Doing Business in the Deep South: A Guide for Internationals

By Sauser, Jr. William I. | SAM Advanced Management Journal, Autumn 1999 | Go to article overview

Doing Business in the Deep South: A Guide for Internationals


Sauser, Jr. William I., SAM Advanced Management Journal


Introduction

The U.S. has several distinct cultural regions. One region, located geographically in the Southeast and including large portions of the states that broke away from the Union in 1860 and 1861 to form the short-lived Confederate States of America, is known as "the Deep South." Internationals who wish to do business in the Deep South would do well to gain an understanding of its distinctive cultural characteristics. Such an understanding will enable international businesspersons to better relate to the residents of this region as customers, suppliers, business partners, and employees. This article addresses key aspects of the culture of the Deep South, including social customs, values, norms, and expectations.

North America consists of three large nations - Canada, the United States of America, and Mexico - plus Greenland, Iceland, and the nations of the Caribbean and Central America. This is what we are accustomed to seeing when we think of North America. However, in an ingenious work, The Nine Nations of North America, author Joel Garreau (1981) has argued that to truly understand North America, one should study its cultural divisions alongside its political divisions. Garreau asserts that there are nine cultural nations of North America, each with its own history, outlook, expectations, and ways of doing business.

Garreau's "nine nations" include The Empty Quarter, Ecotopia, The Breadbasket, Mexamerica, Quebec, New England, The Foundry, Dixie, and The Islands.

I have chosen here to concentrate on the cultural nation I know best, the one in which I have lived my entire life and love as no other, the Deep South. Garreau calls this cultural nation Dixie, referring to its famous theme song during the Civil War (and even today). Other names often given to this culturally rich portion of the U.S. are the Sunbelt, the Southland, and my favorite, the Deep South.

Dixie's key geographical features are: The Atlantic seaboard, the Appalachian mountain chain, the Mississippi River basin, and the Gulf Coast (along the Gulf of Mexico). The Deep South is heavily forested; has an abundance of rivers, streams, and lakes; boasts some beautiful mountains and beaches, and possesses some fine farmland as well as fields of game and wildlife. If you've ever been there, I'm sure you'll agree that the Deep South is beautiful.

The cultural Deep South stretches from Virginia and the Carolinas on the east to eastern Oklahoma and Texas on the west. The region cuts across southern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri to the north, and reaches midway down the Florida peninsula. Significantly, such cities, as Miami, Florida; Washington, D.C.; and Forth Worth, Texas are not considered part of the Deep South, but of other cultural regions. Major cities of the Deep South include St. Louis, Memphis, New Orleans, Louisville, Nashville, Birmingham, Richmond, Norfolk, Raleigh, Charleston, and the "cultural capital" of the Southland, Atlanta, Georgia.

Now that we have located the Deep South geographically, it is time to turn to the culture of the region. But first, we must outline the history of the Deep South, because that history has had a major impact on the people of the region, their outlook, and their business practices.

History

* The Frontier

Prior to the arrival of European peoples, the Deep South was populated by Native American tribes most notably the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole. Although the Native American peoples were systematically pushed off their lands by the Europeans they had an enormous cultural influence on the region. Many native Americans, of course, intermarried with European settlers, and many others gave up their native identities and passed into the emerging Southern population. While there are few Indian reservations in the Deep South, many long-time Southern families proudly trace their heritage to Native American ancestors.

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