I have a bit of a potty mouth. I swear. Where I live, it's called cussing. I found out the hard way that the cultural codes of cussing are written in stone, or might as well be. Unfortunately, no one thinks to tell a "foreigner" the rules of cussing when they move to the South. They let us figure it out on our own. I suspect watching us stumble around trying to learn the rulesof the game is considered sport.
Understand that Magnolia, AR is on the buckle of the bible belt. Whereas maybe just a few students in a class I taught at the University of Alberta would have been churchgoers, most of my students here attend church regularly. And regularly means every Wednesday night and on Sunday. I'm not sure what Wednesday night is all about--a mid-week refresher course I guess.
At any rate, I learned never to schedule special events on Wednesday evenings because no one would show up. As one local pastor advised me, "You can't compete with God." I took him at his word.
But getting back to the cultural codes of cussing, I quickly found out that a lot of words I did not consider to be anything remotely close to a cuss, were seen as cusses here. I'm talking about words like "hell"--an off the cuff "to hell with that" in a classroom earned me some looks of horror in my first few years. "Piss" as in "pissed off" got the same response. The 'F' word has definite status as one of the Bad Boys of cuss words here, just as it does at home, but nothing, and I do mean nothing, has the status of "G.D."
The Worst of the Worst
"G.D." is the absolute worst cuss word anyone can say. Period. It's much more offensive than the "F" word. In fact, it's so offensive that I won't even type the actual words because I do not want to offend my friends who simply do not want to hear or read that word. Ever.
The status of "G.D." took me a while to get my head around. It is still a little confusing to me. Many of my friends at home toss around a "G.D." as casually as they do an "oh darn it" and no one bats an eye. Curiously, it is okay to say "Gawd Dangit" here, but you'll notice that the "G" word is clearly spelled differently and that is understood when someone says "Gawd Dangit" in a moment of frustration. You can hear the difference in the spelling, right? Yeah, so can I.
Seriously, though, the "G.D." taboo is one that I really do respect, though I don't understand it. If someone says "G.D" aren't they asking "G" to condemn something? And if so, isn't that like calling on a higher power to help out in a situation where something bad is going down? "G.D. those animal abusers!" See what I mean? I think it makes sense, but I've yet to find any Southerner worth his or her salt who agrees with me. So be it. Unfortunately, no one told me how "G.D." was positioned in the hierarchy of cusses. I learned that the hard way.
Learning the Hard Way
It was a dark and not very stormy night and I was driving home from a riding lesson. As they did every single time I drove by the little house by the tracks, several big dogs came racing onto the road barking like crazy at my vehicle. I was so afraid I was going to hit one of them, which was the last thing I wanted to do. It pissed me off to no end that the owner just let the dogs run.
On the evening in question, though, the owner happened to be outside when I drove by. As usual, the dogs came running and I decided enough was enough. I slammed on my brakes, rolled down my window and yelled, "Get your "G.D." dogs off the road!" Except I didn't use the initials for the "G.D." I said both words...in all their glory. (I know. I'm going to hell.) I rolled up my window and continued driving. Then, I noticed that the owner of the dogs was behind me in his truck. That freaked me out just a little bit. Okay, a lot. It turns out that Miss Potty Mouth is pretty brave until someone chases her in his truck.
I figured or hoped, the guy would get bored and turn around, but he followed me into town, which is about 10 miles away from his house. There was no way I was going to lead him to my house, so I pulled into the Wal-Mart parking lot and dialed the police. They said they would be right over and told me to stay in my truck.
The man parked his truck right behind mine and approached my window yelling at me. I stared straight ahead, pretending to ignore him, while my heart was about to beat its way out of my chest. When the police arrived, I got out of my vehicle. I told them what had happened as did the dogs' owner. Our stories matched, until the dogs' owner said to the police, "She had no business saying "G.D." If she hadn't said that, I wouldn't have cared, but that made me really mad and that's why I followed her. I wasn't going to hurt her. I wanted her to say she was sorry."
That blew my mind. The man pursued me for about 10 miles because I yelled "G.D." at him. He wasn't fooling though. My use of the term really made him that angry. I felt bad. I had no idea just how big a reaction to the use of "G.D." could provoke. I apologized to him and I really was sorry. I wanted him to get his dogs off the road. My intention was not to offend him at any level beyond that.
We shook hands and went on our way. A few months later we ran into each other at Wal-Mart and had a laugh about that night. It was definitely an eye-opening experience for me. I'm not going to lie and say I don't say "G.D." anymore because I do. But I am much more aware of when and where I say it.
Bless My Heart?
Southern culture, like all cultures, is an intricately woven fabric of rules and guidelines, and customs and codes. A newcomer is left to figure all of them out on his or her own. Thankfully, most of the time I've been able to decipher the codes for becoming a good Southerner through mostly pleasant exchanges with the people in my community. When I have slipped and violated some code of conduct out of habit or ignorance most people have been relatively forgiving. I say that, though I suspect that my heart has been blessed behind closed doors more often than I probably need to know. At any rate, it is pretty clear that I'm never going to be a true southern woman, a Steel Magnolia--they really do exist you know. But I admire such women for reasons that I will talk about in a future post.
Until then, thank you for reading. I appreciate you.