Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Is it the Death of Southern Ettiquette?

While walking through the city the other day, I happened to get to a door just ahead of a woman who was carrying a couple of big packages.  (Christmas shopping, perhaps?)  As we both encountered the door at the same time, I pulled it open and stepped back to allow her to go first.  She stopped and looked at me. Then she looked at the open door.  She didn't say a word but it was obvious she wasn't used to that.  She looked at me again, while people passed her by and entered the door and after a few more moments she tentatively walked through the door. 

While all the people walked past us, and when she had finally entered the door, I noted that not one of them paused to say "Thank you."  None. Not one.  And this woman with the packages didn't either.  It got me wondering are good manners finally dead?  In our fast paced, internet based, stare at your phone while you try to carry a conversation world, have manners been forgotten?

There is a history of Manners in the South (yes, all caps.)  Southern Gentility and Manners seem to go hand in hand.  In fact, let's ask the unasked question; What are Southern manners? I'm not talking about keeping your elbows off the table or which fork to use, but more about how to treat one another whether you are acquainted or not.  

Southern Manners are, of course, cemented in Christianity.  Nashville is known as the Buckle of the Bible Belt* after all. Manners in general, and Southern Manners specifically are based on the simplicity of the Golden Rule:  "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." 

I've done a bit of research (talked to a few southern friends) and have come up with a sort of Primer for Southern Manners and offer it here as a place for people to learn and perhaps keep the idea of good manners from dying. 

Southern manners are based on 5 basic principles.
  • Be Humble. Others first, yourself last. Self-denial and deference to others ("After you") are the cornerstone of good manners, acting selfish or uppity is not.
  • Be Courteous: Remember the Golden Rule. Go out of your way to be helpful and kind to everyone you encounter.
  • Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Don't be uncouth, rude, brash, loud, coarse, or cause a commotion in public.
  • Be Friendly: Put your best foot forward, whether you've been properly introduced or don't know the person from a hole in the ground.
  • Be Modest:  Practice modesty in all situations. "Why, shucks, I guess I was in the right place at the right time" would work just fine upon learning that you had won the Pulitzer Prize.
By keeping this five pointed approach in your life, you can easily become more well mannered - Dixie Style.  But there's more (of course).
  •  Always remember to say Please and Thank you.  Always ask, never tell. The only way to make a request is to ask for it, directives are much too surly.  Say "Thank you" without fail.   To show them you're really grateful, dress it up with "Thank you kindly," "Thanks a whole lot," "Preciate it". If your request is denied, say "Well, thank you anyway."  Keeping these two in your vocabulary is the very cornerstone of good manners.  
  • Always use "Sir" or "Ma'am."  It's as important as Please and Thank you.
  • Always refer to those of the female gender as Ladies. The descriptive "Woman" is usually reserved in Dixie for females of questionable respect. If you are a gentleman, then treat all ladies with a courtliness, deference, and respect you'd accord members of the royal family since, in the South, ladies occupy such status. This is an immutable rule of order in Dixie, no matter what may be happening elsewhere on this planet.
  • Hold the door open for all members of the fairer sex, regardless of their social station. 
  • Stand when a lady enters or leaves a room.
  • Walk on the street-side of a side-walk, when accompanying a lady.
In the south, being well mannered is not being "Politically Correct."  It stands head and shoulders above such trivial things.  PC, to a Southerner, is merely a way people try to excuse not bringing kids up properly, and not teaching them Good Southern Manners.

*The Bible Belt is an informal term for a region in the south-eastern and south-central United States in which socially conservative evangelical Protestantism is a significant part of the culture and Christian church attendance across the denominations is generally higher than the nation's average.

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