Local Life and Lore in Charlotte

From halfbacks to back roads to barbecue, learn about local lingo, geography and cuisine in Charlotte, North Carolina.
By: Allen Norwood
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The Slang

Get to know these terms and you'll blend right in. 

Halfbacks: Those would-be folks from the Northeast who moved to Florida, decided they didn't like the heat or the hurricanes, and moved halfway back. They account for a significant slice of the local housing market.

The Lake: Among locals, the "lake" means Lake Norman, the largest lake inside North Carolina, while the "river" means Lake Wylie or sometimes Mountain Island Lake. All are Duke Energy lakes on the Catawba River. Lake Norman was named for a former Duke Power president, Mr. Norman Cocke.  

Red and Blue Banks: Politicos talk about red states and blue states. In Charlotte, because of the banks' logos, Bank of America is the red bank and Wachovia is the blue bank.

It's "pop-a-DOP-olis": Charlotteans can pronounce Greek names because the Greek community is one of the earliest and largest here. The annual Yiasou Festival -- that would be "yah-soo," the Greek word for hello, goodbye and cheers -- draws tens of thousands each fall. We also know to get to the annual Greek festival early, because the baklava always sells out before the last day. Missing out on the baklava is a rookie mistake.

Order It Right

A true Charlotte native knows the proper way of ordering a Southern meal.

Sweet Ice Tea: It's "ice" tea, not "iced" tea, and it will be sweet unless you say otherwise.

Loaded Hot Dog: A hot dog all the way will have mustard, onions, chili and slaw. (Yes, coleslaw on a hot dog.)

BBQ: Barbecue is a noun, not a verb. Barbecue is slow-cooked pork, pulled or chopped. It's not beef or chicken, and it's not a Weber grill. If a native serving barbecue says "eastern" or "western," he's not asking where you're from. He wants to know whether you want peppery vinegar sauce from eastern North Carolina or sweeter tomato-based sauce from the western part of the state. (Luckily, there's no wrong answer, but you want to be careful where you make that assertion.)

Grits: Never put sugar on grits. They get salt, lots of black pepper and sometimes cheese.

Necessary Condiment: The hot-pepper vinegar on the dinner table goes on collard or turnip greens.

The Local Geography

Charlotte natives know their geography better than your GPS.

Beach Getaways:
 Charlotte is closer to South Carolina beaches than North Carolina beaches, and locals carefully guard favorite back routes to Myrtle. If a native sends you on a route that begins on gridlocked Independence Boulevard, he's fooling you. He doesn't want you adding to traffic on his secret shortcut.

The Back Roads: Newcomers sometimes gripe about the way Charlotte road names change without warning, but it's not that bad. Tyvola becomes Fairview becomes Sardis becomes Rama becomes Idlewild. See, it's easy to remember. Of course the road-name changes at the Union County line, where it becomes Secrest Shortcut, and that might be one change too many. Oh, and Rama is pronounced RAY-ma, Rea is RAY, Carmel is CAR-mel and Oehler is AY-ler.

Navigating the "Fords": When this area was still on the frontier, travelers crossed the Catawba River at wide, shallow fjords. You'll encounter Beatties Ford Road and the community of Sherrills Ford, both named for early families. But Nations Ford was where the Catawbas and other Native American tribes, or nations, crossed the river on a trading path that ran south from the James River in Virginia, long before the first white settlers arrived.

The Square: In uptown Charlotte, the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets is known as The Square. Charlotteans give directions as if Trade runs east-west and Tryon runs north-south -- but neither is true. The streets are canted a quarter-turn to the right. (If you trust the directions from a local, avoid confusion by not using your GPS.)

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