All She Wrote: Tarheel taboos: A carpetbagger’s guide to North Carolina’s sacred cows

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by Nicole Crews

Mom: When I moved to North Carolina from New York in the 1960s I was told, ‘Ladies in the South don’t wear eyeliner.’

Me: What ever did you do with all of those little black dresses that were verboten?

Mom: Ugh. Don’t get me started.  John Christian Bernhardt’s wife took me to Montaldo’s and bought me a pink shift with a green, white and pink geometric matching scarf.

Me: Sounds kind of pretty.

Mom: You would think that, you’re a half-breed.

Years ago when I was working in Mexico and stumbled into a Canadian snowbird internet café, I made the egregious error of groaning and saying something disparaging when a Celine Dion song came trilling over the speakers. Crickets; daggers; intentional and mildly malevolent shoulder brushing. It was the Canadian equivalent of dropping the N-word at an NAACP convention — or making fun of cheese in France. At any rate, I learned my lesson. There are certain aspects of a culture that you just don’t mess with — and the Old North State is no different.

To wit: North Carolina — how do I offend thee? Let me count the ways.

1. Lighthouses

If state’s had their own phallic symbols — like birds or flowers or trees — the lighthouse would surely qualify as North Carolina’s. Oh, the books that have been written, the terrible paintings painted, the beach-house gee-gaws crafted and the Our State photos published! Yes, they’ve saved many a vessel from the Graveyard of the Atlantic — but how many of their likenesses have clogged the landfills and Wings stores of our home state?

2. James Taylor

The troubadour of the Tarheel State — and an unarguably talented musician — has achieved cult status worldwide but never so much than within the 200-mile radius circling Chapel Hill. Yes his career has seen both fire and rain — but don’t mention this anywhere near Crooks Corner unless you want a plate of shrimp and grits flung at your head.

3. Carolina Blue

Speaking of Carolina on my mind, the baby-blue badinage of the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill is swathed across this state like a beauty queen’s sash. Most of the perpetrators of this pastel assault have never even been to Chapel Hill, let alone attended the university. So watch out if you run into one of these rams — they’re stubborn and will even argue that God took a cue from Carolina when he was shopping for sky colors.

4. Barbecue

Much like the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop rivalry of the 1990s, the ongoing East vs. West barbecue war in North Carolina is full of piss and vinegar (well, vinegar anyway in the East) and goes whole hog (also in the East). This makes the boys in the West see red (must be the tomatoes) and really put their shoulder into the rivalry. Steer clear of this debate.

5. NASCAR

Never in the history of man has so much time, money, blood, sweat, advertising dollars and fossil fuel been spent on guys running around in circles (with the possible exception of baseball). In a state where Richard Petty is king and Dale Earnhardt a saint, it is wise to avoid bringing this up lest ye wind up imprisoned in a lighthouse and forced to listen to endless James Taylor songs.

6. Beach music

In yet another case of the white man ruining the culture of people of color, beach music is essentially responsible for the honkification of R&B and pop and rock variations of the 1950s and 1960s. Its origins may be from the Ocean Drive area of North Myrtle Beach, but North Carolinians consider it to be the soundtrack of the state.

7. Calabash

The town itself prides itself on being known as the Seafood Capital of the World, when in truth, the word “fried” has been omitted. Ask any North Carolinian if they like seafood and you’ll likely hear, “Yep, if it’s fried.”

8. Pottery

Much like NASCAR’s origins in whiskey running, North Carolina’s pottery tradition has roots in hooch (they don’t call it Jugtown for nothing). And while the wet-clay wanderers (the tradition extends far beyond Seagrove) have transformed function into a historically significant art form, you’re probably still not safe discussing it within plate-breaking distance of Moore County.

9. Skiing

Yes, the well-honed hollers and mountains of North Carolina have carved out a living making ski resorts out of molehills over the years, but whatever you do, don’t compare them to West Virginia or you may have to find a new home there. And while North Carolina has produced more snow than the Medellin Cartel, serious lovers of the white stuff usually have to venture outside of state lines to get the high they are looking for.

10. Basketball

Basketball is to North Carolina as oxygen is to man, as Spanx are to a Kardashian, as Tyler Perry is to box office grosses. All, with the exception of oxygen, are inexplicable and counterintuitive, but don’t tell that to Roy Williams.

 

  • joel

    Awesome!!! Being a NC transplant I have never understood the affection and/or attention given to most of your 10 points and have offended many by saying so. I do enjoy climbing a lighthouse and hope that doesn’t have some deeply hidden meaning that I’ve kept suppressed all my life! Oh well – bless my heart!!! lol Thanks for the article.

  • mcw

    Good work. All of this is true, including the stories of being looked upon in horror for saying the wrong thing and to be told, “Bless your heart.”