A few months ago I made the mistake of telling my girlfriend, who' s from the US state of Georgia, she wasn't a "true southerner". I had my reasons, but she then had an even better reason to stick a list to the fridge entitled: Reasons Why Chelsea Is A True Southerner And Ben Is An Ethnocentric Aussie.
Having just visited the United States' southern lands for a wedding and family reunion, I now have my own list to add to the fridge. If you ever find yourself south of the border, there are more than a few experiences you should partake in to come away feeling like an authentic southern redneck.
1. Floating Down The River
Chattahoochee; Etowah; Ogeechee; and Tugaloo. These are the names of just some of the rivers that flow through North America's southern states. There are hundreds to choose from for the age-old pastime of floating down a river.
Remember to pack one inflatable for you and one for your esky, because you'll want to keep the beer cold – river floating can last anywhere between two and eight hours. All the better if someone is brave enough to bring their phone and provide some music for your leisurely trip along the water.
Don't worry about the gators – they're far more skittish than crocs. Just remember to get off at your designated landing or you could end up floating for a while.
2. Okefenokee Swamp
Speaking of gators, you're bound to spot plenty when you visit Okefenokee Swamp Park. A small part of the 177,252-hectare Okefenokee wetland, the park is a reserve for local wildlife including otters, bears and alligators.
Most of the park can be seen on foot including the bear enclosure, but there are two other excursions worth taking. Incorporated into general admission is a ride on the Lady Suwaneee train to Pioneer Island, which has a replicated village of the region's first settlers.
The boat tour is well worth the extra cost, allowing you to see alligators in the wild along with other native animals. Keep an eye out for baby gators and the resident alpha male, the 13-foot (four-metre) Crazy who killed 15 other gators when he first arrived.
3. Drinking Moonshine
They have a saying in the South: "Jesus turned water into wine ... hillbillies turn water into shine." There are two kinds of moonshine available and the type you drink depends on who you know and how drunk you want to get.
Illegal moonshine can go as high as 190 proof (95% alcohol), but you'd need to know a private distiller to get your hands on that paint thinner.
Many moonshiners have turned commercial and you can find batches from the Appalachian region (where it began in the States) in most liquor stores. Legal moonshine is rarely above 83 proof (41.5% alcohol) and comes in a variety of flavours such as watermelon and apple pie, which soften the bite.
4. Shooting Guns
America's gun laws are very relaxed compared to Australia. Hunting, in the South especially, is a popular pastime, but in between seasons or when it's just too much effort to drag home a carcass, locals enjoy loosing off a few rounds at a shooting range or in their backyard.
Unless you know someone, you'll probably be sticking to the ranges. These establishments are never hard to find, with indoor and outdoor varieties available. During one visit to Georgia, I was fortunate enough to try an AR-15 rifle (single fire only), a .50 calibre Magnum handgun and a .45 calibre GLOCK 21 pistol.
A lot of shooting ranges let you handle heavier weaponry as well such as shotguns and fully automatic rifles. Just brace yourself for that bucking recoil.
5. Eating Grits, Biscuits & Sausage Gravy
How does one describe grits? The closest relative would have to be porridge, but grits is coarser thanks to the main ingredient of ground corn. I find grits is best when combined with a variety of food such as cheese, bacon, eggs and shrimp.
Biscuits and sausage gravy doesn't sound very appetising when you think of Australia's version of the former. However, biscuits are completely different in Southern USA – far more doughie, similar in texture to scones, but heartier.
The sausage gravy includes sausage, bacon drippings, milk and flour. It's a thick substance best drizzled over the biscuits.
6. Riding A Bull In A Bar
Clint Eastwood and John Wayne might never release their hold on iconic Western cowboys, but that doesn't mean you can't become the best damn bull rider of the South – that being a mechanical bull of course.
There are plenty of bars down south where you can earn a reputation for endurance and flair in the art of bull riding. What better place to start than Tequila Cowboys in Nashville, where you can ride along to live country music. The Stampede Houston in Texas is where all cowboys find home and Saddlebags in Savannah offers free mechanical bull rides on certain nights.
7. Playing Cornhole
Cornhole isn't a fancy name, nor is it a fancy game. Simplicity is at its finest during this Southern (and much cooler) version of bocce. The aim of the game is to toss bags of corn at a raised board 27 feet (≈8.2 metres) away, which has a hole in its far end.
Scoring varies, but the most common version is three points for a bag in the hole and one point for a bag on the board. Teams of two or individual players attempt to reach 21 points first. However, with the bust rule in play, if you exceed 21 points you go back to 15. This adds a good amount of excitement, length and skill to proceedings.
Cornhole is commonly found in bars, at tailgates and all around the USA during the 4th of July, and is best enjoyed with a stubbie of bud light or a margarita in your non-throwing hand.