When Southern babies are born, one thing is immediately instilled in them: good manners. “Please” and “thank you” are taught right after “ma-ma” and “da-da.” Leave off a “ma’am” or a “sir” after a “yes” or “no” just once, and it will be the last time you ever do. Southern charm starts with a smile and a wave, whether you know the person or not. It’s just what we do.
My boyfriend Kevin is a born and bred New Jerseyan (we met in college at Virginia Tech). Sometimes his bold Jerseyness comes out quite predominantly, and still takes me by surprise, even after knowing him for almost four years. But bless him, he’s slowly adapting to the Southern ways of life.
Back in November, he visited me in North Carolina from Blacksburg for a weekend. We made a quick trip to Harris Teeter one afternoon to pick up a few items for dinner that night. When we’d paid, the lady at the register told us to have a nice day, and Kevin responded with, “Thank you ma’am, you, too.” When we were outside, Kevin said, “Man, it feels so good to be in a place where I can say things like that.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, puzzled. “Why can’t you say that anywhere else?” He chuckled.
“If I said something like that at home in Jersey, people would tell me to go to hell, probably with a certain hand gesture.”
Umm…what? I was genuinely confused. Was he joking? The thought of someone being unfriendly about a polite “thank you, ma’am” did not compute in my head. Who spit in their grits? Apparently some people can’t be bothered to say something nice, or even smile, when someone greets them. Were manners not part of their raising? Is “ma’am” or “sir” offensive? Maybe they think “ma’am” makes them sound old, and that offends them.
I really hope he was joking.
My freshman year of college, my boyfriend at that time was visiting my family in Pennsylvania from his small hometown in central Virginia. As we pulled out of my driveway one morning, we passed a neighbor out for his morning run. Boyfriend waved and smiled out of politeness, but when the neighbor didn’t return the gesture, he seemed upset, even offended.
“He didn’t wave back,” he huffed. “That was rude.” I didn’t disagree.
I’ve never understood why good manners—and general politeness—aren’t common everywhere. It’s not hard to smile or say “please” and “thank you,” and it makes a world of difference. A biting response—or no response at all—can dull someone’s sparkle just as much as a smile and, “hey there, sugar,” can brighten it.
Good manners transcend geographical boundaries, and they will never go out of style.
Kate Robertson is a features writer for Pretty Southern, a Virginia Tech alumna, and a current graduate student at Elon University in North Carolina. She’s working toward her MA in Interactive Media, and afterwards hopes to further her career as a kick-ass writer.
Originally from Atlanta, Kate enjoys exploring the Piedmont region of North Carolina, especially its wide offerings of wineries. Follow her on Twitter @kate3robertson and check out her blog, A Thought and a Half.