Guitars and Cadillacs and Hillbilly Music

Don’t ask me why, but this twangy country song got in my head today. And of course, once in there, it didn’t want to leave. So I was humming it all day. It reminded me of a conversation I once had with a Jordanian man about my dad. I was trying to explain that my dad was a “redneck” which doesn’t really translate in Arabic (or French—we only grow ‘em in the Good Ole US of A, folks!). He couldn’t get the concept.

The closest thing I could think of was “fellahi” in Arabic, which means peasant or farmer, not redneck. But my former students used to say it with the same look-down-your-nose disdain. They would insult each other’s clothes as something a “fellahi” would wear. If I went shopping and commented on something I liked in a store window, the girls would burst out giggling and say, “Oh, miss, that’s so fellahi!” I would then keep my apparently backwoods opinions to myself.

So, in talking with the Jordanian, I used the “fellahi” word, but tried to add some paint to the word picture. How do you describe a redneck to someone from outside of America? Suddenly his face lit up, and he nodded with understanding. “Oh, you mean like a ‘hilly-billy’?” After I stopped laughing, I corrected him on the term, and then figured it was close enough, so I said, “Yeah, like that.”

But I have often since wondered, what is the difference between a “redneck” and a “hillbilly”? Those of you who are experts, please enlighten us all!
Ariel Rainey