Here it is . . . the only photo you’ll ever see of me in a bikini. I was in 7th grade here and had just finished building the perfect sand castle, and please notice the monogramed “L” made from seashells. You know how Southern girls love monograms! I think I weighed about 74 pounds, and five of that was metal on my teeth. And where was I? At the G-U-L-F of M-E-X-I-C-O!!! Which leads me to this week’s article . . .
It’s not an ocean
A dear friend from out of state sent me an article about Fairhope she had found in a slick publication. It was a cute story about our small corner of the world, but I could immediately tell the couple who co-wrote it weren’t from around here. There’s even a good chance they’ve never even visited Fairhope.
Two glaring clues led me to believe this writing duo, whose actual writing style is very nice, is completely unfamiliar with the Alabama Gulf Coast.
The first indication something was amiss was the statement that Fairhope Mardi Gras parades threw only MoonPies to the crowds, but no beads. Ha! Locals have so many buckets of beads stashed away in attics, closets and garages we can’t count them all. Our creative folks even make bowls, hats and decorated brassieres (not me) out of the extras. The only way you could think there were no Mardi Gras beads in Baldwin County parades was if you happened to be standing next to one of the infamous Snowbirds who snatch them up before you ever see them hit the ground, although that’s another story.
But the major giveaway that revealed the authors’ unfamiliarity with our area was when they invoked the No. 1 major faux pas of tourists. They referred to our large body of salt water as the “ocean.”
Ahem … it’s not an ocean. It’s the Gulf.
Or more precisely, the Gulf of Mexico. The largest gulf in the world. No one around here says, “I’m going to spend a few days at the ocean.” To our local ears it sounds prickly and out of place.
We play, fish, swim, sail and stare at … The Gulf.
Technically, we were taught a gulf is an extension of an ocean that is bordered by land on three sides. The waves are smaller, the tide is gentler, and the people are friendlier. Okay, I made that last part up, but has there actually been an official study to disprove me?
In college at Florida State, there wasn’t only a huge difference between the students from the northern and southern parts of the state, but also a line of demarcation between the students who grew up on the “ocean” on the east coast and those who came from the “gulf.”
Local lingo can be dicey wherever you travel, and I’m sure that when I’ve been in unfamiliar territory, I’ve inadvertently baffled the locals a few times. In Nantucket, I saw a photo of a delicious looking sandwich and told the waitress I would like to order the lobster “po’ boy.” She looked baffled for a moment as to why I would equate their beloved lobster “roll” with an impoverished child. I thought anything called a “roll” would have been on bread that looked more like what Sister Schubert puts on the Sunday dinner table.
“Dinner” meaning “lunch,” of course.
My North Alabama cousins think it’s hilarious that I say they live in the mountains when in fact they consider them to be small hills.
I guess when it comes down to it, the visitors to the Gulf Coast can call it whatever they want — ocean, gulf, sound, bay — it doesn’t really matter as long as they keep their tax money pouring into it. Splish-splash. In that case, “The ocean” sounds just fine.