Sunday, February 15, 2009

Some Things We Just Should Know

I've been thinking about things that I assume everyone knows.

Things like:
  • You should always offer your seat to an older person.
  • It's not polite to make derogatory comments about someone's home when you visit.
  • Never, ever comment on someone's weight unless they bring up the subject; even then, be polite and positive.
  • Never ask a woman her age.
  • Never ask a man either.
  • Hold the door for those following behind you.
  • Be sure there is enough for everyone else when you fill your plate.
  • Don't ask for seconds.

There are many more of these. What are some things that you think everyone should know?

I am wondering if the "rules" I know still apply. Do parents still teach these to their children? Or is there a new set of rules today?

What prompted my thoughts was the recent documentary by Diane Sawyer that supposedly studies the poverty of the Appalachians. People here are up in arms: she came here, a visitor who was raised in Kentucky, and was treated well. Yet she made a documentary that revisits all the old stereotypes without showing that the many-dimensional face of mountain people. We have poverty; we have problems. We also have lively cities, educated people, thriving industries, and timeless beauty. We have a city with the lowest unemployment rate in the country, and a state that still operates with a surplus.

She missed all of those; I suppose these things are not newsworthy. I think her mother forgot to teach her rule #2 above. Don't visit someone and talk bad about their home. That's bad manners.

Shame, Diane. Shame on you. You missed the real story of the mountains and used your opportunity to drag out the old trash.


Susan said...

Lowest crime rate, too. Nobody I met in WV ever locked their car doors, and they often even left their houses open without any worries. Most Americans can't do that, and most Americans would love to raise their children in such safety.

I've visited a lot of places in my life, but ONLY in Appalachia did I arrive as a stranger and go home a few weeks later with an address book stuffed with the phone numbers and addresses of new friends who'd made me promise to keep in touch and hurry back. Nowhere on earth offers such a welcome, such goodness.

There are other stories to tell of those mountains than poverty, you're right. I'm sad to hear that Diane chose the easy one instead.

wow gold said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Janet, said...

Good post, Susanne. I think Diane should visit some of our blogs and see how we work and how we live and how we are proud of our mountain ways and customs and proud to be a West Virginian.

Matthew Burns said...

Whew, you aint heard the preachin' on this subject like I have. Shirley has railed against the Sawyer documentary ever since it aired!! She, along with several other folks from the region, are sending letters to Diane Sawyer and ABC.

Sure, those people do exist in Appalachia, but they are the exception, not the rule. If you go up any holler in southern WV, you might find folks like those in the documentary, but more often you will find good, hard-working country folk, who might not have monetary wealth but are generally happy, clean living people. I think Ms. Sawyer should have looked at the root causes of the problems facing the people she exploited. Lack of industrialization isn't the problem, it is the type of industrialization that occurred.

As for your questions, yes, I was taught the very same things. The only one I'm guilty of breaking is asking for seconds! (but only if there is plenty.) I've always been told "I bet that little fat one eats the most!". Maybe that is true,lol.

Robbyn said...

Oh wow, I can think of a lot of manners a lot of folks these days don't have a clue about...

Don't ask what kind of surgery...don't overstay your visit to a sick person or give advice about their treatment...dont tell pregnant women your birthing horror stories...dont ask someone how much they make a year...don't cuss in front of the ladies...stand when a woman enters the room...dont eat till you have a prayer and the hostess takes the first bite...dont talk with your mouth full...dont phone someone during dinner or after a certain hour at night...

I didnt see the Sawyer piece, but I've noticed this same attitude holds for a lot of people who somehow see those who are used to doing for themselves in basic ways are often viewed as not being as civilized as corporate/driven big city-dwellers. I'm from Mississippi and am used to that sort of attitude most people assume about "backwaters." Sure, there's poverty, etc, in different ways than in big cities, but there's most often also a whole lot more common sense, ability to survive in creative ways, and a wealth of talent and industriousness that gets expressed far outside of the box the slicker media people don't care to explore. I prefer shows like Tennessee Crossroads and others that find what makes our areas unique and so much more preferable, in my opinion, than the corporate-riddled asphalt jungles.

Sam Wintr said...

Hi Granny Sue

I have another rule to teach the children

Don't drop litter - we have a horrible litter problem in the UK which needs to be addressed.

And it's a shame you don't have the opportunity to show the world all the good bits you live with every day

Tracey said...

Yes these rules and many more do still apply and I am with you on the wondering if parent's teach these to their children?
I did not see that Diane Sawyer show, and after hearing this I am glad I missed it!
So many people today (especially the media) love to point out the bad and overlook the good!

Jason Burns said...


I had a feeling this was going to be another one of "those" shows, where some know-nothing piece-of-Judas returns home to Appalachia in order to show the world the horrors of poverty in a place she knows nothing about. This has been DONE Diane! I guess not everyone realizes that the Hatfields & McCoys stereotype is a product of media influence instead of actual fact.

I can't stand "journalism" like this. Something akin to homicidal rage grows within me whenever stuff like this is made - and I may say, rightly so!

Cathy said...

If Diane was behind the writing and images presented then shame on her. I often wonder just how much of what they say is truly their opinion. I also believe that the networks want to continue this horrible view of the Appalachian people. You don't see them trying to do that with other groups so much. I am sure they would get sued. I hope she gets some very nasty letters.

Granny Sue said...

Sorry to not respond to everyone earlier--it's been a busy, busy day.

I wish we could be invulnerable, immune to such commentaries about our region, but it seems they come like missiles, one after another. We no sooner deal with one media stereotyping event than another follows immediately behind.

I would just like the media for once to focus on something good, highlight the talented people we have, the military members from our state, the farmers and those who return home because they know this is a good place to be. Just once a show about those people would be like balm on the sores of so much bad coverage.

Robbyn, you're right, Mississippi gets a lot of the same bad press. And Sam, thank you for your comments. You'd be right at home here!

Jason and Matthew, you two know about growing up in the backwoods--and look what it did for you. That's no barrier to those who want to move ahead. I grew up in a large family that sometimes didn't know where meals were coming from--and we were only 25 miles from Washington, DC in a small town! Apalachians certainly don't have a corner on economic uncertainty. Or drugs--I'd bet some well-to-do places in California have it all over us on that one. It was "tragic" when that young actor died recently of an overdose; no one thought to point fingers at his community and upbringing.

Jaime said...

I definitely missed the documentary.

Rules I try to follow, other than the ones you posted

1. Listen to your friends and what they have to say without interruptions and the need to compete.
2. Let the person behind you in a checkout line go first, if they have either screaming kids or just a few items
3. Bring some sort of snack or refreshment when visiting other people's houses, especially if your staying the night. I try to bring breakfast foods and then I offer to cook them.
4. Hold the door open for elderly people and/or handicap people.
5. Stop for a few moments and listen to the stories elder people in public have to offer. It may take more than a few moments but its worth it.

Its simple things that put a smile on strangers as well as people you know. And I've noticed that it helps spread the generosity. Aaron and I like to do simple things like clear snow off of our neighbors' driveways. Especially, for people we know can't do it theirselves. Of course, we also think its important to help our families out when they need it - whether it be on your farm, or Derek's or helping my family with their home projects. People now a days and I hear this too often from elder people in the neighborhood, don't take time to help their families. That's sad.

D said...

I really wanted to see it. I thought for once just maybe they wouldn't put the ignorant hillbilly spin on things. But I guess not. Maybe I'll catch it in a rerun. On second thought,maybe I shouldn't. These things make my blood boil. My mama also said, you may have to be poor, but you don't have to be nasty. I guess in Sawyer's opinion if you grow your own food, live off the land and don't have every electronic device you're poverty stricken.
No, I better not watch it,if it comes back on.

City Mouse said...

My biggees -

1. Leave things better than you found them. (Including restaurant tables, nature spots, rental houses, and store clothing racks.)

2. When you ask how someone is, really mean it. Engage people in conversation and really listen, especially your elders.

Granny Sue said...

These are good things to add to the list. No litter, leave things better than you find them, listen, be respectful of others, help others when you can. What a world this would be if even half of us followed such rules. Jaime, your mama raised you right; I'm not sure how Aaron came by it ;-)

Tonight I added another: hold the elevator when you see someone hurrying to make it to the parking building. It made my day when the young lady held the door so I would not have to wait for the next trip. A small thing, but big to me at 5:30 on a cold, cold day.

D, you're right--don't watch it. It's not helpful, just hurtful. There is a saying taught to medical students: First, do no harm. Sawyer should follow that advice. As should we all.

Bubbasgotgas said...

Aunt Susie,
Your right she focused on the bad and the bad only. I'm proud of my family from the Appalachians. They are men and women who work hard and treat people right. I guess a well rounded perspective of the Appalachians wouldn't have produced enough ratings.

MimiRock said...

As a resident of Virginia (southwest Virginia between Abingdon and Bristol in Washington County) for the last 27 years, I have never really felt totally at home here because I wasn't born anywhere near here. My native home is northeast Indiana. That's right--I'm a Yankee by birth and flat though it may be, Indiana is my true home even though I wouldn't want to live there again. "It's a nice place to visit (especially if your family is there) but..." The best I can do is say that I've adapted to Appalachia as my adoptive home.

I never lived in the mountains or a hollow until I moved here in 1982. I've lived on the west coast, the east coast, and Texas as an adult but I've lived in southwestern Virginia longer now than I've lived anywhere, including my native state. I have a real fondness and appreciation for this area, and I enjoy the metaphorical poetry of the language, the humor in the words, both oral and written, the music, and especially the stories. I read a lot of Appalachian authors, and have developed an appreciation for bluegrass music, and discovered many regional arts and artists. But I'm still not sure I completely understand the perspective of the people.

It seems to me that the native Appalachian folks I know personally often take comments "the wrong way," stay silent about their hurt feelings, do not ask one to clarify what one means, and cut off the possibility of growth in the relationship.

I'm wondering if this isn't what has happened with the Diane Sawyer documentary. Is it because DS focused on the wrong group, or is it because Appalachia wants to stay in denial about this group? Are they in denial about the addiction and chemical abuse that abounds in the area?

Let me say that I am very glad that folks are sending Diane Sawyer mail pointing out the majority of the people who live here who are industrious, creative problem solvers. I agree that many folks here have good common sense and I have no doubt that their I.Q.'s rank right along with any other region. . I have long wanted to write a non-fiction work called "The Other Appalachians" based on the lives of the Appalachian professionals I've met in the fields of medicine, law, education, business, and the arts but I've never pursued that yearning since I don't think I have the major credential that one should have to write that sort of book--I'm not Appalahian-born.

I'm contributing these comments because I think you might find a Yankee's perspective, and experiences, of interest in light of the listing of things "everyone should know." I'm not sure I know all that I'm supposed to although I find most of your list and the comments universal good manners. Whether people "teach" these to their children verbally, I don't know, but remember, children learn most by watching their elders' behavior and holding doors open and respecting elders and leaving thing better than one finds them and being a good guest are simply being polite, something we should all value highly in order to act civilized.

I want to share two experiences I've had with stereotypes because they came so unexpectedly. The first full day after we moved here in 1982, I went to the grocery store and found the check-out clerk and a customer having an argument over a passage in the Bible. I stood waiting with my groceries piled on the counter and my money in my hand while they argued! This would have never happened in Ft. Wayne, not because Ft. Wayne is not religious, but because they are predominantly Lutheran and Lutherans, and many Yankees, believe religion is a private personal relationship with God and do not believe in publicly expressing it especially in the market place.

That same evening, a handsome young man and his pretty blonde girlfriend dropped in to meet us and stayed to visit a while. I'm sorry but I couldn't stop thinking that they looked just like Lil' Abner and Daisy Mae because they just did in their jeans, their youth, and hair color. We drank ice tea on the deck and the young man told me he and his family had moved into a little tiny house at the end of the road our rental house sat on. The family had been working in Columbus, Ohio and traveled back and forth on Hwy, 23. Rocky and I had just moved from Colunbus, Ohio where we had done graduate work at OSU. I knew there were special grants there for students who were native Appalachians and I had a hard time understanding why a region of the U.S., not an ethnic culture, had been singled out. The young couple gave me an example of a culture I had not come into contact with before,.

Years later, I had a conversation with an RN who was also a psychiatric social worker and a native of the area, and he told me the schools here are "dumbed down" because the students are clearly behind intellectually because, he said, "of poor nutrition, poverty, and incest." I was shocked and confused that one of Appalachia's own would say that without it being true. I remain confused over his comments. I'm used to bragging about community schooks being "the best" whether true or not.

My husband, Rocky, whose native state is Mississippi, and I watched 20/20 last Fri. night when Diane Sawyer presented her documentary on Appalachia. Rocky, who is a retired journalist, had a negative response very much like yours, Granny Sue. But my social worker's heart was hurting for the addicted woman and her children and I was appalled by Sawyer's comment that oxycontin abuse is 4 times worse than NY City's!!! If that is indeed true, I had no idea that it was that bad! I know that Bristol's chemical dependency unit remains full, there are lots of Anonymous groups operating, and every now and then a house blows up because someone is cooking meth.

When I worked at the Bristol Counseling Center from 1983 to 1991, I did counsel some folks like those described in the documentary, who lived in poverty, who came there for help. I didn't see those folks who had no money anymore when I operated a private practice in Bristol from 1991 to 1999, I'm sure because my private practice clients had mental health insurance.

But I know the folks that Diane Sawyer described aren't confined to the back hollows of the back country. They live in rural areas in VA and TN and on side streets on the edge of downtown Bristol city. They aren't "trash"; they are mentally ill or chemically dependent. A few are anti-social criminals who will eventually come to the attention of the law.

In the 20 /20 documentary I felt frustrated by the young football player when he dropped out of college and returned to his impoverished home. I found myself calling out to him, "Join the Army." But evidently, he hasn't yet considered that as an optional way to get an education. Or is it possible the Army isn't dumbed down enough? Forgive the cynical comment--perhaps his intellectual abilities are o.k. but his emotional life is overwhelming causing an apathy or a depression that is debilitating.

I'll wrap this up with:

1. that saying "ain't" is routine and not a sign of poor grammar
2. that "a pot of beans" means green beans cooked several hours and not pinto beans or pork and beans;
3. that it's o.k. to spit in public parking lots;
4. that biscuits and gravy make a hearty tasty breakfast;
5. that hashbrowns don't automatically come with eggs for breakfast;
6. how to bake biscuits or how to bake biscuits daily;
7. that it's not o.k. to ask an elderly man or woman their age;
8. it's o.k. to talk about religion in polite society;
9. it's o.k. to talk about politics in polite society;
10. that cole slaw piled high across a hot dog is some kind of good!

Signed, Your Yankee Cousin Whose Heart Belongs to Appalachia (but I still can't say "Ain't) Mimi

Granny Sue said...

Mimi, this is worthy of a post on your own blog. You make interesting points and offer a perspective that is as complex as the issues themselves. Which is why the documentary upset so many people from this region--it does not tell the whole story. I do not think we're in denial about our problems; Lord knows they are discussed often enough on public radio and in the newspapers. What we deny is that those problems do not define us as a culture and a people. They are part of who we are.

Like you, I moved here from another state; I've been here most of my life now (35 of my 57 years) and married a West Virginian so this has become my home and it is how I identify myself. I am uncomfortable and not at home in the place I was raised. While the native-born may not see me as one of them, I see me as being at home and from here, and that is what is important to me--my perception of myself.

I often see the sensitivity to outside criticism exhibited by my husband and neighbors, and I'm not immune to it myself. It would be like us writing about life in New York City--we don't understand the roots and history of the place, haven't walked in their shoes or lived their lives. We don't understand the joy New Yorkers take in being New Yorkers; to many of us it's a big ugly city with too many people. So our perspective of life there would certainly be biased on the basis of our preconceived ideas.

The difference is that we are not well-known news reporters who have impact on public opinion and policy. Those in that profession have an obligation to present the whole story with an unbiased and objective point of view. Then their work has validity and can be accepted without insult. Like our public radio--the stories report on our problems, the oxycontin issue has certainly been covered in depth, as has racial bias and diet problems.

The difference between this reporting and that of the Sawyer documentary is that the news shows discuss other parts of our life--music, culture, education and arts, etc--so that one does not go away thinking we are only drug-abusing, overweight, unemployed and ignorant people who don't know any better.

Gina said...

My late father was raised in that general area (right over the KY line in SW VA). I have always felt I was part of that stock even though he chose to leave the region and settled in Indiana.

I was shocked and disgusted at the 20/20 thing. I kept thinking. "Is this some kind of hillbilly joke?"

I love the mountains and the people of Appalachia. It's sad she didn't comment on the outsiders who have taken advantage of the region and some of the real reasons for the poverty.

I'll add this one right from the mouth of my "hillbilly" uncle:

If folks drop by, always ask them to stay for dinner. (he claimed the young people weren't doing that anymore and saw this as a sign of decay of manners).

Granny Sue said...

Your uncle was right, Gina. Always invite them to stay, offer food and coffee. and if you're the visitor, you say as you're leaving, "yall might as well come go with us."

I love that hospitality, the sense of sharing what we have and the welcome extended to "come go with us."

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