Are Southern manners on the decline?
Without a doubt, I’d say, yes!!
Hear me out, though, before you disagree.
As a native Houstonian descended from many generations of southerners from Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas, I fancy myself a bit of a modern-day Southern belle.
Although I did not participate in a cotillion or a debutante ball, I was engrained with southern traditions like women should avoid cursing, whistling and if possible wear a skirt or dress; women should be hospitable to guests at her home even if she can’t stand the guests; elbows are never allowed on the table; and the usage of Yes/No Ma’am/Sir and “Please” and “Thank you” should be used at all times.
These Southern-isms didn’t only pertain to things women should or shouldn't do.
Women should expect a man to court them, open doors for them and give up their seat to a woman standing.
Sadly, many of the ideals regarding Southern manners have fallen by the wayside when it comes to the masses.
This news story by ironically the most popular Northern paper, The New York Times, touches upon this subject:
ATLANTA — One August night, two men walked into a popular restaurant attached to this city’s fanciest shopping mall. They sat at the bar, ordered drinks and pondered the menu. Two women stood behind them.
A bartender asked if they would mind offering their seats to the ladies. Yes, they would mind. Very much.
Angry words came next, then a federal court date and a claim for more than $3 million in damages.
The men, ex-Houston Rocket basketball player Joe Barry Carroll and attorney Joseph Shaw, also happen to be black.
The women are white.
The men’s lawyers argued that the Tavern at Phipps used a policy wrapped in chivalry as a cloak for discriminatory racial practices.
After a week’s worth of testimony in September, a judge decided in favor of the bar.
Certainly, the owners conceded, filling the bar with women offers an economic advantage because it attracts more men.
But in the South, they said, giving up a seat to a lady is also part of a culture of civility.
At least, it used to be. The Tavern at Phipps case, and a growing portfolio of examples of personal and political behavior that belies a traditional code of gentility, have scholars of Southern culture and Southerners themselves wondering if civility in the South is dead, or at least wounded, said the article.
“Manners are one of many things that are central to a Southerner’s identity, but they are not primary anymore. Things have eroded,” Charles Reagan Wilson, a professor of history and Southern culture at the University of Mississippi, reportedly told the New York Times.
To be sure, strict rules regarding courtesy and deference to others have historically been used as a way to enforce a social order in which women and blacks were considered less than full citizens.
In the Jim Crow era, blacks and whites lived with a code of hyper-politeness as a way to smooth the edges of a harsh racial system and, of course, keep it in place, scholars of Southern culture said.
As those issues faded, proper manners remained an important cultural marker that Southerners have worked to maintain. Since the Civil War, any decline in Southern civility has largely been blamed on those damn Yankees.
Newcomers still get much of the blame.
In the past decade the South has seen an unprecedented influx of immigrants from other states and countries.
The population in the South grew by 14.3 percent from 2000 to 2010, making it the fastest growing region in the country, according to the article.
Click this link for more background on the bar seat case.
Digital communication and globalization and the demise of the home-cooked family meal have also received the blame for the demise of Southern graces.
I think people’s ability to attack people online via pseudonyms and their desire to “keep it real” or “keep it 100” also adds to the demise of manners.
Even though it was written by a Yankee, I think the article makes a lot of sense.
I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Keep in mind that if you say something negative about The South, I may just respond with “bless your heart”, which is reportedly one of The South’s most popular ways of being polite without being genuine.
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