1. Pick a side.
Auburn or Alabama? War Eagle or Roll Tide?
First things first: if you’re crossing state lines in a U-Haul, you better start making up your mind about your favorite football team. This is easily the biggest decision you’ll make in your entire life, but there isn’t much by way of research to be had. While you can certainly look at all the stats, choosing sides is more of a feeling than a science experiment.
The one thing you have to know, though: Once you’ve chosen a side, you can never change sides. Ever.
2. Find a family (or love your own).
Now that we’ve got the big decision out of the way, it’s time to find a family. In Alabama, we use the term “family” to loosely describe any group of likeminded individuals with whom you may regularly spend a decent amount of time. You’ll have your work family, your church family, your actual family, your extended family, and several social groups in which to take part.
It’s important that you find a family, even if they aren’t directly connected to your own. Why? Because Alabama culture is all about family, and any group you really connect with will have a vested interest in making sure you’re not alone on holidays and other seasonal events.
If you’ve never had an opportunity to be a part of a greater whole, you’ll find that inclusiveness in Alabama.
3. Find a church, and get right with God.
You’ll need a church, and you’ll find that most places have quite a selection, even if you’re living in the country. Feel free to attend services at various churches and denominations. See if you jive with the pastor, the congregation, and the church vision. If you do, great! If you don’t, try again. Just make sure that you bring a few dollars for the offering plate.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find a church you like in your first few attempts, either, or if the church schedule conflicts with your life schedule. Some church have an earlier service or a late-night service. Most churches attend on Wednesday for a midweek service, as well. Many churches host an after-service gathering, as well, so be on the lookout for that.
But as with selecting your football team, finding a church is as much about a feeling as anything else. If you’re not feeling it, you’re not feeling it. It’s as simple as that.
4. Hit up the local Wal-Mart for all your shopping needs.
There are a ton of big box retailers in Alabama, often to the detriment of local businesses and shop owners. You’ll be within driving distance of a Wal-Mart, and it’s the one-stop shop for all your needs. Some cities and towns even have more than one, so if you don’t like the flavor of your local store, just drive across town to another location!
Everybody shops at Wal-Mart for just about everything, and most are open 24 hours. If you need specific brands or specialty equipment, feel free to hit up specialty stores like Winn Dixie or the Bass Pro Shop, but just know that you can start and finish most shopping trips at the local Wal-Mart.
5. Know thy gun.
I’m not saying you have to own a gun in Alabama, but you should at least know a little about them because of the cultural impact. A lot of people have guns, often for no reason other than to own them. Because Alabama supports castle doctrine, keep in mind that you may be putting your life in danger by trespassing onto private property. Is it likely? No. But there are crazies everywhere, and Alabama is no exception. Except here, bullets might factor into the equation.
Also, learn about hunting seasons if you’re planning to be outside. Maybe add a little safety orange to your wardrobe if you’re going for a walk in the woods. Hunting is a huge deal in Alabama, and if you’re coming from an urban environment where people don’t stalk the trees in search of unsuspecting deer, a walk in the woods can be deadly.
6. Learn to say “ain’t”.
There’s a certain dialect in Alabama comprised of “ain’t”, “ya’ll”, and “don’t got”. You’ll figure it out as you go along, but when you hear it, make note. Nothing will ingratiate you to the locals more than naturally adopting the language of the land. Don’t try to force it or it’ll just come off snooty — and ain’t nobody gonna like that.
You’ll also want to pay close attention to how cities are pronounced and which ones have nicknames. These things vary across the state, making this an exercise in time and patience. However, if you want to become an Alabamian, learning the dialect is part of it.
7. Praise the AC, and complain about any temperature below 65 degrees.
If you’re coming to Alabama and your house doesn’t have central AC, you either need to buy one or purchase a window AC unit. Temperatures soar into the high 90s, sometimes above 100 with extreme heat index and humidity, and your cooling system will be working overtime through the summer months. You’ll end up using it through the winter as well, because November and December days can still climb into the high 80s.
Additionally, when the temperature drops below 65, you should complain about how absolutely frigid it is and dress in multiple layers. You’ll peel those layers off as the temperature climbs throughout the day, but don’t be surprised if your fellow Alabamians panic like the world is ending at the slightest frost or the threat of wintery weather.
8. Sample the southern eats.
Have you ever had grits? How about fried green tomatoes? Hush puppies? Alabama white sauce BBQ? A venison burger?
Being an Alabamian is all about loving the local flavor and sampling dishes you haven’t experienced elsewhere. If you’re near the Alabama coast, be sure to try the fresh shrimp and oysters. If not, any sampling of the southern classics will let you know exactly where your palate stands and what adjustments you might need to make.
A note to weight watchers: Southern food isn’t the healthiest of foods. The deep frier is a beloved household appliance, so watch your waistline if you’re planning on diving in.
9. Add a little camo to your wardrobe. And your car. And your accessories.
A little camo never hurt anyone, but in Alabama, it’s something you can usually expect in some form or fashion. In the past few decades, camouflage has grown from a hunter’s necessity to a southern fashionista’s friend. You’ll find it painted onto cars, printed onto purses, and pressed into all sorts of fabric.
If you’re looking to embrace the southern spirit, don’t think twice about picking up something with a classic Realtree pattern. It can be a ballcap with your favorite sports team logo on it, or some light gloves with pink stitching, but camo is a stylish fashion in Alabama. Just don’t go overboard with it. There is such a thing as too much camo, and you’ll know it when you see it.
10. Mind your manners.
If you head into Alabama with a New York attitude, it’s not going to go well for you. Most Alabamians follow traditional mannerisms. Expect a please and a thank you when you’re asked to do something. If someone says “‘ma’am” or “sir” to you, they’re just being polite.
That also means that you won’t find many locals who rock the boat through directness or social abrasion. There are niceties and formalities to be followed if you want to get your way. Be sure to keep that in mind when speaking to superiors and elders. Whether you agree with it or not, following those traditions while in the conservative south will take you farther than flailing against the system.