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Young Writers Society
Tennessee Culture (Bible Belt)
Fri May 31, 2019 12:21 pm
I'm setting a story in Tennessee, but I'm Scottish! Help me work out some differences like school cultures, sexism, family structures, the sort of forests you have, and different attitudes to Christianity. I just need some reflections on these topics, best if you're actually from rural Tennessee, but you'll be helpful no matter where you're from in America.
Fri May 31, 2019 5:37 pm
Hi! I live and work in suburban Tennessee, but am fairly familiar with rural culture in my area (there's a blurred line between small cities and farm towns in my region). There are 3 distinct regions in Tennessee (West - Memphis, Middle - Nashville, East - Knoxville) with different cultures overall, so it would be helpful to know where you intend to set your story specifically.
I'm from Florida, but currently live in Middle Tennessee, and can tell you that it's a very traditional place. It's very white, but there's a large population of migrant workers and immigrant business owners. Three big immigrant populations are Mexican people, Egyptian people, and people from Southeast Asia (especially from Laos and Cambodia).
Sexism isn't as rampant as you might think it is - while there is a culture of "women care for the house", a lot of society is built on a mutual respect, and most people wouldn't be that rude on purpose. Mostly discrimination here deals with microaggression, but you'll always have your violently angry people. There is a fairly high crime rate where I live, and some of it is racial or gender motivated crime. I cannot say I have been poorly treated for my gender here.
95% of people in Middle Tennessee are Christian or will lie and say they are. There's a church on every street, mainly Baptist, Pentecostal, or nondenominational. There's a large population of Jehovah's Witnesses and members of the LDS church in my area too. There are other houses of worship as well, notably a large number of Hispanic Roman Catholic cathedrals and some of other faiths.
I can't speak for school here, but I'm sure others will be glad to help with that.
As for forests, I'm not familiar with Scottish forests, but a lot of forests in Tennessee are wild and overgrown. There's a huge amount of greenery here. Every lot in the city where I live is practically bordered by trees, and my drive to work in the next city over is 45 minutes on the highway and almost completely through hills and forest. If you have any more questions about that let me know and I'll get you some better resources when I'm on my computer tonight.
Like I said though, there can be some major culture shifts depending on where in Tennessee you're looking. The state has a population of 6 million that is almost completely centered on its 3 major cities (plus Chattanooga) which all have different backgrounds and histories. They're also all huge tourist destinations informing the culture.
stay off the faerie paths
Sat Jun 01, 2019 9:31 am
Thank you! Okay, I've got some follow up questions now. Before this I wasn't aware of the distinction of the areas of Tennessee; I'll probably set it in Nashville area purely because virtue of you being there, and nothing you've told me so far has resulted in me desperately needing to recalculate.
I'm toying with the idea of making the father of this family a forester, but the issue is I'm basing that off a Scottish job and I'm not sure it has an equal in Tennessee. Here in the UK, you can work for the Forestry Commission, an independent body in charge of maintaining our woodlands, with an eye to the timber industry but also in regards to conservation. Definitely in the past and possibly today, the forestry commission would provide houses on site for the forester and their family, cute and decent houses in the woods so they wouldn't need to commute, as it can already be quite a demanding job with long hours. (I know that because my granddad had this job and one of these houses; with modern day politics and economics, I'm not sure if there's the funding for it any more.)
So, with that in mind, does that sort of thing exist in Tennessee?
Secondly, could you expand on the sort of trees in your forests. Pine? Deciduous? Any particularly common, like oak or beech?
Then, Christianity. From what I've seen on TV, American Christianity is different from what I associate with it. For one, I'm only familiar with my gran's catholic religion, based in old churches before America was colonised. So questions: Could you describe a common Tennessee church to me? Both the interior and exterior. And what are church habits like? Do people just go on Sunday, or do they go other days? Do children go to Sunday schools (and if so what do they do?) Do teenagers and young adults do to? And do they grumble about it, or are they good faithful kids?
Lastly, and I have to ask: Guns. What will a 18 yr old girl know how to use, and how do you buy them?
Sat Jun 01, 2019 5:31 pm
Alright, let's hop into this!
is the homepage for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. It'll probably have some cool ideas for you to work with regarding forestry and state agriculture jobs -- including the fact that 52% (14 million acres) of Tennessee is forested. Some of these acres are cared for by state employees, others by private organizations and companies.
There are 15
in Tennessee that are cared for and managed by state employees, which might be something near to what you're looking for with your forestry idea.
is a list of employment opportunities in Tennessee forests that might be of use to you.
I know that in Florida, while we didn't have forests quite like these (!), I did have a friend whose dad was a state park ranger. They lived in the backwoods on the edge of the state park (improvements on the park were disallowed), but I'm not sure if that house was recommended/sourced by the state government or just a lucky find.
That's another thing in the USA: Most state parks and forests don't allow improvements of any kind. No restrooms, no buildings, no houses. They're mainly hiking trails, walking trails, and signs. While this sounds harsh, there's sometimes a "welcome" building/outhouse, especially at parks, and some (but not all) rangers or foresters may live on-site where they work. So really, the rules are a little malleable, and it's definitely reasonable for the father to be a forester and have as little as a 5-10 minute hike or a drive to get to his work site.
As far as trees go, we have a huge variety of temperate trees and some mountainous varieties. A short list includes oak, beech, birch, a few pines, a handful of maple varieties, basswood (called linden elsewhere), and lots and lots of cedar.
Here's some overall resources that might help:
USDA Plants Database
(yes, it really does look like it was made in 2003... yes, it's a government database)
Another TN.gov site
(this time on wildlife habitat management)
A Native Plant Database
sponsored by faculty at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville
The majority of people in Tennessee are Protestant to some degree. I'm most familiar with Lutheran Protestants (that's how I was raised) but the majority of people in the South tend to be Baptist or Methodist before other sects. (There's. So. Many.)
nondenominational Protestant mega-churches that are very very prominent, especially in my area. I live in a small city where almost 10k people attend the same church week-to-week. So it's likely that, if your characters are Christian, they experience one of two realities: a very small or
large congregation, spanning from thirty people to ten thousand people.
Many churches here -- the small ones, at least -- are older buildings, from when a small town was first built or slightly after. One of the churches in my town has been here for 200 years, which is super long to me but probably not to you, haha. But a lot of buildings in the USA are young, and it's possible to date what decade a building was erected simply by its architecture; you'll have churches from the 1820s next to banks from the 1970s.
So it's possible your characters would go to church in a small building that might look more like someone's house on the outside, with a steep shingled or tar roof and wooden siding.
This is your typical small-town church style.
Assuming your characters go to a typical protestant church, they would go on either Sunday or Wednesday -- or both, if their family is very devout. Everyone in the Christian community has a family member who's a preacher, or knows someone whose family member is a preacher, even if it's by marriage. Sunday services are typically 11am to 12pm, or 11am to 1pm if they run long. Wednesday services are typically 6pm to 7pm, more or less.
I can't speak for Tennessee Sunday School (I moved here as an adult) but I did attend Sunday school as a child in Florida, and it was basically like a daycare. The way our church services were set up, the children would sit in the adult service for 30 minutes, receive a small lesson from the pastor, and be sent into the adjoining Sunday school building to learn from (typically) female volunteers working with the church. We would often draw pictures relating to the pastor's lesson for the day. Sunday school itself was meant for children ages 2 to 12 at my church; 13 and above sat with the adults through the whole service.
There are also youth groups and Bible study groups where teenagers and young adults meet before or after services to discuss the Bible, certain passages, and have guided study with a youth pastor.
Church here is 100% a "wear your nice clothes" affair. Most churches frown upon wearing casual clothes, and many expect women to wear skirts instead of pants. Some churches frown upon women wearing pants at all, even in their day-to-day lives, and disallow women from cutting their hair. However, this isn't a hard-and-fast rule, and it's possible your character's church could be one that allows more casual clothing or has a more casual atmosphere. It really depends on your pastor.
I'm not sure about the age demographic as far as churches go. I can say that most of the people in my age bracket (20-30) that I know may be religious, but do not attend church, whether because they dislike organized religion or because they have other time commitments like babies, family, cleaning, etc.
There is a
rise in Christian publishing here as well. A large Christian bookstore (LifeWay) just went under and is closing their brick-and-mortar stores, but it's likely that if your character goes into town, they would find a bookstore that specializes in or only sells Christian books. Even "regular" bookstores like Books-A-Million or Barnes & Noble have very large religion and religious fiction sections (which I definitely didn't see in Florida).
As far as guns go, it depends on the family and their personal beliefs. Because you're looking at having the family live in a rural area, it is more likely that an 18 year old girl would be very familiar with guns, especially hunting guns if her family is prone to hunting (a big deal in Tennessee). If she's familiar with hunting guns, she's also likely to be familiar with using a handgun for self-defense.
is a quick resource for carry permits and laws relating to handguns in Tennessee.
One last thing to mention is that you have to be at least 21 to have a handgun carry permit in Tennessee. This doesn't mean that your character
have/use/carry a gun, it just means she's legally not allowed to carry her gun on her person in public. It's not something that's likely to come up unless she runs afoul of the law.
Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any more questions!
stay off the faerie paths
Sun Jun 02, 2019 12:02 pm
Thank you, you're an angel! I love the popup on that last link, asking me if I wanted a
". Thank you, but I will not.
Okay, this is the last thing for now, which I've realised I know nothing about: the reality of American schools. Are they really like that? I understand you didn't grow up in Tennessee, but I think you'll be able to help with any teen American experience.
My main character is going to be a girl just finished school, about to go to college. Her decent-but-not-amazing boyfriend got her pregnant, and fled. Then she miscarried.
, is her general mood, mostly because she bottles it up.
So, now I need to know about a) high school football culture. What's a decent but generally unimpressive position for this boyfriend? Like, congrats, you're not the quater-back stereotype but I guess you're fine, and b) the reality of sex-ed for these kids. I'm guessing it's perfectly possibly it'll be terrible, but I'm also assuming kids these days learn a fair bit from the internet? And, presuming family isn't an issue, what would happen to this nearly teen-mom? This is in regards to health-care, as I can't really predict the money/insurance thoughts in response to this situation.
If you have any other thoughts about American High School that you think would be useful, of course I'm all ears!
Sun Jun 02, 2019 4:35 pm
Oh man, high school.
I don't know a lot about football but practically any member of the team is glamorous when you're a teenager. If you want the boyfriend to be a big bulky jock archetype then you'll want a linebacker, if you want him to be more lean runningback, etc.
Kids learn nothing in sex ed from their school. I think my last sex ed class was 4th grade (age 9). Every school in the Bible belt will teach abstinence only, and some teachers can actually lose their jobs for teaching about birth control or anything that isn't abstinence only.
Kids these days might also learn some from the internet, but if they aren't super curious or it just never crossed their mind, they could be in for a shock in their first physical relationship. My mom's a nurse so she taught me some things which I know I 100% would not have googled. And hoo boy, there are a lot of women I know who had kids at 18-19.
Regarding healthcare, I can't speak for insurance, but it does depend how far she gets in the pregnancy and if she goes through usual prenatal care. Also, if her family's health insurance covers therapists or psychiatric health, that's going to be a thing most likely after she miscarries; I've never been pregnant or lost a pregnancy in any way, but I've heard it's an extremely trying time emotionally and physically. Your hormone levels actually adjust for pregnancy which changes your moods, and readjusting back to normal levels can take as much as a year, maybe longer.
If she doesn't go through prenatal care, that would save a lot of insurance gripes, but it depends on what she as a character will do.
stay off the faerie paths
Sun Jun 02, 2019 5:29 pm
Thank you! I'll be sure to ask if (when) I have more questions, you've been a massive help.
I have writer's block. I can't write. It is the will of the gods. Now, I must alphabetize my spice rack.
— Neil Gaiman
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