Monday, March 28, 2005

Yet More Southern Sheeeeeeit...
The deeper I delve into the culture of the south, the more I learn. Not all of these lessons are happy ones, I'm afraid, but they are nonetheless heard-earned and much needed ones.

For a start, I had noticed some time back that racism, as I would understand it (coming from the north) simply did not exist here, and to a certain extent, this is still true. I see very little in the way of overt racism (there are no more "coloreds only" water fountains, for example), and contrary to popular belief back home, there are not legions of inbred farm folk running around in white sheets looking for someone to drape from the nearest tree. There is certainly not the mixing of the races that is more prevalent in northern parts, but, when black and white do get together here, it is mostly civil.

It's when North and South get together that things get a little dicey.

I'm constantly reminded that I am that lowest form of life imaginable: a damn Yankee. I get it whenever I ask a question that might involve someone having to think real hard, or perhaps, form an intelligent answer. If I don't get some variation on "this-is-the-way-things-are-done-here-and-it's-been-this-way-since-Christ-was-a-Corporal", I get "we're soooooo sorry things aren't what your used to. Might I suggest you go back home?"

It's become apparent that despite the historical racism, being a white guy here ain't all that great either if you're a Northerner. Particularly if you're a northerner.

Now, just what has brought on this venting of spleen, this ferral howling at the moon, this vexated diatribe? Stay still, gentle reader, for about three minutes and I'll tell ya.

I'm aggravated. I'm vexed. I'm pissed and my patience ran out a long time ago. At first, I thought it was merely a matter of me making adjustments to the southern way of life, many of which, I was more than happy to make. I understand perfectly that the ebbs and flows, the rythyms of life here are vastly different from what I'm accustomed to and I expected everything associated with my move to be a bit painful, at first.

But then I started engaging in the types of activities that one usually depends on others to either do for you or help you with. Case in point: obtaining employment.

To begin with, I have engaged the services of several employment agencies in Charlotte and now in my new stomping grounds around Greensboro. It was pure logic, in my mind, that when you do not know the job market, do not know what employers are available and furthermore, what positions are available, then you seek professional help. Hence, employment agencies.

Where I come from, obtaining a job is a straightforward business proposition: someone has a position available, they interview applicants who are qualified, they make a decision on who to hire, and presto, someone has a job. I'm sure it works this way on 4/5ths of the planet, but for some reason, once you pass the Mason-Dixon line, this simple business model suddenly disintegrates into a chaotic melee of ignorance, incompetence and, worst of all, nepotism.

I've been at this job search thing for 6 months now. I know jobs are available. U.S. News and World Report has just ranked North Carolina 10th in the country as far as new job creation in a recent issue. I read the local newspapers and everyday it seems, more Fortune 500's are relocating to North Carolina on a daily basis. Anyway, what happens when you engage an employment agency here is the following:

- you will fill in 60 pages of paper which will be promptly filed away and forgotten.
- if you call your agent every other week to ask about progress, you will be told there is none. Call more than once every other week and you will be told "you're being pushy".
- Your agent will most likely refer you to another personnel agency or agencies. Somehow, they all work together, swapping clients and such, and how any of them can make a profit this way is beyond me. They're practically begging you to call someone else while they also try to place you.
- finding a personnel agent who actually understand the industry they claim to recruit for is extremely difficult, unless you're a truck driver, warehouse specialist, cashier or domestic help. If you happen to be involved in a high-tech industry, knowlegable folks are few and far between, and for all I know, might not even exist here.
- if your resume does, magically, manage to land on someone's desk, once they find out you;re a Yankee you get a polite brush-off. "You're over-qualified" is a polite way of saying "get out, ya damn Yankee."
- One manager who actually managed to get my resume actually called me and told me he would not be interviewing me because "I'd be a damned fool if I hired my own, eventual replacement". At least he was honest.
- Your personnel agent, who is working like a (retired) sled dog -- for you! -- will start to tell you about how you should join a country club, attend trade fairs, start going to church, maybe start chewing tobacco, all in an effort to "meet the right kind of people". In other words, you will have to start networking because most hires in the south are the result of "personal relationships". i.e. nepotism. In other words, I have retained an agent who will make an astronomical fee for placing me somewhere, but I will have to do all of the legwork. So then, what is the point of retaining an agent? As I said, I can't see how any of them makes a dime.

And it all boils down to four inarguable, prescient points about southerners:

1. The are incredibly suspicious about anyone from up north. We make too much money, we have funny ideas, we're loud, pushy, obnoxious and argumentative, and this makes us suspect. This from people who eat grits, watch NASCAR, and live in a place where roadkill restaurants actually exist, where wife-beating and incest are the national pasttimes and who, on a good day, might be able to expend enough brain cells to burn calories.
2. Many southern managers I have met seem to be somewhat unbalanced: southerners can be stubborn, quick to take offense, inclined to shun that which they cannot understand, they hold epoch-long grudges for minor slights, and quite a few couldn't tie their own shoes without a government program. Give them a little authority though, and these minor psychological issues overcome any sort of decency or logic they might have in them. They become little dictators, expecting everyone to bow before the august majesty of their authority, and give little thought to what they are doing or how they are doing it.
3. I might be white, but I'm still the enemy because: a) I can get a job most southern men can't, b) I can make a shitload more money than most southern men can, c) I get my pick of the wimmenfolk afterwards. They take it personally.
4. There is a square-peg-in-the-square-hole mentality. If a job requirement lists, for example, a particular software product and you don't have knowledge of that product, but do have extensive knowledge of a similar one, you are automatically discounted. Depsite the fact that in computing, while the methodology or the specifics may differ, the principles are the same. The ability to think abstractly or make exceptions is a major barrier, not only for me, but also for the poor ploughboy who must endure the pain of thinking.

If I had to boil down the pure essence of the problems I'm having, it would come down to people being prejudiced against my northern heritage, the seeming stupidity of the people I'm dealing with and the cultural barriers peculiar to a place where the 21st century has yet to arrive. Despite these setbacks, I'm still determined to make a go of it here because despite the presence of southerners, this is still a wonderful place to live, once you get used to not being able to pick up a pack of cigarettes from the corner store at 4 a.m. For a start, there is no corner store. The conveniences of Yankee life, as I've said before, simply do not exist here. It's merely a matter of getting used to it.

But I'm getting pretty sick and tired of being called a Yankee and being treated like dirt because of it. As I was recently telling a black friend of mine, when it comes to how I'm treated by the rednecks, I now know what his people suffered through for four centuries.

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