You'll want to check out this excellent special report from the Economist on the American South. Europeans especially might be interested in a friendly but critical review of what's going on down there. (Note: Click "next page" at the bottom for more stories; there are about eight.)
I'm from a Southern family but spent most of my childhood in the North and Midwest, so I've always been ambivalent about the South, and when we lived in Dallas for a couple of years I was out and out hostile. I still can't stand a lot of things about that city. I can really do without the guns and Jesus stuff that's so common down South.
One of the interesting quotes in the report, though, is from a Northerner in Atlanta who suspects that many of the things he likes about the South (I assume he means that the people tend to be friendlier and more honest, and that the lifestyle is more relaxed) are partially due to the religious conservatism of many Southerners. I also thought the joke, "You might be a redneck if you have six patents and they all feature the words "hunting dog" in the disclosure documents," was pretty good.
The nasty racism that I remember in East Texas seems to be way down twenty-five years later, since a lot of the old racist folks have died off and the younger ones are comparatively free of that particular sin.
I hate Southern cooking, by the way, except for Louisiana food, which doesn't have much to do with what they eat in the rest of the South. Too greasy and too sweet. Being a vegetarian doesn't help; they can screw up vegetables quite easily. Note that in the report, Cracker Barrel, Waffle House, and KFC are named as successful Southern restaurant chains. Coincidentally, they're also the top three restaurant chains on my "Do Not Want" list.