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7 tips from a Yankee OD living in the South


The holidays always bring memories of my family. My mother was a Southerner, and my father was a Yankee. I did not realize how important that was until I completed my fourth-year externship under Paul Ajamian, OD (not Southern, for the record).

The views expressed here belong to the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Optometry Times or UBM Medica.

The holidays always bring memories of my family. My mother was a Southerner, and my father was a Yankee. I did not realize how important that was until I completed my fourth-year externship under Paul Ajamian, OD (not Southern, for the record).

If I had a dollar for each time patients just stared at me mystified after I introduced myself, I would be rich. They would just look at me like I had horns and say, “You ain’t from around here. You’re a Yankee.”

And I would nod politely and explain that while I was from the North, I was indisputably a DAR, and they would begrudgingly comply. For you Yankees, a DAR is a Daughter of the American Revolution, and being one saved me many times in Atlanta. Now that I live in the South and get to visit the North, it is like watching “Fargo” and realizing my family really does talk like that. 

So for all you Yankees, let’s review how we do things in the South. 

More from Dr. Swartz: Why ODs are awesome


1. Know your pronouns

When calling patients, you call them mister, ma’am, miss, or master. And your extremely polite patient says, “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am” upon answering any question.

 For example, when I enter the room, I say, “Master Jackson, how are you today?” The teen will look up from his iPhone, and say, “Fine, ma’am. Why can’t I read my phone?”

I particularly like calling women “miss” who by age should be “ma’am.” It is like carding them. They will come back year after year. Once I know them, I get to call all female patients “Sweetie.” I am sure this is why I can’t remember any of my patients’ names.

Next: We don't deal well with the cold stuff. 


2. We don’t deal well with the cold stuff

If it smells like snow in the next 24 hours, we don’t go to work, and the kids don’t go to school. Instead, we all head to the grocery store. If you do not get to the store in time, Lord (pronounced “Laud”) help you because everything will be gone. It does not matter if you need it, you just buy everything because if it snows, we just hole up until it melts.

I adore weather closures because it is the only recess I get to enjoy. I know that is my Southern genetics because my Yankee relatives have a meltdown when the flights are cancelled, and they are stuck with us for another four days. The April 2011 tornadoes that ripped through Alabama are an exception to my weather closure party. I will never see that many foreign bodies from chainsaws again (knock on wood).

More from Dr. Swartz: The best and worst parts of the holidays as an OD mom

3. Know the difference between y’all, all y’all, and all y’all’s

Even if you do not have a Southern accent, use the following terms.

“Y'all” is singular for “you,” the person sitting in my chair.

“All y'al”" refers to the family in the exam lane to support the patient in the chair and protect them from my evil Yankee ways.

“All y’all’s” refers to all the backpacks, iPhones, glasses, coffee cups, and other items left behind in my lane when all y’all leave to go spend all y’all's money in my dispensary. Thank y’all for that.

Next: Slow down


4. Slow down

If you have not noticed it before literally running into someone in front of you in Alabama, everyone moves slowly. This, and the love of fried chicken, keeps us a little G8417 in the South.

If you go into passing mode around a person, he will say to the person walking slower than molasses next to him, “He in a hurry.” He will say this so slowly that you won’t be within earshot of the “hurry.”

Because we are talking about being in a hurry, Southerners rarely are in one. They do not fall all the way to Jamaican time, but they certainly tend to saunter rather than skip. This requires a scribe to take the patient to the checkout desk, or it will be five minutes between patients.

More from Dr. Swartz: Optometry on fleek

5. Know the rules of the road

One important note is that most Southerners do not get upset at other drivers. I suspect this is related to the legend that says Southern folk do not believe in using turn signals. Heaven forbid it gets turned on, for that poor soul is going around the world to the left forever.

When Yankees yell at a Southerner’s driving, she simply smiles and enjoys being amused by the funny Yankee throwing a fit at the intersection.

And you must never honk your horn. Honking makes everyone stop and is counter productive. Southerners don’t know why anyone could possibly be so rude.

Next: Seriously, slow down. 


6. Seriously, slow down

Which brings me to the topic of slow talking. I have lived in the South since 2001. People still look at me like I am speaking some unknown language with their mouths open and say, “You talk so fast.” I expect the same reaction should I ever sprout wings. Heaven forbid I actually drink coffee, and then I can’t even try to talk slowly. After being here for so long, the older the patient, the slower I try to talk. 

So I try to not sound like a Yankee. If you have an accent from New Yawk, Bah-ston, North Dah-Koooo-tah, or Minnn-ah-sooooo-tah, they won’t understand you. You won’t understand them either. This is because “Open da doh” means “Open the door” in Wisconsin. Rs are optional, and so is the “-ing” which is replaced by “-in” at every opportunity.

Also, “God bless ‘em” is said about sick people and people who you are mad at but are actively willing yourself to forgive. We say this regularly when parents of 21-year-olds call to question why you did not give their child contact lenses the day before when they were too busy to accompany the adult child to the exam. When they argue about the need for a class, the absurdity of rebates, and the need for both glasses and contact lenses, you repeat it like a mantra. The more times your office manager can say the phrase, “Yes, ma’am” in one phone conversion with a patient while shaking her head, the bigger the bonus.

More blogs: 7 Beatles songs for improving office culture

7. Here’s what you didn’t learn in OD school

Finally, let’s review the most popular Southern diseases.

We have “The Glaucoma,” “The Maculur” (degeneration, but they usually leave that off), and my favorite, “The Sugar.” I know I am still a Yankee because every time my sweetie tells me she has “a touch of the sugar,” I have to desperately try not to laugh out loud. Don’t forget the “Pink Eyh,” which is not the same as the skunk eye, and it is not caused by al-gies when the cotton pops. 

Y’all remember that now, ya hear?

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