How to be A Fake Southern Man: An Open Letter to Mitt Romney

Dear Governor Romney,

First of all, allow us to express our sincerest condolences for your recent losses in the South. Lord knows you poured a lot of time, money, sweat, tears, money and money into trying to win Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi … bless your heart.

We here at Real Southern Men feel partly to blame. After all, we’ve spent the last year telling people what steps to take to become a Real Southern Man, as if it’s as easy as that. Well, it isn’t. Being a Real Southern Man isn’t as simple as listening to some country music and talking about hunting. It’s about something deeper inside, something that takes root deep within you and changes the way you do and see everything … sort of like a tape worm or arterial plaque, but in a good way.

The thing you need to understand about our little website here is this: it’s largely tongue-in-cheek. We Southerners have a complicated sense of humor, because, despite popular opinion outside our region, we are complicated people. We can poke fun at a thing while simultaneously celebrating it. Bless your little Michichusetts heart, you just weren’t in on the joke. You didn’t even know when we were joking.

Now before we go taking too much credit, we realize we have no proof that anyone from your campaign actually visited our site. However, there was a conspicuous spike in hits, especially to our Real Southern Rules category, the day before the Alabama and Mississippi primaries. Coincidence? We think not.

Feeling the slightest twinge of guilt for throwing such an obstacle in your path to the nomination, allow us to be of assistance as you attempt to win more Southern states. Herewith, we present our list of ways not to be a Real Southern Man. If you can avoid these gaffes, you might fare better with some of our Southern brethren.

1. Talk about it instead of being about it.

We Southerners love a good tall tale. We love to hear them, and we love to tell them. And as such accomplished yarn spinners, we can spot a put-on from a country mile away. If you want to alienate Southerners, tell us what you are doing to be more Southern, instead of showing us. In fact, making a show of your new Southern traits (instead of  simply doing them and hoping we notice) is another way to guarantee you are not a Real Southern Man.

Example: A Real Southern Man would enter a rally, take the mic and say, “How y’all doin?” A fake Southern man would say “I”m learning how to say ‘y’all’ and eat grits. All sorts of strange things are happening.” Congratulations, you just insulted us while trying to be endearing. That takes a special level of self-unawareness.

2. Be ignorant of Southern influences on pop culture.

From Boo Radley to Bo Diddley, American pop culture is rooted deeply in the South. We know it’s tempting to appreciate the contributions of Southerners to the creation of blues, rock and roll, and great literature. Don’t do it. If you want to avoid being mistaken for a closet Southerner, we suggest honing in on the stereotypical bits of Southern culture rather than going deep. But even that effort may not be enough. People might mistake your patronizing as a deeply entrenched, but culturally deprived, Southerness. So as you embrace the stereotypes, also do your best to bungle them.

Example: A Real Southern Man would say to Randy Owen (lead singer of the band Alabama), “Randy, I sure would love to hear you sing ‘My Home’s in Alabama.'” A fake Southern man would instead ask him to sing “Sweet Home Alabama.” That song is not only not by his band, but by a band from Florida. This move will ensure no one thinks you are Southern, and it might even have people questioning whether you are human.

3. Tout your friendships with millionaires.

We have no problem with people being rich. If given the choice, most of us would happily take your millions … so long as they don’t come as a package deal with that considerable stick up your … never mind. However, most of us really can’t relate to your tales of hobnobbing at the country club with corporate tycoons. (Hint: this is not a uniquely Southern trait.) If you want to keep us at an emotional arm’s length, patronize us by not only invoking Southern stereotypes, but by using those stereotypes to remind us how rich you really are.

Example: A Real Southern Man might invoke the passion for football and NASCAR in the South as a metaphor for his passion for his presidential platform. Or he might not. He might realize that not everyone in the South loves football and NASCAR. A fake Southern man, however, will trump out the football and NASCAR stereotypes and then (displaying a dizzying ignorance of the fact that most Southerners prefer college football) mention his friendships with NFL and racing team owners. Nicely done. Don’t forget to take your carpet bag with you when you leave.

4. Make lame references to grits.

Yes, we love grits. They are the ultimate Southern food. However, we don’t require that every Southerner talk about them on a regular basis. This RSM hasn’t eaten grits in weeks, and hasn’t talked about them (outside the realm of parody) in even longer. If you want to remind us of just how un-Southern you are. Talk about them … a lot.

Example: A Real Southern Man would talk about a dish that represents the breadth and richness of Southern cuisine. A fake Southern man would talk about eating a simple breakfast grain as if respecting the traditions of a remote, primitive tribe that might kill him if he were to refuse the local cuisine.

Bonus tip: The grits with cheese you ate are simply “cheese grits.” “Cheesy” is more aptly applied to your failed attempt to name the dish. If that was self-parody, well played.

5. Be anyone other than yourself.

Sure, some Southerners may “put on airs” from time to time, but for the most part, we appreciate a deep level of authenticity. If we get the sense that you’re trying way too hard to be someone other than yourself, we promise to never, ever mistake you for a Southerner. In fact, a Midwesterner-turned-New Englander who brazenly touts his heritage, despite the audience, has more in common with a Real Southern Man.

Example: A candidate from Pennsylvania who touts his upbringing in a coal mining town in the North, who embraces his Catholicism when addressing throngs of Protestants and who eats a plate of Dreamland ribs (rather than talking about them) is more of a Southern man than the one who strains all credulity in his efforts to be “relatable.”

We’re not sure, but we think these rules will prove themselves at the polls.

Or perhaps they already have.



11 Responses to “How to be A Fake Southern Man: An Open Letter to Mitt Romney”

  1. Well said, my friend….well said!

  2. What gets me is how little homework the man did prior to arriving down South. A few references to college football would’ve been fine. Instead, he merely reinforced his established, droid-like nature.

    To quote Paula Cole, Where have all the cowboys gone?

  3. “It’s about something deeper inside, something that takes root deep within you and changes the way you do and see everything … sort of like a tape worm or arterial plaque, but in a good way.” LOL Gotta hand it to you…you’ve covered all the bases he left undone!

  4. GREAT blog! You pointed out things that just show how out of touch people really are. 🙂

  5. Loved that – thanks – I’m teaching English in Indonesia…not many Southern people come here but plenty of Northerners…needless to say, their ideas about what being American means aren’t usually consistent with what being Southern means. I will share your blog as helpful. Thank you for thoughtful, non-reactionary/crazy posts 🙂
    A Southern Woman who is Also Not Ridiculous…

  6. So glad you were able to put into words so perfectly why everything during those town halls rubbed me the wrong way!


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