17 Phrases You Should Never Say to Someone from the South

If you’re planning a trip south of the Mason-Dixon line, you need to brush up on your manners, say “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am,” smile into a mirror, and say “y’all” three times. There are several rules when in the charming South, but not saying these 17 phrases will help you out.

“I don’t watch football.”

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Football isn’t just a game in the South, especially college football, and even more importantly, the SEC. Southerners take their Saturday college football as seriously as church on Sunday. If you’re invited to a tailgate and aren’t a super fan, just brush up on some football lingo and enjoy the grub. We recommend taking a bite of food whenever someone asks you a question about the game.

“Hush your mouth.”

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This phrase might be used affectionately, but it’s not something you should say to a southerner. Southerners are too polite to tell you how much this will upset them, but it’s not polite to tell people to stop talking, so don’t do it.

“You all”

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Honestly, they probably won’t say anything if you say you all or you guys, but you will definitely be tagging yourself as an outsider. Y’all is the proper way to use you in the plural when in the South. It’s printed on shirts and cross-stitched on pillows, plus “y’all” just sounds friendlier.

“I don’t know how to cook.”

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In the South, there’s no excuse for not knowing how to cook. Even those who weren’t taught as children are expected to know some basics as adults. Now, if you do utter this to a southerner, prepare yourself: they’re likely to invite you over for a mandatory lesson or two.

“That’s not a salad. Where’s the lettuce?”

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Southern Living says, “Salad is based more in tradition and passed-down recipes than a certain ingredient list—and yes, it can sometimes be used interchangeably as both a side dish and dessert.” Don’t be surprised if you see four different salads containing mayonnaise and two that have Jell-O on a southern table.

“Can’t I just send a thank-you text?”

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The South is not giving in to the informal thank you text or Facebook message. They believe true gratitude is shown with a handwritten note, probably on a monogrammed card. “A handwritten thank you note is the most sincere and appreciated form of gratitude,” says Southern Living.

“Have to run. I’m in a hurry.”

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Southerners do not understand the northern rat race, where they’re always in a rush to do everything. Taking their time and enjoying life is part of the charm of southern culture. So when it’s time to catch up with a friend or neighbor, you’d better find the time to enjoy a glass of lemonade and chat.

“Southern food isn’t very good.”

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Even if deep-fried and salads made with mayonnaise aren’t your thing, don’t insult southern food to a southerner. There are so many varieties—Appalachian, Cajun, Creole, Lowcountry, and Floribbean are just a few—that it’s hard not to find something that will warm your soul and delight your palate. The only thing worse than insulting southern food as a whole is insulting one of Mama’s recipes.

“What’s Dollywood?”

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Located outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, Dollywood is a mixture of a normal amusement park and southern charm. “‘This is the nicest place on earth,’” one visitor’s son said. “Of course, the rides are fun. But what makes the park special is a mix of heart and hospitality that’s pure Dolly,” she continued. “We left feeling full of her spirit.”

“I don’t own Chacos or Tevas.”

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Teva and Chaco are two popular sport/hiking sandals in the outdoor community. In the South, comfort and practicality are king in summer footwear. Not having these essential sandals is a sin for your feet on hot summer walks.

“‘Ain’t’ isn’t a word.”

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“Ain’t” ain’t a word, and I ain’t using it. Dictionary.com says, “As a substitute for “am not,” “is not,” and “are not” in declarative sentences, “ain’t” is more common in uneducated than educated speech, but it occurs with some frequency in the informal speech of the educated, especially in the southern and south-central states.” In the South, “ain’t” is absolutely proper English.

“Miracle Whip and mayonnaise are the same thing.”

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Speaking of salads with mayonnaise, mayonnaise, particularly Duke’s, is a staple, not to be confused with Miracle Whip. “From sandwiches to dips, mayonnaise seems to be a recipe staple in nearly every Southern household—and not just for savory recipes, either,” says Southern Living.

“Does it have to be fried?”

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Fried food is synonymous with the South. While it may not be the best for your arteries or waistline, it sure is delicious. We do recommend eating it in moderation; just don’t say anything to your southern host.

“I don’t even like Chick-fil-A”

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“Chains like Chick-fil-A and Waffle House, both founded in the Atlanta area in the middle of the last century, have strong associations for Southerners because they were part of the coming of age of a new South,” said Marcie Cohen Ferris to the New York Times. Plus, with menu items like a fried chicken sandwich with butter and a pickle washed down with sweet tea, it is the quintessential southern drive-thru.

“Nashville and Dallas barbecue taste exactly the same.”

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Barbecue styles vary significantly across the South. North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas City, Texas, Memphis, and Alabama are some of the major styles of BBQ, and even those can be divided up more. Each has its own distinct style of cooking, flavors, and sauces, making the statement “they all taste the same” dismissive of regional differences.

“I don’t believe in God.”

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Religion has been a formative experience for those living in the U.S. South. Known as the “Bible Belt,” they are known for their evangelical denominations of Christianity. Evangelical Protestantism has dominated the South as a whole, and this proselytizing religious tradition believed in publicly testifying about the faith by whatever means necessary, making its presence especially widespread, and not believing in God slightly unheard of.

“I’ll take an unsweet tea, please.”

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Asking for unsweet tea will get you some seriously strange looks in the South, as tea comes one way: over ice, and heavily sweetened. It’s such a staple in southern culture that it’s even a law. South Carolina adopted sweet tea as the state’s official hospitality beverage in 1995, and Georgia introduced a House Bill in 2003 requiring that all restaurants in the state serve sweet tea.

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