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What do you need to know to be a Tar Heel?

More than 45,000 residents of the Triangle were living in another state or country a year earlier, according to a 2004 census report. That's a lot of new arrivals getting acquainted with life in the Tar Heel state.

Newcomers have changed the culture of the region, to be sure. But many traditions remain, as people new to the area are discovering.

"When I first arrived here, the Realtor told me, 'You're going to have to choose what team you want,' " said Debbie Michalski, 46, who moved to Cary last year after living in Italy for eight years. " 'What team?' 'Yes, you've got to pick if you're for North Carolina or N.C. State.' "

Michalski -- who declined to pick a side -- also was also thrown off by streets that follow no predictable pattern, and she had trouble navigating the Beltline.

Taking the exam for a state driver's license was exciting, she said. "It was different. They asked some questions that I didn't expect, like exactly what percentage gets in accidents because of this or that, rather than actual driving questions."

To coincide with the summer influx of new residents, some longtime residents today share their thoughts on what is most important for newcomers to know about being a Tar Heel. And some newcomers talk about what they found most surprising or confusing about their new state.

William C. 'Bill' Friday

Former president of the University of North Carolina system, lives in Chapel Hill

"Sociologists used to always say that the things that bonded North Carolinians together were the family, the church and the land. You can still see that. Fundamentally, North Carolinians are profoundly religious people. They don't wear it on their sleeves, but you see it in the way they respond to problems."

Tar Heels also believe in hard work and volunteerism and share a love of liberty, nature, appreciation of the state's geographic diversity, interest in education and the arts, a sense of humor, and storytelling, Friday says. "I don't know a North Carolinian who doesn't have a story, if you'll listen.

"Another thing about North Carolina is that it's a volatile place. You can get into an argument about anything just about anywhere. If you stay somewhere long enough, something will come up. I take that to mean we're free, and I like it."

Cherie Berry

N.C. labor commissioner, lives in Newton, near Hickory

"To really fit in, they need to learn how to drive.

"For instance, in rural North Carolina, especially in the summertime, when I'm out looking for the perfect tomato -- I've got my Duke's mayonnaise and my white bread on the car seat. I'm ready -- they need to stay off my bumper and quit blowing their horn at me. They can just leave me alone. I've thought about putting a bumper sticker on my car: 'I'm looking for perfection -- get off my rear end.'"

Beverly Perdue

Lieutenant governor, lives in Chapel Hill and New Bern

"I had to learn this the hard way: When you order tea in North Carolina, it's sweet tea. And there are two kinds of barbecue, eastern and western."

Furthermore, "sports is a big thing in North Carolina, especially basketball. It makes it more fun if you have a team."

[What is her team?] "Oh Lord, are you going to put that in the paper? I'm running for governor!"

Bryan Beatty

N.C. secretary of crime control and public safety, lives in Raleigh

Newcomers must absorb the state's traditions while helping to establish new ones, Beatty says.

"We take great pride in our culture -- barbecue, college athletics, golf, NASCAR. And of course, showing our diversity, we're now the home of the Stanley Cup."

Tift Merritt

Singer, songwriter, lives near Wilmington

"It's really important to seek out the things that are particular to North Carolina. You need to go to the Bynum General Store. You need to go to a Durham Bulls game. You need to eat Bullock's barbecue. You need to explore the whole state. Not many places have gorgeous beaches and mountain music."

Bland Simpson

Author, creative writing professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, member of the band The Red Clay Ramblers, lives in Orange County

"People who come here and are in a hurry to make a lot of changes and improvements are in for some frustration. A lot of times people here aren't interested in making those adjustments, especially if it's about how it's done up North.

"I don't mean that we're happy with the status quo, because nobody is. But there are things about life here that people do like. If people come here and don't like barbecue, or don't like people who fish and hunt, or don't like the beach, they're going to have a hard time. Anybody who comes here and gets into our food culture, our indigenous music culture and our natural environment is going to have a good time."

Patricia Timmons-Goodson

N.C. Supreme Court justice, lives in Fayetteville

"They should know that we're a warm people. That warmth comes through quickly, whether it's opening doors, smiling at a stranger or waving. I can't tell you how many times I've told people I'm from North Carolina, and they've said, 'People are very friendly there.' "

To be a North Carolinian "means being gracious. It means being warm. It means serving."

Floye Lee Dombalis

Restaurateur at The Mecca, a landmark Raleigh eatery, lives in Raleigh

"If you come to North Carolina, you have to learn to eat grits, black-eyed peas, collard greens, fried chicken, and salty country ham. And you have to learn to live at a slower pace, because North Carolinians are notorious for not being in a hurry."

John Shelton Reed

Writer on Southern culture and humor, retired sociology professor, lives in Chapel Hill

"Don't assume that the part of North Carolina you're in is typical, because I'm not sure anywhere is. It very much depends on where in North Carolina you are. The state is varied from east to west, from rural to urban.

"Good advice for people in Smithfield might not be good advice for people in Charlotte. And if you live in Cary you might not need any advice about North Carolina, because you might as well be living in New Jersey."

Jerry Bledsoe

Author, publisher of "The Newcomer's Guide to North Carolina," lives near Asheboro

Newcomers should recognize that North Carolina's transformation isn't all good, he says. As North Carolina's cities have boomed and its economy has gone increasingly high-tech, the state's traditional industries and ways of life have gone by the wayside: tobacco, textiles, furniture-making, country cooking and back-road driving.

"For so long, we were a small-town state. Maybe the change will be for the better, but I doubt it. There ought to be some sadness for what's been lost. We need to hold on especially to the caring that North Carolinians feel for each other -- the look-after-your-neighbor kind of stuff."

Beverly Lake Jr.

Former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, lives in Raleigh

"The main thing they need to understand is that we have a wonderful culture and a beautiful state. We have a tremendously rich history, including the first English colony in this country. There's no better place than North Carolina. We have every opportunity here that one could hope for."

Newcomers are welcome -- as long as they don't try to change the place once they arrive, Lake says.

"They also need to learn to take things at a little slower pace. But that doesn't mean that they have to think any slower. Just because we talk slow doesn't mean we think slow."

Kathryn Stripling Byer

N.C. poet laureate, lives in Cullowhee

"Newcomers need to just listen to the people here.

"Sometimes they come in and think somehow that we need enlightenment, and they don't listen. Have respect for the various communities around; we're not monolithic. We have our mountain folk, our piedmonters, our coastal folk, our coastal plain folk. It makes for a rich group of voices telling their stories."

Newcomers also benefit from exploring the arts locally and statewide, Byer says. "One of the great things about the arts is that they help place us," she says. "They help us know where we are."

Elaine Marshall

N.C. secretary of state

"We've got a lot of subcultures. You can't broad-brush North Carolina. The geography, the people, the speech, the dance, the art, and the food are all diverse. What people are like in Eastern North Carolina doesn't fit in Western North Carolina."

North Carolinians traditionally have been friendly, open, hard-working, hardscrabble and independent-minded, she says.

"I came from a place where people put their chins in their chest and looked like they were afraid they'd be mugged. When I moved to Kinston, people walking down the sidewalk would say 'Hi,' 'Hello.'"

(Interviews by staff writer Matthew Eisley)

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