is earlier than many other states. Headed into fall, kids go back to school — and that’s the signal that things are about to get fun.
Autumn brings sports back to the state. Everyone is affiliated with the football culture here, both at the local and college level. Kids are either playing football, cheerleading, or marching in the band. Supporting the team is a community effort.
Hunting also starts up in the fall, and deer are abundant in the Alabama woodlands. Catching a ten- or twelve-point buck is a point of pride for most gun-toting’ country boys.
If you’re not into the game and gun culture, we’ll definitely wonder why.
11. You’re not going to Gulf Shores for spring break or family vacation.
Whether it’s a family vacation or spring break, headed down to “the beach” means headed to Gulf Shores or Pensacola Beach (the PCB). Everyone in Alabama does this like it’s some kind of annual ritual.
If you’re headed somewhere else, expect us to be curious. It’s pretty rare to find an Alabamian who isn’t traveling to the beach (or to Disney World on rare occasion), but most aren’t catching a plane to globe trot.