Last month I went to the States for a visit. My friends and I went on a camping trip around the North Georgia mountains. It was lovely and a lot of fun, but one incident didn’t quite line up.
Nestled in the Appalachian mountains north of Atlanta is Georgia’s own little “alpine village”. A tourist town inspired by old Bavaria. The city is Helen of White County, Georgia. According to a helpful young clerk at the Family Dollar, Helen was a town in decline until the start of the 70s when the powers that be decided
to reinvent itself as a village you’d find in the Alps, but right in the Appalachians.
We just happened to be driving through the regular nothing-ness
of southern towns when all of a sudden we see a small Weihnachtsmarkt, chalet style buildings, and various German signage. We had to stop. It was just too weird to pass by.
It’s mandated that all the buildings must have this alpine facade, so the Mexican restaurant, family dollar, and Wendy’s all look like they could be in a cozy Bavarian village. But that’s the thing–once you get past the facade the inside of the establishments are the same as in any other part of Georgia. We thought this cute Bier Haus would tout traditional beers and wares, but it was like any corner liquor store.
Inside the souvenir shops are some items that reflect the town’s overall theme, but outnumbering those are the confederate memorabilia: T-shirts, lawn signs, and license plates to shout out your rebel and redneck pride.
Someone couldn’t hold back in letting us know just what the people of this town were really about. We had walked no more than five minutes when a bearded man in a red pick up truck shouted his most guttural “NIGGER” at me as he drove down the road. I don’t think I’ve ever been called a nigger in real life by an adult before. I quickly swiveled my head to catch his eye, but he had deliberately turned his focus on the road ahead of him–to hide that it had been him like a punk.
It’s a strange thing. Since I had arrived in the u.s. I couldn’t stop commenting on how nice everyone was. I realized there was actually things I missed about being in the U.S. I told my friends how much more comfortable i felt in my skin here. I could just exist as myself, take a deep sigh and walk around without feeling watched. Then that happened.
I couldn’t do anything about it but laugh hysterically with my friends. It all seemed so farcical. So after-school special. It was funny because it was so sad. This bummy man driving through this fake German town in White County, Georgia calling a black girl on the side of the road a nigger. It’s just too perfect.
To be honest, for the rest of our time in that town I felt the same way I had felt back in Korea. On display, stared at, and slightly out of place. You don’t have to leave home to feel that way. We can get that feeling right in the many Helen ,Georgias across the country.