A Southern Belle chimes in on the Jersey Belle

“Jersey” and “belle.” Not two words one usually hears together. That is until Bravo smashed them together into a hot reality mess set right here in, well, let’s just say the Birmingham area (Mountain Brook, Cahaba Heights — they can’t seem to decide which).

I haven’t watched the show. For the record, I don’t watch any reality show that takes a stereotype and exploits it for profit (you hear me, Robertsons?), but I considered Jersey Belle for a nanosecond because it is, unfortunately, set in the town I call home. And I admit that I was curious, but a preview and a few random clips were all I needed to decide that I wouldn’t waste my time.

Even though I didn’t suffer through the hour-long premier, the show did make me think (miracle of miracles). The premise, as I’m sure you all know by now, is that a woman from New Jersey marries a fellow from Birmingham, moves down here, and tries to fit into a seemingly elitist, Southern society. Of course there is a culture clash and drama ensues. So as the social media buzz ramped up about whether Jaime Primak Sullivan really, truly lives in Mountain Brook or just near it and the controversy of to monogram or not to monogram swirled through the Twitter-verse, I started to wonder, what really makes a person Southern?

The answer? Being born and raised in the Southern United States.

That’s all.

The same thing that makes a person “Jersey” — being born in New Jersey.

Now all y’all know I’m about as Southern as they come, at least I think so. I like pimento cheese, especially in finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off. I’ve attended a tea or two. Shoot, I’ve even hosted a tea. I can tell the difference between Francis I and Grande Baroque silverware from across the room, but I also don’t mind licking the barbecue sauce off my fingers. I have monogrammed bath towels. I can shoot a gun. But none of that really makes me Southern.

Just like being a loud, brash, crass, vulgar woman with little regard for the niceties of polite society, Southern or otherwise, doesn’t make one “Jersey.” It just makes you, as we in the South like to say, trashy. I feel quite certain that there are plenty of folks in New Jersey who watched the show hoping that everyone in America doesn’t think that they are all just alike, just as I did when I saw my Southern sisters portrayed as blank-eyed, ignorant, sighing, shallow coquettes.

The fact of the matter is that stereotypes of food, custom, and culture, while certainly part of who we are and where we come from, do not, in the global society in which we now live, define us. I know what cannoli is and have actually eaten it, both in New Jersey and in Italy. That doesn’t make me Jersey, or Italian. It makes me lucky — lucky to be able to travel and try new things.

What does define us? How we embrace our differences and learn from them. How we make those who are unlike us feel welcome. How we try to respectfully fit in as best we can when we find ourselves the odd man out. If you can do that, you will be the belle of the ball no matter what side of the Mason-Dixon line you live on.

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary Butler says:

    Well said!

  2. Janice says:

    Love this and I forwarded it to Stephanie as she is always reminded she is a southern lady no matter where she may live.

    1. Thank you, Janice! I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I hope Stephanie will as well. You can take the girl out of the South…

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Great blog post.. also want to say that I am sure that this show was cut and pasted and some things were left on the cutting room floor. The goal of the people who did that part was to make it as sensationalized as possible… they love that.. so I don’t totally blame the people in the show for this portrait of our culture.

    1. I am quite sure it was! It always boggles my mind, however, that, knowing the producers do edit the programs to show people in the worst possible light, people are willing to participate in a reality show at all. I can’t understand why anyone would put themselves in that position. Thanks for reading!

  4. John says:

    So I watched the show (no, really!). Part of my new family lives in New Jersey and I have spent a great deal of time there of late. And I have to say of the show – Yawn. It’s not nearly the train wreck it was promoted to be. The “trashy” woman from Jersey is no such thing. She’s brash. Maybe even a little crass. But she’s also educated, professional, and seemingly honest and loyal. Snooki, she ain’t.

    The “Belles” were, for the most part (seemingly) not terribly elitist (maybe a little bit) and one in particular is downright genuinely friendly.

    As a result, unless they can trump up some drama, I think it’s probably going to be a really boring show.

    1. Thanks for reading and for your comments, as always! Like I said in the post, I haven’t (and probably won’t) watch the show, so this is just my opinion from the preview and clips I saw. Some of the language she used and the subject matters she was willing to discuss loudly and in public would, according to the standards set for a Southern lady that I was brought up with, most certainly be considered “trashy,” no matter how educated, professional, honest, and loyal she might be. Just goes to show you that one man’s brash is another woman’s trashy, my friend!

      For the record, they may all be perfectly fine, lovely women with many good qualities — kind to children and puppies from both sides of the tracks, lovers of trees and flowers, soft-spoken and genteel, and all that. However, the television show preview and clips that I saw certainly did not highlight those facts.

  5. John says:

    Yep. That would be the beauty of the soundbite. The horrible looking clips weren’t nearly as damning in context.

  6. Pris Graven says:

    This show is not sensational at all and certainly is very low key. These woman are presented as one dimensional. I want to know where they work.

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