Is Saint Louis Northern or Southern?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Anyone from St. Louis is well aware of this city’s identity crisis.  Yes, we are a decidedly Midwestern city, but do we have more in common with the North or the South?  We delve into this question with these facts in mind:

  St. Louis has a vaguely New Orleans-esque, lazy Mississippi River demeanor.

Northern:  Our industrial history is much more intertwined with places such as Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Milwaukee than with any city in the South.

Southern:  Missouri was a slave state, and the notorious Dred Scott decision was handed down in St. Louis.

Jacob Lawrence's The Great Migration

Northern:  St. Louis was a bastion of pro-Union sentiment, and the city’s huge German population is what arguably prevented the entire state of Missouri from officially joining the Confederacy.

Southern:  We have debutante balls (Veiled Prophet, Fleur-de-Lis) and an old-school provincialism (“Where’d you go to high school?”)

Northern:  The unmistakable St. Louis accent is a northern urban dialect, with more traits in common with dialects of the Great Lakes and northeast than with any Southern accent, as assessed by a linguistics study by the University of Pennsylvania.

Image courtesy of University of Pennsylvania

Northern:  You’d be hard-pressed to find sweet tea and grits on most menus in this city, nor is “ya’ll” a feature of our local speech.

So while there are undeniable southern influences in St. Louis culture, there’s nothing about this place that screams “Dixie.”  In STL-Style’s opinion, St. Louis has economic, demographic, political and developmental characteristics much more similar to northern industrial cities than to southern cities.  So what do you think?  

Comments (111)

Chris Andoe on 12-May-2010 10:52 AM

As someone from Tulsa who has lived all over I would agree. There's a hurriedness and curtness in business that would be considered rude in the South. For instance if you were to call about an apartment in Oklahoma and mention that you were from elsewhere, the agent would ask what brings you to town and talk about the city and what's happening. Call an agent in St. Louis and say you're relocating, and they'll likely respond with "OK. How can I help you?"
Another thing is that a Southerner is likely to pretend to like you when they don't, where a St. Louisan will act indifferent and aloof. (I prefer the latter)
Finally ask anyone from KC and they'll say we're Northern (and may include rude lol).

Ryan Reed on 12-May-2010 11:12 AM

This question could be asked with several cities located near the Mason Dixon Line. For example, Cincinatti, Wheeling, Baltimore and even Nashville to an extent. I think we have become a northern city. After statehood an influx of southerns migrated to the state and city and recreated their culture here. However, the massive amount of German immgrants in the 18th century but a serious damper on the southerness of the city and pretty much wiped it out. After living in the deep south I realized I was midwesterner. There are huge cultural differences between the cities in the deep south and St. Louis as Chris noted above. I say we are northern.

you know who on 12-May-2010 11:12 AM

I'll take you to all kinds of places in the city proper that serve up sweet tea and grits. Also I do believe that y'all is definitely becoming more ubiquitous.

Nik on 12-May-2010 01:34 PM

We've always been a Northern City in the South. Factories and the Great Divorce will show you that.

Jeff on 12-May-2010 02:14 PM

I think St. Louis has a quirky charm that is absent in a lot of northern cities, but overall there is no denying that St. Louis shares more in common with eastern and northern cities, from a physical standpoint at least. Culturally, too, St. Louis feels decidedly northern. We have managed to retain a decent amount of ethnic enclaves (in contrast to the dispersed, sprawled population of most southern cities). Anyone who visits St. Louis and honestly thinks it feels Southern has most likely not spent much time in the true South. Now, Missourah is an entirely different story.

Dan Burghoff on 12-May-2010 06:25 PM

I had this very conversation last week with someone who has lived in Cleveland, Atlanta, Louisville, and now St. Louis. She claimed that St. Louis is definitely southern, more so than Louisville. Her litmus test? Jello. Apparently in the north, Jello is a salad served on lettuce. In the south, it is a dessert. Given that I have never seen Jello on a bed of lettuce, I guess I'm a southern boy!

Ryan Reed on 12-May-2010 07:43 PM

That's funny Dan! Missouri is definitely regionally bi-polar. When I was living in Georgia, home grown Georgians would refer to me as a fellow southerner when I said I was from Missouri. If I said I moved here from St. Louis southerns would give me a hard time for being a northerner. My pal moved from her native Tennessee to St. Louis at the age of ten. When they got here her Mom felt the need to set her and her siblings down and remind them they were Southerner not northerners like the people in St. Louis.

Chris Naffziger on 13-May-2010 07:53 AM

The woman buying drugs from my neighbors a couple of weeks ago used "ya'll."

samizdat on 13-May-2010 08:43 AM

"...prolific Dred Scott decision..." Prolific? Huh? Horrific, perhaps? Methinks a visit to Webster's Collegiate may be in your future.

Randy Vines on 13-May-2010 08:55 AM

^^I've corrected that, sir. Back to topic...

Rick on 13-May-2010 10:29 AM

Since slaves were sold in downtown St. Louis, lots of people consider St. Louis part of the south.

Jive on 13-May-2010 10:11 PM

St. Louis, Missoura is DEFINITELY in the South. Always has been, always will be.

Why do border cities always try to deny their Southern roots?

Randy V. on 13-May-2010 10:18 PM

Your opinion is welcome, but this I ask: You yourself call St. Louis a "border city," yet you say it is "DEFINITELY" in the South. Isn't that a contradiction? Have you ever really been to the SOUTH South? The contrast is undeniable. St. Louis may have some southern attributes, but overall I find it to be much more like the cities of the north (in my opinion). The only time I have ever seen a Confederate flag in the city proper was on a pickup truck with Indiana plates. A hoosier through and through!

Jive on 15-May-2010 05:24 AM

Of course I've been to the "real" South. The South isn't this huge monolithic region where everyone talks and acts exactly the same.

The vibe of St. Louis is not as southern as Memphis or Jackson, but more of an Upper South flavor, like Cincinnati or Louisville. If you extend the PA-MD border westward through MO, I would consider anything above that to be solidly Northern.

Having visited other cities up north and out east in my spare time, St. Louis always just feels Southern to me. Even though many here do not, I personally am proud to identify as a Southerner.

silly on 15-May-2010 09:12 AM

well if southern pride is a southern trait, st. louis is definitely not southern because southern pride doesn't exist here unless you are the poster above. come on, calling st. louisans "southerners"? ain't that a stretch? for every southern quality in stl there are three non-southern qualities. it's not a matter of denying our heritage, either. st. louis is just not a southern city. all the official designations group stl with the cities of the midwest, not the cities of the south. feel free to prove me wrong. most people would not call st. louis the south.

a.torch on 16-May-2010 09:46 AM

You must travel alot to be able to compare cities. I have only been labeled from a 'Southern City' in Minnesota; but those folks I talked to had never been south of Tennessee, so it makes me wonder. In my travels I found our city very much like other older industrial-Midwest cities: Indy, a bit of Chicago and most certainly Cleveland. We just have some Southern quirks and qualities mixed-in more so than any other Midwest city, like a fairly strong French background, the BLUES and ragtime, etc. The more stark culture shock to me is how much more KC is absolutely a Western city than anywhere else in our state.

Jeff Vines on 17-May-2010 07:13 AM

I don't think St. Louis shares much in common with Indianapolis at all. St. Louis is much more distinguished, urbane and beautiful (not to mention BIGGER- our metro area has a million more people than Indy's). I think the closest comparisons can be made to Pittsburgh, Baltimore and possibly Cincinnati-- all cities that seem to straddle between different regions.

a.torch on 17-May-2010 10:28 PM

Baltimore is not a Midwest industrial city. Indy has alot of the same problems Detroit and Cleveland have but has managed to keep some large companies and airline hubs. Of course STL is more distinguished and larger in size though.

Jeff Vines on 18-May-2010 07:14 AM

Just because Baltimore is not a midwestern city does not mean that it doesn't share a lot of common traits with St. Louis. Some similarities:
--Both are independent cities
--Both metros are nearly the same size
--Both are black-majority cities
--Both skirt the north and south

Anyone who has spent a reasonable amount of time in both cities can recognize the similarities between these two cities.

silly on 18-May-2010 07:32 AM

I agree. I see lot more in common between StL and Baltimore than with StL and Indy.

Jive on 18-May-2010 03:19 PM

You're right. St. Louis and Baltimore DO share one particularly important similarity: they're both SOUTHERN CITIES AT THEIR CORES. :)

a.torch on 18-May-2010 09:04 PM

I didn't know we were comparing Eastern cities w/ St. Louis. I was responding to the previous posts regarding other Midwestern cities. (Not Eastern cities to STL)

Steve on 21-May-2010 07:11 AM

I'm from Memphis and I think St. Louis feels like a Southern city. I've been there many times since I was a kid, it doesn't feel much different from Memphis. Most people in Memphis will tell you that St. Louis is a Southern city. We dont consider yall as yankees. It's only 4 hours aways.

silly on 21-May-2010 10:41 PM

steve, i disagree. i lived in memphis from 2001-2003 and the two cities are very different. memphis loves being a southern city; st. louis would rather be grouped with chicago. that right there tells you something about its identity. in memphis strangers talk to you and it's considered friendly. in st. louis if a stranger talks to you, they are considered creeps. memphis is the same distance from st. louis as chicago, so you cannot easily classify stl by proximity alone.

Steve on 21-May-2010 11:06 PM

I think St. Louis wants to be like Chicago, and wants to distance itself from Memphis. In reality, it has the same amount in common with both cities. It's right in the middle. People in St. Louis just dont want to admit it. People in St. Louis are just as friendly, if not more friendly than Memphis. People in St. Louis have a small town mentality (where'd you go to high school?) like Memphis. St. Louis has a lot of old money, lots of private schools, and debutante balls, just like Memphis.

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