1. Fawn over our accents.
The Panhandle has a bunch of diverse accents. They can range from out-of-staters who say y’all to the super twang of “water” becoming wu-tur. Then there’s the classy Southern accent, where “Florida” becomes Flah-reee-daah! (You have to swoop your hands when you it say that way.)
The most annoying thing in the world is when someone stops us mid-sentence and asks: “Now just what type of accent is that?! IT IS DARLING! SAY SOMETHING ELSE.” I don’t have a strong accent but this happens to me all the time. If I had a nickel for every drunk woman who tried to imitate my Southern accent in a bar, I’d throw those nickels at those women.
2. Feed the seagulls.
If you’ve been to any beach anywhere you’ve probably seen a seagull. In New England they’re kind of pretty. They’re big and grey and white and almost majestic looking. Listening to them caw might not be some sort of hellish torture. In the Panhandle, they’re drowned rats with wings that should have stayed drowned. They are terrible. Everyone hates them. When I was a kid I threw rocks at them.
For some reason tourists think it’s really cute to feed seagulls French fries, potato chips, hotdogs, whatever it is they’re eating. Tourists really love it when they can get a picture of the seagull gently lifting — and by gently lifting, I mean violently yanking — a food item from someone’s fingers. There are signs everywhere saying: Don’t do it. Seriously, they will come out of nowhere in a cawing swarm.
But if you decide feeding a seagull would be sweet and fun and would make the world a better place, I hope that seagull and his 20 friends shit all over you, your iPhone, and all of your other precious things.
3. Assume that thing brushing your leg in the water is a shark.
It really makes a trip to the beach that much more fun to hear: “OH MY GOD A SHARK JUST TOUCHED ME AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHoh…it’s just some seaweed.”
It’s also really special when you ask every local you meet about the sharks. The entire coast of Florida has had a shark issue at some point or another. I’ve caught sharks fishing before, and I knew a classmate who was bitten. Here’s a hint: Sharks really, really like blood. If someone is fishing near where you want to flop around in the waves, you should probably go somewhere else. To a shark you look like a delicious thing to eat. He doesn’t know you’re a person with feelings.
In 2012, 28 people in Florida got bit by sharks, and there were no fatalities. So please go to the beach and don’t worry about them.
4. Trash our beaches.
For mysterious reasons, it’s really popular for guests to visit the beach and leave their piles of shit just sitting there because they’re coming back the next day. It’s also common to throw cigarette butts into the ocean. And because lugging their trash all the way to a trash can off-beach is such a pain, people just leave it where they spent the day.
This trashing counts not only for our beaches but also our rivers. It doesn’t seem to matter to our visitors that all of this trash is POLLUTION. It hurts our Earth (you know, the big blue planet we live on). Even during the BP crisis when EVERYONE was picking up trash, people were still leaving TONS of it. I, myself, picked up a bag worth of trash before someone approached me and accused me of throwing away their bright yellow plastic shovel that they left on the beach. Apparently they wanted to turn it into a tar ball. Um…what the hell?!
Also, if you leave all your shit on the beach during sea turtle nesting season, you’re preventing one of the most amazing creatures in the world from laying her eggs. And when her eggs hatch and your cooler of beer and lounge chair are still there months later, you’re the asshole.
5. Assume it’s party time ALL THE TIME.
Okay yes, the coastline of the Panhandle is Spring Break party central. Yes, having parties on the beach or in the woods is awesome and fun. But we can’t do this every weekend. We have jobs. Spring Break is also the least likely time to party with us in Florida because of all the out-of-state idiots already partying there.
6. Compare us to Alabama or Georgia.
It’s bad enough we have to touch Alabama. But to be compared to them…ugh. They only have 53 miles of coast, which they advertise and tote around like it’s something special. It’s embarrassing. The best thing about Alabama is its peanuts, and I’m not sure what else there is to like about it.
The same can be said for Georgia. Sure they have a nice Atlantic coastline, and the Appalachian Trail starts there, and they grow peaches, but other than those three things Georgia is another of those states we’re not super fond of. Just because we’re neighbors and we both have rednecks, it doesn’t make us similar.
7. Insult college football.
Want to make 90% of the local bar occupants hate you? Insult Florida State or the University of Florida, and talk about how great Miami is. Football is pretty close to religion in the Panhandle, so don’t be speakin’ any blasphemy.
8. Insult church, God, or Jesus.
The Panhandle is Florida’s personal Bible Belt. If you’re a hardcore atheist vacationing on the beach, or if you’re 14 and trying to figure your life out beyond thinking “God’s an asshole,” I would keep your mouth shut. Take it from personal experience, it’s not fun to be cornered and have Bible verses quoted at you.
9. Eat at some corporate chain instead of a local seafood joint.
Sure, ordering the fish dinner that comes with two huge sides and a gallon of sweet tea is cheap, greasy, and fast, but why in hell would you order fast food (especially seafood) when you’re visiting the Panhandle? We have the best seafood around. Why let some corporation clog your arteries when we can do it so much better.
The more out of the way and dodgy the restaurant seems (super dusty, servers with eye patches, people at the bar talking loudly about their latest fight), the better the food tastes. If you’re worried about germs, just order your food fried. Hello! The burning oil will kill ANYTHING. And if there are dead animals or fake dead animals on the wall, you know your food is going to be some sort of down-home Southern deliciousness.
Also, I would highly suggest you NOT insult sweet tea, as it makes up 95% of our bloodstream.
10. Complain about the weather.
The Panhandle has great weather. Sure, the summer is beastly hot and humid, but hey, we get a winter! And by winter I mean occasionally it freezes, so we all pull out our sprinklers to make ice sculptures.
One of the most annoying things people do here is complain about the weather. “Gawd it’s so HOT!” You’re in Florida and it’s August, what did you expect? Or when it’s February and we’re experiencing a cold snap, insult our inability to deal with cold. “You’re lucky there’s no snow! Back home we just got 14 inches!” or “We just got another 1,000,000 inches and are flying back tomorrow. Poor us!”
This will not elicit our sympathy. We live in the South and we live here for a reason. NO SNOW. And don’t get me started on rain. In the Panhandle, the sun and rain like to play some crazy game of tag. Sometimes the rain is awesome and cools everything off, other times it just makes summer more miserable. But hey, you paid how much for your trip to Florida? I live here so I can totally deal with it.