South meets Northwest

My sister-in-law and my baby niece, Belle, recently wrapped up a visit to this side of the family. My sister-in-law is currently living in Birmingham, Alabama (which is where she was born and raised) with her mother and stepfather, waiting for the Captain’s return from Iraq.

This was the first time that I’d seen Belle, who is a sweet little butterball at four months old. She looks almost exactly like her mother’s baby pictures – it will be interesting to see if she develops any of her father’s features as she gets older.

The Munchkin was quite thrilled to see her aunt again, and to meet her baby cousin. Baby Boy wasn’t too keen on Mommy holding another baby (in fact, he burst out crying the first time I did), but his charming smile won his aunt all over again. Belle’s Mommy was happy to see the kids again, and kept exclaiming over how much they had grown since she had last seen them at Christmas.

I have been trying to get the Munchkin to use titles for people recently, instead of just using their first names. For example, she calls all of her aunts and uncles by their first names, except for the Captain. She has nearly always called him “Uncle”. And I’ve had people at church make comments about how she calls Auntie by her first name, instead of saying Aunt Auntie (you get the idea). My stock reply is, “She’s two and we’re working on it.” Auntie would rather the Munchkin just call her by her first name, but I think that once she’s old enough, it will be entirely appropriate for the Munchkin to use a title.

So, when the Munchkin called Belle’s Mommy by her first name, I gently corrected her. “No, that’s Auntie Belle’s Mommy, honey.”

Belle’s Mommy jumped in. “No, Aunt Belle’s Mommy. I don’t want to be called ‘Auntie’.”

I was confused, to say the least. “Why not?”

She stared at me. “You really have no idea, do you? The Captain never said anything?”

It turns out that the word “Auntie” has an entirely different meaning in the South – a derogatory one. Apparently, the first time that the Captain referred to one of our aunts as “Auntie So-and-so”, Belle’s Mommy’s sister was horrified. “He must not like her,” she said to my sister-in-law at the time. It took a little explaining on his part – and theirs – to discover that a word that we use in everyday conversation here in the Great Northwest was akin to a racial slur in the South. In fact, there’s only one aunt of mine that has even been just called “Aunt” (and she’s a great-aunt of mine, actually) – we have always called them “Auntie” without a second thought.

So, I am trying as best I can to keep referring to my sister-in-law as Aunt Belle’s Mommy, and I’m chalking this up to yet another difference between the South and the Northwest. Has anyone else run into anything like this? I’d be interested to know if there’s anything else I should be aware of when I’m in different parts of the country.

PS – I know that it’s all “Coke” in the South. That really confused the Captain until he figured it out. And my sister-in-law knows (now) that she can’t order “sweet tea” up here.

4 Responses to “South meets Northwest”

  1. Crystal
    July 19th, 2006 00:26

    I’m from B’ham, born & raised & I’ve never heard that about the word Auntie before. I call my Aunt Diane, Auntie D. Hhhhmmm…..

  2. MetroDad
    July 19th, 2006 06:22

    I never heard about the “Auntie” thing either. However, that’s ok. Every time I go to Birmingham (which I love), I always end up getting strange reactions. Like when I order Diet Cokes at a restaurant and ask whether they have any low-fat mayo. You should see the look on their faces. It’s hilarious!

  3. Little Cousin' Mommy
    July 19th, 2006 07:39

    I know some British terms:

    Fag = cigarette
    Lift = elevator
    Pavement = sidewalk

    I do know that in the South the term “whip” (as in “whip a child”) refers to spanking, not actually whipping.

  4. Juliet
    July 19th, 2006 08:54

    I’ve never heard about that either, although I’ve only been here a few years and C-ville isn’t exactly the Deep South.

    Sweet tea is one of the best things about the South. As is barbecue. I don’t know if it’s quite true where I am, but somewhere between here and the North Carolina state line, “barbecue” becomes a noun. If you order barbecue, it’s pork, and it comes minced in delicious little bits.