To be Southern or not to be Southern… That is the question. On a recent trip to Baltimore, Maryland, I encountered a whole new kind of “Southern” culture and dialect. Considering how long I was on an airplane headed north, I sure didn’t think iI was anywhere close to the American South.
However, once I arrived, I discovered that Baltimore does indeed consider itself quite Southern. And, per the usual, while venturing out into the city I was routinely asked where I hailed from given my accent. I never thought I had a thick Southern accent compared to others I interact with daily. But to my chagrin, I am constantly asked about the origins of my drawl. And in Baltimore, once I disclosed that I am an Arkansan to the inquirer, I was immediately met with a sense of camaraderie in the fact that we were both “Southern.”
Now I’m not one to tell anyone else what they can or cannot identify as. But since I was born and raised in the armpit of the South — AKA Arkansas — I was very surprised to see that a whole northern dwelling population considers itself to be as Southern as me.
After realizing this, I started noticing all of the idiosyncrasies and holes in their logic. For instance, if you’re a Southerner you must love of gravy. Brown, white, chocolate — any gravy is a good gravy. But while at a breakfast bistro my second day in the city, I noticed that the menu featured “biscuits with sauce.” Sauce? What in the heck is sauce? Since I prefer nontraditional breakfast fare, I opted for avocado toast. But I curiously watched as other customers came to collect their order when the number on their receipt was called. It appeared as if their biscuits with sauce were very similar to our standard biscuits and gravy.
As the day progressed, I encountered other oddly non-Southern but not northern eccentricities. At lunchtime, I met up with a friend who was also traveling through Baltimore. We stopped by a local fish restaurant everyone had insisted we try. We were shown to our table and waited patiently for our server.
A few minutes later, a friendly middle-aged woman with a beaming smile came over to greet us.
“How yo doin’ today?” she asked. My friend and I smiled at her, already familiar with their term “yo” as it is their version of our “y’all.” We told her we were doing fantastic and weren’t from Baltimore and would love her suggestions for what to order.
“Well first, yo like lake trout or coddie better?” she asked. My friend and I looked at each other.
Assuming maybe we hadn’t heard her properly, our server repeated her question.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think we know what you mean. So you only have trout or cod?” I asked, confused because I had seen all sorts of varieties of seafood on the menu that had been scrawled on the chalkboard wall at the entrance.
“Nay, lake trout means just fish, and a coddie is a cake,” she said nonchalantly.
Now we were even more confused.
“I think we’ll just order drinks first and look at the menu a little while longer,” I said.
“O aard. Yo want a natty boh list or just regular sips?”
My friend and I looked at each other again. I felt like I was in another country and everything was lost in translation. Now I know how international tourists must feel when they visit Arkansas and can’t understand our version of English because of the few extra syllables we add to most words.
“I’ll have sweet tea,” my friend said.
“Me too,” I seconded.
“Well, we don’t have sweet tea, just regular tea.”
“That’s fine,” I said, not having any idea what she would come back with. But not serving sweet tea is definitely not Southern.
After browsing over the menu, I realized that “lake trout” meant any type of fried fish, and a “coddie” was any type of fish or crab cake, for which Baltimore is renowned. And the “natty boh” meant the beer list.
Our waitress returned with two unsweetened iced teas. We thanked her and let her know we were ready to order.
“O aard, I’ll be trottin’ with the ticket pad,” she turned and walked away.
She quickly returned with her ordering pad and pen in hand.
“O aard, I’m Ray,” she said.
“Hi Ray, I’m Sarah,” I said. She looked at me strangely and then burst into laughter.
“Nay, my name is Jessica. ‘Rey’ means ready,” she said, still laughing.
“Oh. Y’all have really funny ways of saying things…” I said. We placed our orders for a variety of local fare.
“Furreel, “I’ll be trottin’ with your coddies in a flash!” she said and turned and walked away.
While she was gone, I googled a few of the things I had heard her say. Apparently “trottin” means to come right back, and “furreel” actually means “for real” and is what Baltimoreans say when they are agreeing with you.
Our food was out quickly and was so delicious. We collected our ticket and paid at the front counter. As we headed out and on to our next Baltimore adventure, a man approached my friend and I.
“Ayo, yo got a fugg I can nic from ya?” he asked.
“Pardon me?” I asked, feeling as if he were speaking in a different language.
“Yo aren’t from Balduhmor, huh?” he asked.
“No, we aren’t,” we said.
“That means, ‘can I bum a smoke?’” he said.
“Ah, no, I’m sorry, we don’t smoke,” I said.
“That’s o aard, yo shors get geekin’ and go cuttin’ up!” he said as we walked away.
My friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of our stay, and while we decided that we certainly wouldn’t consider Baltimore “Southern,” it was definitely in a class of its own.
And we did indeed get geekin’ and go “cuttin’ up.”
(Have a great time and go out dancing.)