I never envisioned myself living in the South.
And I certainly didn't imagine myself liking it this much.
Having spent most of my childhood in the tundra-like landscape of western New York and my adolescence and college years in Indiana, I had grown accustomed to a certain kind of lifestyle. One that didn't include sweet tea, a grammatically problematic conjunction that combined "you" and "all," and temperatures that make a sauna feel drafty.
But off I went to Destin, Fla., seven years ago, with a certain amount of trepidation and lots of bottled water, on a journey that eventually brought me here in 2008.
In that time, I've met some fascinating people, had experiences that have both shaped and defined me and learned more about myself than I thought possible.
Those lessons, for the record, extend well beyond how much pulled pork one can consume without physically exploding.
In the interest of introspection, I thought I'd share a few of the things I've learned about Southern life and the people who inhabit our region.
1. Not everyone likes dolphins. Who doesn't smile and point when they see one of these majestic sea mammals surface for air? Well, many charter boat fishermen in Destin, Fla., for whom the dolphin is a dorsal-finned menace. It seems these remarkably bright creatures have figured out that where there's a boat and lines coming off it, there is bound to be food. Some of what these fishermen hook and a lot of what they throw back quickly become dolphin dinner.
2. Pro sports are (largely) irrelevant. Try talking to the average Southerner about the NBA or, God forbid, the NHL, and expect to be looked at as though you're wanting to dissect a scene from "Waiting for Godot." With few exceptions, college football is king and little else matters.
3. The food is great but not for the reasons you expect. I've eaten some of the best meals of my life since moving to this area, and none was deep-fried or smothered in butter. When well-executed, Southern food is bright, vibrant and evokes the region's rich agrarian traditions.
4. Charleston is as great as everyone says. I wanted to be contrarian and be one of the only people I know to blast the Holy City, but I can't. Great restaurants, beautiful people and a place where hipsters and frat dudes in Sperrys and Vineyard Vines peacefully co-exist. It feels like a real, livable city. I wish I could say the same about Savannah, which feels more like a tourist destination where people just happen to live year-round.
5. Living somewhere can actually make you more polite. I wasn't exactly shoving old ladies or taking people's crutches away before I moved to the South, but the effect living here has had on my sense of social decorum is undeniable. "Sir" and "ma'am" have become permanent parts of my vocabulary.
Another thing I've learned about the South is it has some pretty incredible bands, and this week's playlist is a compilation of eight of the region's up-and-coming new acts.
Charleston might have won me over, but I still hate sweet tea.