Southern Hospitality is no mere catchphrase or cliché; it exists and is alive and well. You can experience it as soon as you cross the Southern border. When I stepped off the plane from my last trip to Germany, I was greeted with a warm, “Welcome to Atlanta, darlin’.”
But, it’s down the road and outside of the big cities where you’ll find true Southern Hospitality. In a small town like Cuthbert, part of the appeal is that everyone knows everybody. You can walk into a restaurant and they already know what you want. Or, you can stop by the Cuthbert Cleaners and your clothes will already be waiting for you. Plus, you’ll be greeted with Miss Dawn’s smiling face and one of the sweetest and longest Southern drawls you’ve ever heard! Miss Dawn and her family are some of my family’s dearest friends, so picking up my clothes is never just business; after telling how everyone on her side is doing, she’ll always check in on us, too. You simply leave with a warm feeling, and I have to admit, every now and then I have to stop in just to get me a good ole Southern hug from Miss Dawn!
Here in the South, we throw up a wave or a nod at everybody passing by, whether in a car or on foot…and whether we know them or not. Not to would simply be rude!
Every Southern Gentleman and Southern Lady – hell, everybody down here – knows the proper use of “ya’ll” and we cringe at the Northern substitutes: “You all; You guys.” “Ya’ll” may not be considered “proper” by all, but I’ll defend its grammatical correctness to the day I die.
Southern Hospitality dictates that you always ask someone how they’re doing. Southern Hospitality also dictates that you always answer positively – unless it’s just visibly apparent that you’re not “just fine.” Then you just stay at home and wait on people to come by and check on you.
I also think that the South is the only place where you can learn someone’s life story in the grocery store line. But I would also urge caution: everybody knowing everybody also has a less-than-sweet flipside. You better not do anything that you wouldn’t want the whole town to know. Because by the time a pot of coffee can brew or a pitcher of tea can steep, your business is going to be spread all over town via the Southern Gossip Network, which contrary to popular belief is made up of just as many men as women.
But, it’s alright. You can say most anything you want to as long as you follow it up with “bless his heart.” It’s a saying that someone who hasn’t lived in the South for a while wouldn’t understand how to use. It can be used as a ‘cover up’ so to speak, a phrase to make everything alright: “The Johnsons’ little girl is just about as dumb as the day is long, bless her heart.” Or “That dog has a face that only a mother could love, bless its heart.” OR it can be used sincerely as a way of showing just how sweet or darlin’ something is. “That boy is always checkin’ in on his mama. Bless his heart.”
It’s all part of Southern Charm, a charm that should never be underestimated. “Is he always like that? So calm and down to earth?” someone asked me at my uncle’s office in the heart of New York City’s financial district. My uncle grew up on a farm and now does business with billionaires, heads of state, and royalty across the globe. In the rat race and lightning-paced world of Wall Street, he still speaks slowly and with a slight Southern twang. People love it; they’re enamored with him. “Yeah,” I answered, “That’s just Uncle Jim.” The guy looked at me and then added, “Huh. I guess it’s just that Southern Charm!”
You’re damn right.
The South: A Photo Essay by W. J. Newsome is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.