Before I begin, I would like to announce that I have begun writing for The Canadian Daily, a popular news and opinion site on Canadian and international politics.
I have spent the majority of the past five years living in cities with very cold people, in which it is almost a crime to speak to anyone next to you if you don’t know him/her. And to be honest, I like that.
The moment I took a step southwards, everyone suddenly wanted to be my friend.
I left the hotel room and a woman in the hall began asking how my day was, what we were doing in Charleston, etc. She was a nice old lady, but I still reacted like Snape when she began interacting with me uninvited.
Everywhere we went, we ended up chatting with random people. A woman revealed to us her husband had died three weeks prior after chatting with us for a few seconds; a man came over to our table to recommend his favourite dish; the Uber drivers told us their life stories; my parents began talking to people who just happened to have parked next to them when my sister was moving into her barracks but which they couldn’t have known otherwise. Everyone talks to everyone, and everyone is very social.
People in the South are incredibly hospitable, and this applies to the streets as well as their homes. It’s very nice, but a bit frightening when someone begins talking to you on a park bench as if you have known each other for decades.
People are also very nosy, in the sense that they are always gawking at you and examining you. We got up from the table at a cafe and everyone began staring at us as we walked out. On the street, everyone is making (gasp!) eye contact. The concept of space in the USA is very different than elsewhere, which is why we’re generally much more social, but it can be very offputting if you haven’t been there in a while or didn’t grow up with it.
On a side note, the women were generally pretty good looking. And I had forgotten how hot that southern accent could be, even though few people here speak with it.
Anyway, back on topic.
My sister goes to the Citadel, a private military college. Not because she is forced to, but because she wants to. We went for her Recognition, which means she is no longer subject to the lowest level of the four-class system.
The four-class system is a sort of social organisation on military college campuses. In their first year at the Citadel, which has the strongest four-class system in the USA, ‘knobs’ (as they are called since they look like doorknobs once they’re all shaved) are not allowed to speak to upperclassmen first or use their first names. They have to march everywhere outside and are not allowed to speak outside. They aren’t allowed to grow their hair at all. This goes on and on and sounds generally like it would suck. But it’s good for bonding and discipline.
On Recognition Day, they no longer have to do much of this and are recognised as actual students, and for the fact that they have survived the “weeding-out” of the weak ones.
They have them march round the parade grounds, drill, fire cannon, and undergo inspection by the Commandant and other luminaries of the College. Then they drive them into the ground.
We all joked that it was sort of like a carnival or a field day, and I joked to everyone after the first parade they were setting up the moon bonce and obstacle course on the parade grounds for the physical training section of the festivities. They were setting up stations for the different stages of PT.
All the cadets, now in uniform gym gear, run out onto the parade grounds while screaming and chanting. My sister first had to do lunges with fifty-pound/twenty-five-kilo bags of sand, and then crawl on her back while holding it. The next station involved push-ups, but in groups of fours so that everyone’s legs were on someone else’s back. Then they did stuff like lift telephone poles and run with them, and carry each other a few hundred feet on their backs. This lasted about an hour before they all ran a mile as everyone is cheering. The next stage was 200 push-ups in the barracks.
Then, at last, they did a second parade in their dress uniforms again and were officially recognised.
It’s definitely not for me and I don’t know how my sister does it. It looks like hell.
But again, no one forced her.
It was kind of funny, on the note that everyone is nosy, to be there. I always dress in nice pants or nice jeans and button-up shirts. That is my look, and I like it. So I’m walking round wearing this, with a vaguely military-looking haircut, and a scarf. Plus my parents’ long-hair chihuahua is with us, and I’m carrying it in my arm. I go up with my Dad to congratulate my sister right after the run, and we pass through a swarm of people doing the same. My sister is drenched in sweat after all the activity. We walk up, congratulate her, and talk for a while. I look round, and everyone is staring at me, as if to say, “Wow what a wuss” or “Wow what a fairy”, since my sister is the one in military college and I look like I should be at home painting and writing poetry.
I would like to insert that I can be pretty brawny when I want to. I helped renovate our home when I was younger so I can build almost any piece of furniture from scratch and I know how to use tools, fix plumbing, and rebuild parts of a house. I built three decks from scratch with my Dad. And now, for exercise, since I hate working out on principle, I chop wood while listening to audiobooks on philosophy.
These looks continued everywhere we went with her, as everyone judged me for not being in the military while my sister was going round town in her dress uniform. It was pretty funny, actually. It’s just really not at all something that I would ever want to do.
Anyway, it was very impressive that she could do all that. And these kids do this every day.