We get to the subject of Coca-Cola, which is pronounced “Ko-KOLA” by anyone who loves the Lord.

BUFFALO—A grocery store. I am at the deli counter looking for something to eat. We have been driving through Upstate New York countryside since this morning and I am hungry. If I could just secure a ham sandwich, I’d be in business.

The deli has fresh baked ham. Still hot. They offer samples.

“May I have a sample of that ham?” I ask the woman at the counter.

“Huh?” she says.

So I repeat myself.

She smiles. “Say it one more time.”

So I do.

Then she calls her coworker over. “Eugene,” she says. “You gotta hear how this guy talks.” Then she tells me, “Say ‘ham’ one more time.”

I’m waiting for a please in there somewhere.

“Go ahead,” she insists.

I clear my throat.


Eugene enjoys this very much. Apparently, I am a real knee-slapper.

“Teach me how to say it with two syllables like that,” says Eugene.

“Well, it’s very simple,” I say. “And I don’t mind teaching you, but first I’m gonna need a free sample of that hay-um.”

We get along famously. It’s great. They give me all the free ham I can stand. Then they point to objects in the store and ask me to name them. Among the words they ask me to say are: shopping cart (pronounced “buggy”), pen (“pee-yin”), chair (“chay-er”), fire (“fie-yer”), and chest of drawers (“that thar chifferobe”).

We get to the subject of Coca-Cola, which is pronounced “Ko-KOLA” by anyone who loves the Lord.

“I’ve never heard it said that way,” says Eugene. “We just say ‘pop.’ What would you say when you order pop at a restaurant?”

We wouldn’t. We would order sweet tea.

“But what if they don’t have tea?” he says. “Then what would you order?”

If a restaurant does not have sweet tea, we would ask to speak to the manager, reason with him or her, then set fire to the establishment. After which we would drive to the gas station and buy a Ko-kola.

My new friends and I also talk about the weather. They ask what the South is like during the summer.

“Humid and hot,” I explain.

“What about autumn?” Eugene asks.

“Also humid and hot.”

“Is winter like that, too?”

I’m not familiar with this term.

Our atmosphere in the Florida Panhandle is always 99.999 percent boiling humidity, with that last little percentage point being reserved for oxygen. And all that moisture makes my hair frizzy and curly.

My hair has always been curly. Most days, my hair looks much Greg Brady’s would look if he had recently survived a life-threatening lightning strike.

But here in New York, my hair is totally flat from the dry weather.

“Yeah,” says Eugene. “Your hair is definitely lacking body today.”

But aside from the dryness, the north is great. The only other minor drawback I can see is that almost everyone seems to be genuinely stand-offish. Not everyone is as friendly as old Eugene.

People are not like that back home. If I were to go to a grocery store located in, for instance, Mossy Head, Florida, eight or nine people would hug my neck and ask how my mama was doing. Then Miss Annabelle would tell me to swing by her house to pick up some leftover ribs because I was looking puny. Whereupon we would talk about her recent out-of-town trip to visit her oldest son, Leon, who just got a prestigious big-city job as assistant manager at the KFC in Dothan.

But many people up north look at you with suspicious glares. I met one cashier at a gas station who said she never heard any customer say “thank you” as much as I did. She admitted that she didn’t like this.

All I was doing was buying a Ko-kola.

Another go-to phrase my people use is: “We enjoyed it!” Which I don’t think would fly up north.

This phrase is always said at the end of a get-together, a church service, a party, or after invasive medical procedures, etc. It is usually the last thing we say before going home. We use it repeatedly, loudly, and we especially say it—this is very important—EVEN IF WE DID NOT ENJOY IT.

One Thanksgiving, my mother served one of her famous pies and forgot to add sugar to the recipe. It was like eating FedEx shipping materials with a fork. But everyone at the table—including her own brother—did not mention it. Instead they said, “This is DELICIOUS!”

Her sister-in-law said, “I’ve GOT to get this recipe.”

The preacher started praying in tongues.

We all choked the pie down with plenty of water until finally, my cousin’s girlfriend from Minneapolis said, “There’s something wrong with this pie.”

You could hear a collective gasp from the table. People hid their faces. My uncle jumped out the second-story window.

When my mother realized what had happened she was mortified. Then we all laughed about it and told her “We enjoyed it!” before we went home.

And when my cousin got married to that young woman, someone slashed the tires of her car during the ceremony. And I’m not saying I know who did it, but we did find a spit cup at the scene of the crime.

So some of these northern people don’t exactly have the warmest personalities. But in all fairness, some are nice. In fact, some are even kindhearted in their own stiff-faced, skeptical-of-everything-and-everybody-even-their-own-mother kind of way.

And when they ask me to say words, I don’t mind talking for them because it’s fun to embrace our regional differences.

Besides, deep down I’m a big old hay-um.


  1. Chris Spencer - October 19, 2019 6:26 am

    I don’t travel much anymore but I have made it to parts of our beautiful country where people have stood around just to listen to me talk.

    And being a polite Southerner I would usually talk for them, even when they pointed and laughed.

    Can you imagine a group from say ” Joi-sey” or ” de-Bronx” traveling through the south and being asked to talk so we could point and laugh?

    Naa , me neither, besides, none of us would be able to interpret what they said lol.

  2. Susan Ogden - October 19, 2019 9:04 am

    Lol!! This is a prime example of why I got outta Dodge… I have always felt like a misplaced southern soul growing up in western Jersey. Make no mistake.. Western Jersey not Western Joisey! The East side of the state speaks a different language… As tho NY leaked over the state line! I do not speak Joisey… I proudly speak saying thank you often and that i had a great time… Even if I didn’t. I also love a good baked Hay-um with spicy mustard!
    Thanks for another fun and funny read! Hurry home!

  3. Marilyn Ward Vance - October 19, 2019 9:26 am

    Imagine, if you will, an Alabama girl in good old England…..my husband was TDY at an airbase there and I was with him. While he was at work, I stayed in the quarters provided. The maids and I delighted each other with our speech….they kept asking me to ‘say something’…..at least, I THINK that’s what they were asking..LOL!

  4. GaryD - October 19, 2019 10:12 am

    I say all those words like you do except “fire” and “pen”. For me it’s “far” and “pin”. Moved from Alabama when I was twelve years old but the Alabama accent has stayed with me. And for that I want to Thank God Almighty!

  5. Steve - October 19, 2019 11:35 am

    My first day in a corporate office in Connecticut a woman asked me “Do you want to get a cup of Quoah-fee?”. She was my first line boss. I’d work everyday with her for two years. But she was suspicious. Her mind was full of stereotypes. On that same first day, she pulled me into an office and said “My husband is black. If you have a problem with that I need to know right now!”. It wasn’t her fault. She lived her whole life in New York City; her only exposure to the South came from Hollywood Movies. She was a graduate from Harvard. Highly paid and exceptional at work. And yes, they laughed hysterically at my Southern accent. She turned out to be very kind, just in a very different way.

  6. Jamie Brewer - October 19, 2019 11:37 am

    When I growing up in the 1950’s-1960’s my mother would while away lazy summer afternoons reading the book “Gone With the Wind” reclining in an aluminium, webbed deck chair on our front porch in Lockport, NY. One such afternoon a Fuller Brush Man stopped by. He was from the south…. the effect of his accent and the “moonlight and magnolias” from GWTW had mom buying out the store!!!

  7. Elizabeth - October 19, 2019 11:40 am


  8. Naomi - October 19, 2019 12:15 pm

    My father grew up in New York City but when he married my mother, who was from Alabama, they went back to Birmingham where I was born and raised. When I started school, my teacher told me that I didn’t pronounce my name correctly. When I got married, we moved to the St. Louis area. I was teased constantly about my accent. People would say things like, “Where is you all from?” I tried for 7 years to lose my southern accent, to no avail.

  9. Karen Crumpton - October 19, 2019 12:26 pm

    Great read! I enjoyed it!

  10. Margarett Jane Vaught - October 19, 2019 12:31 pm

    Having visited the area of upstate New York, I really enjoyed this column. It is so true how different we are in not only our speech, but our mannerisms. Being a true southerner is something I am totally proud of – born in the panhandle in the wonderful, small town of Crestview. I have relatives all through Florida from Pensacola to Okeechobee and we all talk just like you. (and I know where Mossy Head is)
    You have become my new favorite columnist, replacing Lewis Grizzard, rest his pig valve heart.

  11. GEORGE FISHER - October 19, 2019 12:44 pm

    Totally can relate. My travels took me to Boston for a week once and when asked where I was from, I said “Maine”…”Maine?!?; “Yep,the Maine part of Georgia.”

  12. Missy Shaffer - October 19, 2019 12:46 pm

    And the further north you go, the worse it gets. I have had passers-by look me in the eye after I’ve greeted them and totally ignore me. I don’t understand the northern personality. After 18 years of living here I am so thankful when I go back home I shake the border agent’s hand.

  13. Dee Thompson - October 19, 2019 12:57 pm

    Love this column. In 1965 my mother was in New York City with my dad on a business trip and she was trying to buy stockings at one of the big stores, perhaps Macy’s. The clerks came from all over the store and surrounded her and commanded her to TALK! She talked for a while and then politely reminded them she needed stockings. She thought it was funny. // When my uncle moved to Utica New York in 1956 because GE was his employer my grandmother went to visit and the butcher couldn’t understand a a word she said. She wanted a he-in [hen] and he called that a “pullet.”. My uncle had to stand there and translate, which he thought was hilarious.

  14. Anne Godwin - October 19, 2019 1:18 pm

    You reminded me of a trip taken with my Grandma Swinson to visit her daughter in Maryland. I was 10 or 11. We traveled by train. I remember being asked what flavor of ice cream I wanted. I was asked to repeat choc’lat several times. Thanks for the sweet memory.

  15. PJ Hartley - October 19, 2019 1:26 pm

    My parents moved from North Carolina to Indiana. (For a short period!). Every time my mother went to the bank they asked her where she was from. She always said, “Noth Kalina.” Every time same thing. Apparently that was their entertainment for the day.

  16. Carolyn from Georgia - October 19, 2019 1:27 pm

    You should go to the BUFFALO BILLS vs. MIAMI DOLPHINS GAME tomorrow at 1pm or at least walk through the parking lots and write about it!!!! It is an AMAZING experience!!!! Also are you going to NIAGARA FALLS? Safe travels!!!

  17. Marge - October 19, 2019 1:35 pm

    Sean, Please come visit Minnesota! “MN Nice” is famous and it is real😊

  18. Wanda in Alabama - October 19, 2019 1:36 pm

    Several years ago my husband & I went to Niagara Falls. I speak Southern, but my husband who is a naturalized citizen of the U.S.who speaks several languages, speaks English with a German accent (think Henry Kissinger). We stopped at a restaurant near Buffalo and we started ordering our food. The waitress told my husband that she could not understand what I was saying and asked him to interpret for her. I felt like I was on the “I Love Lucy” TV program. To make matters worse when I asked for sweet tea, I was told that the “sugar is on the table”. I guess the Northerners don’t realize that you don’t get sweet tea by adding sugar to a glass of cold unsweetened tea. Anyway seeing Niagara made the trip worthwhile. While at the Falls we heard so many languages that I told my husband it seemed as if we were the only people there speaking English. About that time I saw a man walking toward the Falls and he was wearing a BAMA baseball cap. I walked up to him and said, “War Eagle”. He had the most shocked look on his face and when he recovered enough to say something, he said “Roll Tide”. Come to find out, he had lived in Alabama all of his life, even in the same town where we live and had worked at NASA where my husband worked until he retired. But he had recently moved to Florida. It was so nice to meet someone friendly, and someone who spoke our language! Speaking of “I Love Lucy”, we also visited the Desi and Lucy museum in her hometown in New York state and passed by the cemetery where she is buried. Interesting trip.

  19. Chuck (in FWB) - October 19, 2019 1:47 pm

    Great article this morning Sean! Really enjoyed it! Heading to Boston next month to experience some of this myself. Thanks for a great start to a Saturday!

  20. Connie Havard Ryland - October 19, 2019 1:48 pm

    I love this so much. I took my kids on a trip when they were small to visit relatives in Wisconsin. Every word I said was met with amusement or a request to “please say that again”. I thought it was hilarious because I don’t think I have an accent. Of course, I was born and raised in Mobile, AL so I guess I might.
    Don’t you feel sometimes as if you fell down the rabbit hole? You and Jamie are sweet, wonderful Southern people, traveling the country, showing them all how wonderful Southerners are. That has to feel a little surreal. Love and hugs.

  21. Jeanne Butler - October 19, 2019 1:51 pm

    Love the South and the kind people who live there. I’ve always lived in Delaware and didn’t realize how nasty people were in the North until we went South for the month of August. We did not want to come back. Wish we had not. Love you Sean

  22. Ala Red Clay Girl - October 19, 2019 1:53 pm

    Most Southerners are proud of being from the South. So I wonder, are Northerners proud of being from the North? Thank you for starting my day with a laugh – “We enjoyed it!”

  23. Nita - October 19, 2019 2:12 pm

    Funny how that goes both ways! On my first trip to Virginia from Washington State we were sitting on the porch swing talking with Aunt Mary. She was asking me so many questions and finally said “I just love to listen to y’alls accent!”

  24. Pat - October 19, 2019 2:14 pm

    Just tell ’em to dial 1 for Southern!

  25. Linda Moon - October 19, 2019 2:40 pm

    The Ohioans in my family introduced me to the word POP. They were from that area where torches up pants or skirts were necessary for warmth. Winter is unknown in my South far too long for me. The Ohioans don’t understand my longings for cold winters. A cold Ko-Kola was my step-dad’s favorite non-alcholic drink. He also fixed us lots of Hay-ums for Sunday Dinners. I love the way YOU talk, you big ol’ hay-um! And I enjoyed this post, with or without the sugar!!

  26. Donna - October 19, 2019 2:47 pm


  27. jackl - October 19, 2019 2:57 pm

    Y’all ‘er crazy down ‘air! But I still enjoy it when someone smiles at my wife’s accent! I really do love to hear folks talk. The sound of the Northeast is one of my favorites.
    Good read,
    Sherry & jack

  28. Jones - October 19, 2019 3:23 pm

    Very good read that brings smiles!👍👍

  29. Anthony - October 19, 2019 4:13 pm

    You’re near Cooperstown.

  30. Jenny Young - October 19, 2019 5:32 pm

    I wonder if Chick-fil-A employees say ‘my pleasure’ up north? Of course someone has to say thank you for them to respond with my pleasure….

  31. Shelton A. - October 19, 2019 6:22 pm

    I do know how you feel. Once, in a town in NJ (very close to NYC), in a mall at a pizza place (not a chain and the pizza was really good), I was asked to talk for them after I ordered. I felt like was in an exhibit. Not fun, after a while.

  32. Judy Riley (from a long line of dog lovers......and passed it on to my children. - October 20, 2019 12:01 am

    I lived in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan for a year in 1967. It was the closest I will ever come to being a celebrity. I grew up in Kentucky where we “warsh” our hands; moved to Moose Jaw from Georgia. When I opened my mouth it was like the old E.F Hutton commercials. But, like you, I am a bit of a hay-um and before long I was even more southern than when I moved there. LOL Fun time! Also they had a problem with me “a fixin'” to do something! Mercy, bless their hearts!!

  33. Jane Buttram - October 20, 2019 10:42 pm

    Your essay really brought back memories. As a new 21-year old bride raised in Auburn, Al , my new husband moved me to Chicago. I finally asked the local butcher, “where’s your hay-um”. After several attempts, each louder than the last, figuring he was deaf, I spelled it; you know H-A-M. That was 1967 & I don’t remember if we ever got into shank end or butt end!
    We left after 2 years & I asked my husband to please not move me north of the Mason-Dixon Line ever again
    A Faithful Reader from the Fl Panhandle myself,
    Jane Buttram

  34. Emily - October 21, 2019 8:11 pm

    My husband is from way upstate New York….when he goes home now after living in Alabama for a bit he receives some strange looks for being too nice

  35. Emily - October 21, 2019 8:15 pm

    My guess is kinda? I’m from the northwest, but definitely love being in the south

  36. Robert Chiles - October 21, 2019 11:59 pm

    Pop is what the weasel goes.

  37. Jennie - October 22, 2019 12:40 pm

    So, I grew up near my uncles, Nawman and Nawoood in Virginia. I didn’t know until I was way into adulthood that their names were Norman and Norwood!!

  38. Dawn Bratcher - October 22, 2019 9:28 pm

    As long as they realize we are not stupid, just speak differently. 😂

  39. Gale Smith - November 13, 2019 5:59 am

    We might talk slow, but we do not think that way…..I have met some very nice people from many northern states, and from foreign countries. My AL friends say I talk too fast and have lost my Bama accent. Blame Uncle Sam. One a Brit in Miami told me he loved my accent (my accent?!). Moving 40 times in roughly 40 years has affected my speech. Just the other day I caught my little toe on a piece of unforgiving furniture, and realized I speak 16 languages. Well, a few words in each, anyway…..

  40. Steve W. - November 13, 2019 6:42 am

    Four years in the Navy I saw half the U.S. & a lot of the world. Served with guys from just about every state. Just about all of them are thoroughly entertained by the Alabama accent.
    “So what do they call these in Bama?” was something I heard often. Sweet tea? Non existent. Might as well put a quarter inch of sugar in your glass & try to get it mixed. A friend from Texas taught me to use Sweet-N-Low. Tastes funny but it disolves well in cold tea.
    When I came home on leave I’d picked up just enough yankee that all my old friends wanted to hear me talk. Asking for a soda or pop got the craziest look.
    I recently had a 40 year reunion with my Navy buds. We spent half the weekend asking each other to repeat what they said.

  41. Robin Ann - November 13, 2019 7:56 am

    Yes. Very proud of being from the North. Thank you.

  42. Denise Louise Gunnels - November 14, 2019 1:20 am

    I am from deep southwest Georgia. I have just spent three months traveling all over the northeast. It is exactly as you say although I didn’t notice too many people being standoffi. Mostly, they just wanted me to keep talking!


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