Southerners have always taken their manners seriously.
To this day at my ever-advancing age I still say, “Yes, Ma’am” and “No, Ma’am” to anyone who seems even slightly older than me. That is just how I was brought up.
Growing up in the South my mother made sure I got a Ph.D. in what was proper for every occasion.
She would often remind me that good manners don’t cost anything, but they mean everything.
And it seems that these days the emphasis on good manners is becoming rarer in Dixie, so maybe it is time to hit the refresh button.
As is often joked, there are three things Southerners really care about, fried foods, college football and good manners. That was certainly true in my house growing up.
“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”
Those words of Emily Post are as relevant today as they were when she wrote them.
Although she died in 1960, Emily Post had a profound influence in my life because my mother was always quoting her to me. I can’t even count all the times my mother began a sentence with “Well, Emily Post says….”
And while it might seem something to joke about these days, that emphasis on etiquette is the underpinning of Southern hospitality.
Now, I must confess immediately that my mother probably rolls over in her grave at the way I do not always follow the rules. And times have certainly changed.
My grandmother always told me it was bad luck to sing at the table in attempts to cure me of that habit. She always softly corrected, while my mother would just say, “We don’t sing at the table. That is poor manners.”
We didn’t watch TV while we ate; we were expected to listen to the conversation around us. And, while back then, children were supposed to be seen and not heard, we were all encouraged to talk as much as we liked. But no mention of politics or religion.
We always placed our napkins in our laps and kept one hand there. No elbows on the table.
I cannot even imagine what they would have thought about the new age cell phone habit, but I can promise neither my grandmother nor my mother would have thought it was proper to bring them to the table.
A big part of Southern hospitality and nice manners is about always thinking of our guests first.
Food is probably the biggest part of showing a guest how delighted we are they are visiting. So, the first thing you are supposed to do when someone shows up at your door is to ask them in.
Then, offer some iced tea, or at least water. And if they are there more than 30 minutes it is considered appropriate to offer something to eat.
For most of us these days, that could pose a problem as the fridge is often a bit empty. But back in the day my grandmother, who lived on very modest means, always had a cake baked, or at least some ginger snaps on a little plate to serve up.
Just as important as a proper greeting, Southern hospitality dictates when guests leave, make sure to see them to the door. At my house, we always walked outside to see them off, still talking away as a part of the Southern long goodbye.
My mother was extremely dictatorial about thank you notes, and I know that is where I probably fail her the most, so for me to talk about the appropriateness of sitting down and writing out a note seems hypocritical.
She would have insisted on a written note, but I am just pleased with myself if I get off a text or email, or even a phone call to say thanks after I am a recipient of a gift or hosted by someone.
My mother spent a lot of precious time trying to make sure that I had nice manners, could fit into any situation and was nice to those around me.
And while I sometimes forget those manners, the holidays are a great time to brush off the dust on our good manners and bring them out along with the decorations, the silver and the china.
That is a nice gift to give those around us, and fits so beautifully with the season.