Tim Cebula
April 17, 2008

I'm not from these parts. When I left my native Massachusetts to take a job at Cooking Light in Birmingham, Alabama, people asked me if I experienced  culture shock. When I told them I hadn't, they honestly seemed a little disappointed.

Of course there are differences, some of them profound. When it comes to festival street meat, for instance, the South has it all over the North. I first tried chicken-on-a-stick at a fair in Montgomery one summer. Like a gateway drug, it led directly to alligator-on-a-stick. Loved that so much I went straight for pizza. Yes, pizza--on-a-stick. Which is just as ridiculous as it sounds, and worth every penny.

I haven't yet hit one of the "meat-and-three" joints in town (where mac and cheese counts as one of your three "vegetable" sides), but I bet I'll love them. I may just save that experience for my birthday. Grab some cake-on-a-stick afterward.

In the beverage department, I've been introduced to some mightyseductive concoctions down here. I've had margaritas made with peachjuice. I've had them with watermelon juice. I've even had them madewith bourbon. Called "bourbaritas." Heavenly. I've considered naming myfirst daughter after them.

And then there are the little lifestyle differences. I've learned,for instance, that an electric bill can grow to a couple hundreddollars if you have central air conditioning and like to use it tostave off the soul-sapping heat that blankets the South from Junethrough September. Consequently, I've learned that while fans don'twork as well as AC, soul-sapping heat builds character.

I've learned that in the South, when someone says "bless your heart"to you, it's not exactly a benediction. They mean, "I feel bad for you;you're kind of a boob." Learned that one the hard way.

I've had to unlearn a few things, too. Just before I leftMassachusetts, I was working as a sous chef at a fine dining restaurantin the Berkshires. Since moving South, I've had to kick the habit ofsaying "behind you" when I'm walking past people who can't see me. It'sa precautionary measure in a professional kitchen, and helps preventcollisions and injuries. But in the office, well, it's just a littlecreepy.

Still, none of this amounts to culture shock. A few new discoveries,a handful of lessons learned. And one revelation: Everything tastesbetter on a stick.

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