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Hold on tight to Southern manners

POSTED: April 2, 2014 3:02 p.m.
 

I heard about a recent university study that suggested Southern manners were in decline. This is a good time for all of my senior citizen readers to ask, “There had to be a study to conclude the obvious?”

As a Southerner who has also lived up North and then survived the culture shock of moving from New Jersey, just an hour from New York City, to Birmingham, Ala., I can speak to the differences.

In addition, I married a Yankee, although true Yankees sometimes don’t consider Maine the same way they consider New York or Boston to be their territory. I suppose that’s for another discussion.

For most of my life, I grew up in a world where you never considered addressing your elders or certainly anybody in a leadership capacity without your manners in full check.

That meant many things — looking people in the eye, using a firm handshake (but not too firm if you were a lady) and, of course, saying “yes ma’am” or “No sir.”

Adults were never addressed by their first names, nor were female teachers called “Miss Nancy” or some other variation. I even remember my mother calling her in-laws “Mr. and Mrs.”

That formality seems so foreign now, doesn’t it?

As a teenager, it was always embarrassing when an adult asked you to call them by their first name. It felt completely wrong and disrespectful.

I guess that sounds pretty rigid in light of our current climate, but it didn’t feel stifled at all back then. It felt orderly.

So do you think manners are declining in the South and, if so, who is to blame?

My diehard Southern friends I asked (who shall remain anonymous for their own protection) blamed the influx of Yankees. One friend said, “They come down here and then make fun of us.”

I say, simmer down. We can, after all, be rather humorous. Personally, I think the fact that we wave at people we don’t know is charming.

I adore that we still have sign-up sheets at church to take meals to sick people or those who just had a baby.

Not that those in other parts of the country don’t also do these things, but we Southerners are definitely known for these acts.

I can’t agree that Yankees are the problem because I know too many who are lovely people. All of them love the South. While they also may love and miss where they came from, they have no interest in going back.

There are differences between us and our northern neighbors, to be sure. Paul says I would never survive up north because everybody would be suspicious of my constant conversation and inquiring nature.

It’s true, I love to talk to people and it is almost unheard of for me to be out and about and not strike up a conversation with whomever I run into.

Consequently, I have numerous friends who work at nearly every store I frequent. I know servers, managers, other staff and many more people I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of getting to know if I didn’t have that curiosity gene that many consider a “nosy” Southern trait.

My Northern friends who retired here say it did take some getting used to as their neighbors were so downright, well, neighborly.

But as they told me stories of their adjustment period, they did so with respect, good humor and, at the end of the day, complete gratitude for their new Southern friends.

I worry about our young people. And like so many parents, I wonder if I did enough to teach our children good manners.

One thing I know for sure — it’s important to teach children that all people, wherever they come from, deserve to be treated with respect.

I love the South, but I love people even more. I love that so many people from all over this great country seem to be flocking to our little corner of the world.

Call me idealistic, but I still like to think manners are alive and well in the South. Oh, and to the driver of that red BMW with New Jersey plates who honked at me the other day when I slowed to avoid running over a squirrel, I forgive you.

 

Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at contact@adlenrobinson.com.

 

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