Sunday, August 14, 2011

I Don't Know If You've Ever Been On A Galloping Horse, But You Don't Notice Much

I grew up in Virginia.  Not deep south Virginia, Northern Virginia.  Also known by those who know as NoVa.  Its like Southern Lite.  Not everyone had a Confederate flag on their front lawn, but you also weren't surprised to see one when it was there.  My sixth grade teacher played Gone With The Wind for us to show us what "the Northern aggressors did to us" but didn't deny that we weren't exactly correct about that whole slavery thing.

There is something about southern women - and I mean real southern women - that cannot be duplicated.  And you can't become a real southern woman unless you have been born in the south, raised in the south and gotten old in the south.  When you are over 50, you could qualify to be a real southern woman.

There is a talent that all fine southern woman have.  It takes a while to perfect this talent, and only ladies from south of the Mason Dixon line (look it up) are born with an innate sense of this skill.

I am, of course, speaking of the Backhanded Southern Compliment.

You may have come in contact with this before.  If it was done properly, you would have thought that someone just said something really lovely to you, but for some reason, you feel terrible and you don't know quite why.

We'll start slow.

You're wearing a new shirt.  It's a bit different from what you usually wear, and it took some confidence and self-esteem building to work up the courage to wear it out of the house, but you have and at the moment you are feeling pretty good about it.  You come into work, and your chipper and sweet co-worker looks you up and down, smiles engagingly and says:

"Oh, darling, I never would have thought that color would have worked on you!"

You immediately smile back, and thank her, but as you sit down you realize that you have resolved to never wear that shirt again.

Now why is that?

You've been struck by the Backhanded Southern Compliment (BSC).

See, there are a couple of things that happened back there.  First off, the disarming smile, and the perky, happy way the sentence was said.  That was all to throw you off of what was actually being said.  Second, the sentence itself.  The BSC relies on the fact that most people don't really listen to an entire sentence.  The end of the sentence is where all the important stuff is, right?  So what you filter the sentence in you mind to be "That color works on you!"  All the while, the part of the sentence that you didn't pay any mind too has ninja'd it's way into your mind and is applying nasty pressure points to your subconscious.

I remember quite vividly my first encounter with the BSC.  I was in high school and had been nominated for an acting award and I was going to be honored at the Kennedy Center in DC and everything.   I never really did much with my hair or makeup or anything, but for this I had gotten all dolled up, I was wearing this lovely dress, had heels on and was feeling pretty great about how I looked.  I walked down the stairs into the living room where my parents were waiting.

My mother took one look at me, threw her hands up in the air and exclaimed, "Oh, Ashley!  You'd be so pretty if you were just a little bit taller."

Any self-esteem that my fragile, high school self had built up to that point was shattered to the ground.

I consoled myself for years that was she actually meant to say was that I looked pretty wearing heels.  Yeah, that makes sense.  I never really wore them, so seeing me in them was nice and I looked pretty.

I recently spoke to my mom about it and she informed me that she probably meant exactly what she said.

Other BSCs can be similar to these:

"Oh, you girls today are so modern! I NEVER would have considered calling a man first. Cause you know, that's what (lowers voice) girls from the other side of the tracks did."

"Your bravery astounds me. That haircut takes guts." 

"Those earrings are lovely dear. They make your hair look more done." 

"You don't want to move to New York sweetie. Everything north of the Mason Dixon Line is terrible for jobs. I know plenty of girls your age who moved to Atlanta and found great jobs where they met their husbands!" 

Another phrase to watch out for comes at the end of the BSC in the form of "...bless his/her heart."  It means that whatever you said in the beginning of the sentence was not mean, no matter what it sounds like.

"She's been known to have one too many drinks, bless her heart."

"We never thought he'd amount to much, bless his heart."

I made an amazing discovery recently into just how similar Southerners and the Brits can be.  My grandmother is from Liverpool, England.  She fought the Jerries in World War II, just recently celebrated her 90th birthday, lives on her own and is in all ways the most amazing lady on the planet.

I was asking her recently how I looked.  She looked me up and down, straightened all of her 5 foot frame, stared me straight in the eye and said:

"Oh, darling, a man on a galloping horse wouldn't notice!"

Love you, Nanny.


  1. Being a Southern gal myself, this is hysterical! My favorite is of course "Bless your heart!" because no one really catches on that you're really saying, "aww you're special...."


  2. This is one of my favorite posts you've ever written. You've definitely captured it exactly! I've always loved that you can get away with saying something awful about someone as long as you end with a genuine "bless his/her heart!"