Y’all Ain’t From Around Here, Are You?


Y'all Ain't From Around Here, Are You?If you recently moved to East Tennessee from California, New York, Chicago, Seattle, etc., this post is for you. Consider this a brief cultural guide to moving to our area. I feel pretty qualified to write this because about 20 years ago, I was you! My parents moved us to Oak Ridge, Tennessee from San Diego, California, but back then, we were an anomaly. Now it seems like you meet someone who’s just moved here from the big city on every corner.

So, I am here to help you navigate our southern waters with some things I learned pretty quickly as a young teen all those years ago:

  • There are misconceptions and stereotypes on both sides. Before I moved here as a 13-year-old, my friends in California had plenty of ideas for me on what to expect. They were pretty sure everyone in Tennessee wore checkered shirts and overalls…thanks Beverly Hillbillies! On the other hand, all the kids in my new class in Tennessee had their own ideas about what life by the beach had been like. “Does everyone say ‘dude’ all the time?” “Is everyone blonde?” Did you guys rollerblade naked down the boardwalk??” Yes, pretty much, and um, no??
  • Tennesseans are about over everyone moving here…but if you’re already here, welcome! Here’s the thing: our cities and small towns are getting overcrowded, trees are being cut down, farmland is turning into subdivisions, and we can’t afford homes in our own areas anymore. When someone from another state sells their home for a million bucks and pays $500,000 cash for a home here that a couple of years ago cost $175,000, all of the sudden someone who’s lived here their whole life is outbid and outpriced. I follow a Facebook page for people who are trying to move here from out of state and can see that they have no idea what certain areas are like. They find a rural small town on the map, buy several acres of property, and don’t realize that they are going to have to clear the trees, have water and electricity and internet run out there (which isn’t even always possible), and then dig into hills and rock and red clay to build. They also talk on that page like every small town experience is going to be like a Hallmark movie, but I have news for you: the only place to go on a Friday night in some places may be a WalMart, and you might have to drive a while to get there! We may enjoy it and be used to it, but depending on where you’re from, it may be a whole different world. BUT if you are already here, we’re still going to welcome you and be friendly to you. It’s just how we are!
  • University of Tennessee is our football/basketball/etc. team…and we expect you to get on board with that! When my family first moved here, we immediately started hearing about Tennessee football and the Volunteers. We weren’t exactly sure what that meant, but come fall, we found out! All I can say is if you don’t own anything orange, you’re going to want to get some or risk feeling very out of place on a fall Saturday. You honestly can’t wear too much — just look up the checkerboard overalls! If you already have another favorite college team, well…whatever. But if you didn’t previously follow college football, you have a limited amount of time to acclimate before we expect you to start! And we don’t even joke about Kentucky, Alabama, or Florida. 
  • Soften those vowels and drop those Gs from your “-ings’! Yes, we speak a little differently here. Did you know the Appalachian dialect is the closest to the King’s English? Y’all gather round, I reckon I’m about to teach you somethin’. How much of an accent someone has depends on what area of Tennessee they are from; I didn’t notice it as much when I first moved to Oak Ridge because folks move here from all over the world to work at the Oak Ridge National Lab. But that didn’t keep me from being a little confused when I started working at the local Chick-fil-A (that’s your favorite restaurant now, get used to it!) and was having trouble understanding some of the customers’ orders. What was a slaw, I wondered? And a “sprot”? And why did people look at me funny when I poured them a Coke…wasn’t that what they had asked for? Turns out slaw meant coleslaw, sprot was Sprite, and people will say “coke,” but that can mean any number of soft drinks, the same way people might say soda or pop in another region of the country. When I moved to the Cumberland Gap for college, people regularly said to me, “You ain’t from around here, are you?” based on my (then) non-southern accent. I remember when my local husband and I went on our honeymoon cruise and a favorite game for people was to guess where we were from based on our accents! There are also a handful of specific things we say differently here, like: Nevada, Colorado, Reese’s (cups), and out here Washington means D.C., not the state. 
  • Don’t trespass on someone else’s land or approach a home without good reason…you might get shot. Also, if you’re in a rural area and hear gunshots, it doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. Someone is probably just hunting or shooting for target practice. 
  • Downtown Knoxville has a lot of one-way streets and it takes getting used to.
  • We are super friendly and polite! When I visit places now like Chicago, California, New York, etc., it takes all my willpower to shift back into “city mode.” It may be surprising to Tennessee newcomers that total strangers will wave at you while driving, say “hello” or ask “how are you?” in passing, hold the door for everyone, and have a whole discussion and ask your life story at the checkout. No one is a stranger here. I can’t tell you how many times my family used to wonder who people were waving at until we realized it was normal to wave at everybody! And especially if you have young kids, older folks will talk to them, pat them on the head, and offer them some candy or a snack. You don’t have to take it, but you do at least need to smile and politely say “No, thank you” because they are just trying to be nice! 
  • It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. I’m not going to expound on that one; you can find out yourself come next summer.

So there you go…now you have some pointers on adjusting to life in East Tennessee. We know why you moved here…it’s the best state in the country. If you’re nice to us and respectful of the way we live, we’ll be nice right back! If you wear orange on Saturdays in the fall, we’ll really warm up to you. And if you have any questions about living here, just ask because we love to talk about this great place we call home. (And join your area Knoxville Moms Neighborhood Group on Facebook!)

If you have any other tips on living in East Tennessee, share them with us!


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