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Charleston Idiosyncrasies

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Charleston, like many older cities, is rich in history and has a flavor all its own. As a new resident I have also discovered a number of idiosyncrasies that seem to be unique to this area. I thought I would start a list of them and add to it, before they become part of my nature.

My wife, Becky, grew up in Charleston but has lived away for eighteen years. However, when we moved here, in 9 out of 10 places we visited there was someone who knew Becky (or a sister, or brother, or her parents). This someone would always greet Becky and when that person introduced us to another, I was introduced as ' ... and this is Becky's husband. What was your name again? '

After some research I discovered this was not rude behavior but was quite normal. It seems that it takes an average of ten years before an imported spouse of a Charlestonian will be known as anyone other than ' the spouse of ... '. Oh well, I'll get there one day.

The natives use a term quite often in general conversation, ' round tha corner '. It is used both to give directions and as a measure of distance. ' The Piggly Wiggly is just round tha corner. ' or ' Mama D lives just round tha corner from the marsh. ' I have not mastered its use but I believe, whether direction or distance, its meaning is a matter of voice inflection.

To understand why this term is used one must consider the geography of Charleston. The old town, built by the founding fathers, is laid out in squares and blocks. Not so when you look at the rest of the city. Normally, NO road is straight due to harbors, rivers, inlets, marshes, coastline, creeks, and some old trees that can not be cut down without authorization from God. Thus roads are built as they must be to conform, like a plate of spaghetti.

Do you get the picture? There are not that many 90 degree turns. In stead you go ' around ' the corner. That is easy to comprehend for directions but you have to visualize a step further to understand the term's use for distance. Around the corner could mean a measure of miles when you encounter a tidal marsh full of pluff mud. Thus the distance to a location would be ' r-o-u-n-d tha corner '.

I just love the way the English language is adjusted for different areas of the country.

There is another local term I have heard that caught my attention. It centers on a tropical plant called a yucca. The yucca plant grows in the wild near the marsh surrounded by thick undergrowth. It is a rather small bush with a sturdy stem and many long green leaves. Each leaf is stiff as cardboard and tapers to a point. Though a long leaf, its point is as sharp as a cactus thorn.

The local term being described is used as a warning to those who would explore Mother Nature near the marsh. It encompasses many of the dangers you might encounter such as snakes, spiders, insects, poison plants and other demons near the water's muddy edge. To emphasize the importance of vigilance at all times, the term is combined with a natural bodily function. Thus you know a local is thinking of your safety when they tell you ' don't squat over the yucca plan!! '

When it rains in Charleston it is always an experience. All the land is close to sea level and flat. Thus there is no where for the rain water to go very quickly. It just stays in the streets until the tide goes out. Yet people just take it in stride.

For example, I was sitting at a traffic signal when a fisherman came motoring thru the intersection with his shrimp boat. Downtown there are high lifeguard chairs strategically placed and manned by policemen after a quick rain to watch for people drowning. At the local McDonald's there are fishing poles for the kids to use from the playground as the water recedes. The automated teller machines at banks are on floating docks so they can be used during high water. There is even a 24-hour service that will dive down to retrieve your groceries from your car in the event of a flash flood.

It is just wonderful to see a community adapt to its environment.

Another common behavior has been observed all over the city. You will not drive down any street without seeing some vehicles parked on the grass. In the suburbs there is no curb side parking. Whether there is a driveway or not, vehicles will be on the grass. At all public buildings from the courthouse to churches the lawn is considered an extension to the parking lot. Just down the street from our home a well maintained lawn is graced with a very large Peterbilt. When visiting a friend and his yard is already full it is common to park in his neighbor's yard. I have even driven past estates with elaborate brick drives and seen multiple vehicles on the front lawn rather than the brick.

I can only attribute this behavior to an inbred need to be ready for evacuation by everyone at the same time in the event of a hurricane.

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