The Southern Expat Communique: New York observations of a displaced belle

The most practical article you’ll read all day…and why the TSA hates peanut butter….

I’ve come to love a website called LearnVest. When the company’s founder and CEO, Alexa von Tobel, visited my Junior League Financial Literacy meeting, I was hooked. Practical tools for working women who want to be debt free and more financially savvy? Sign me up!! I now am a devotee and an outright evangelist for Miss von Tobel’s wonderfully comprehensive website, designed to make women, well, better. I wait impatiently for her beautifully laid out, information-packed, daily emails (which take roughly 6 minutes to peruse if you’re really putting on your thinking cap) to populate my gmail inbox. Hey, you need a smart mid-morning read to go with that Lara bar, right?

I found today’s Learn Vest article  on smart packing especially helpful. I am a frequent traveller. From the time I was tiny, riding around Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and beyond, sitting in the back seat learning to read and playing the license plate game, to now, as I still travel (mostly fly) on at least a bi-monthly basis, trying to scare up resources for the non-profits I love to serve, I’ve been in planes, trains, and automobiles more than you can shake a stick at. This LV piece helps us avoid checked bag fees and offers some tips for fitting all of those “necessary” items in your teeeny bag.

Importantly, remember the TSA. They hate your peanut butter, so don’t even try to explain to them why it is a solid, possibly an emulsion if you want to get down to brass tacks. A kindly (and some may argue elderly) TSA agent told me about a year ago that my very special, unopened jar of Peanut Butter and Co. peanut butter was a liquid, or a gel, or possibly an aerosol, but certainly not a solid. I offered the scientific definition of a solid in rebuttal. The agent replied, “Ma’am, the TSA don’t much care about science. That peanut butter is going in the trash.” Duly noted, counselor.

As my dear friend and mentour, Dr. Antonio Lombeida, who once spent an entire weekend in Chicago armed only with the clothes on his back and what he had packed in a vintage, leather, doctor’s bag urges, “dress sharp, pack light.” Heed this advice, ladies; and, leave the peanut butter at home…after you read up on Learn Vest.


3 reasons why New York men have lost their minds

Anyone who knows me marginally, knows that I have an old-fashioned set of sensibilities. I like manners.  Emily Post (one of two print versions on my book shelves, although the online version is lovely) is a source I consult on at least a weekly basis.  I look forward to setting the table with all utensils assigned to their proper places.  And, I like people of the male persuasion to treat their female counterparts as though they are ladies even if they are not, in fact, ladies.

I’m aware that I moved north of the Mason-Dixon line a year ago.  I’m aware that not all men south of that demarcation are courteous or observe all southern mandates and niceties.  Do I think they feel bad when they do not treat women kindly?  Yes.  Because their mommas taught them better than that. (Thank you, Mr. Kincaid).  For some reason, although there are completely lovely people up here, these men did not get the memo re: “ladies first.”  The Titanic would be an even sadder place for women and children today.

I’ve come up with a few examples of how chivalry has gone by the wayside.  They are not all that groundbreaking, and I’m sure many a woman has thought these thing before.  Indulge me, y’all.

1. Hold the damn door-I visited two of my nearest and dearest in Kansas City once, sometime after college graduation.  If you all have not been to KC in February, bring a big coat.  It’s cold there.  The wind is blustery.  The snow and rain attack from all directions.  And the grain-fed, supposedly kindly Midwesterners did not recognize they should hold doors for the women who scurried into bars behind them. On my first night out with the girls, I counted no fewer than 3 times when doors were dropped in one of our faces by a man (minus the gentle-).  Now, might I reiterate here?  It was COLD!  It could be that the freezing temperatures caused the men of Kansas City to lose their manners.  I’ve been back since, in less extreme weather conditions, and the men were perfectly polite although occasionally a little more aggressive than I care for.  Am I going to brand Kansas City gents as unfriendly as a matter of fact?  No.  I’ll chalk it up to frozen manners.

Men in NYC are a completely different matter.  I’ve been living here through the coldest winter, the hottest summer, and then the 3rd snowiest winter from what New York 1 reports.  I was greeted by 23 inches of snow in my first 36 hours of residency.  We broke records in that February week.  In the summer following, we broke heat records.  It was 102 with a heat index of 109 last week.  I’m a little more likely to deal well with heat than cold, so I’m not as bothered by that record.  I will say that it is much hotter here than I ever expected it would be.  This winter (2010-2011) was the 3rd snowiest in all of recorded NYC history, so suffice it to say, extreme temperatures abound on this island. Perhaps the manners of men here are jolted so often by the up and down of the thermometer, their internal manner widgets have been rendered useless.

2. Give up your damn seat-Just this morning on the train, I was three times cut off from snagging a seat vacated by someone getting off the train.  Now, you might think I’m exaggerating here: she saw a seat half a car away-more than 5 seconds and 12 steps-and is mad she’s not faster than the gentleman who sat after seeing no one around him.  Nope, folks.  That wasn’t the case.  I was no more than a step and a 1/2 from the seat each time, and to avoid pushing over a little old lady or stepping on a man’s shoes, I let someone else pass before moving to sit down.  The first man at least looked at me while he was sitting.  I could almost hear him thinking, “I would let you sit here since you were heading here first, but, I’m almost sitting at this point, so fuggit abboud it.”  The second man actually stepped in my path to cut me off and then stared intently at his fake iTouch.  It was probably a Zune, and he’s probably an asshole.  He then proceeded to stare at my chest rather than the Zune.  The third man saw me standing in front of him, and in all fairness, I just wanted the seat beside him that he was blocking with his massive amounts of stuff.  I assume he thought I was going to stand there for his pleasure because I had to ask him twice if he would let me by.  In case you are wondering, I’m sure he spoke English.  He was wearing an outdated plaid shirt with Oakleys and had not pressed his pants. I know this prototype all too well, unfortunately.

I oftentimes tell my boyfriend that there should be not a single man on the train sitting if there is one woman standing.  He doesn’t agree with this assessment.  My how quickly we forget our mother’s words when we migrate 1200 miles northward.  We tangle over this on a regular basis, actually.

The rule extends to you too, ladies.  If you see an old lady, let her sit.  She’s been standing for much longer than you have over your cumulative years.  If someone has a gypsy cart, give her a break.  Surrender your seat, and let the woman take a knee (or a cheek).  If a woman has a child, she’s been dragging that monster all over this sprawling city for far too long, I’m sure, so let her sit.

This one is tricky: if a woman is pregnant, give it up!  I had a weird moment on this front yesterday.  I saw a woman who may have been pregnant.  She had what appeared to be a baby bump in the correct position, but she wasn’t holding her back, didn’t look exhausted, etc., and she was really close to my age.  I thought it might be more insulting to offer her my seat because she may not be pregnant.  I have a friend who has been offered seats on the subway before because she was mistakenly thought to be with child.  It doesn’t flatter her.  Accordingly, I’ll nuance this rule a bit: if the woman is obviously pregnant, give her your damn seat.

3. Your (damn) sunglasses don’t make you invisible-Look fellas, I know you like or liked comic books at some point.  I’m sure there was a character in one of those books who had invisible powers. I bet that this character gained these powers by putting on glasses, powder, or some sort of spray. I’m here to tell you, you are not superheros.  Your sunglasses don’t make you invisible.  And, I can see you looking at my boobs.

It is ESPECIALLY insulting when this happens after being cut off by a man who steals your seat.  Man number 1 from the “Give up your damn seat” section of this rant was an offender of this rule as well.  Seriously?  It’s not bad enough that you stole my seat?  You now have to ogle me because my chest is at eye level for you?  Seriously, find your pride, sir.

So, I’m sure you’re thinking at this point that I’m providing no solution to this mess of northern men.  Well, you’re wrong.  I’m going to take this one step further and challenge all men and women of this “fair” city and ask you to do something this week, next week, and the weeks following, on all days that end in “day.”  I’m going to make it easy.  You have three options: 1. Hold the door for someone you don’t know.  2. Give up your seat on the subway or in another public location. 3. Say hello or give a compliment (This one serves as the opposite of staring at someone’s chest with our without sunglasses).

Manners police, signing off….