Archives » News

Smiling faces kicking your ass


Raised as I was with a certain brand of genteel Southern manners, I have an almost unconscious appreciation for the politeness of the South. Once upon a time, I thought that I despised Southern "manners" because I saw it as yet another show of hypocrisy (which it is). Southerners are often delightful to your face, saying things like "How lovely to see you again!" and "Wherever did you get that dress?" Then the moment you walk away, they say, "She's gained 40 pounds!" and "That outfit makes her look like a giant grape!"In fact, in the South you can say whatever you want behind somebody's back, as long as you append your statement with the following phrase: "God bless "em." For example, as a Southerner you can in good conscience say that your neighbor is "a two-timing, ignorant jerkwad who wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire, God bless him."

In my adolescent naivete, I despised this pseudo-politeness and hated everyone I knew for being fake. Of course, now I've lived in and visited other places, and I realize that backstabbing and falseness are ubiquitous human traits. Sure, it would be nice to know where you stand with people, but it just isn't realistic. Most people are too cowardly to let others know what they really think about them.

I can't get too mad about that. My Southern upbringing accomplished a thing or two, and I just feel uncomfortable telling people what I really think about them. Plus, I've come to appreciate politeness. Hey, everybody you know is going to be nice to your face and talk about you behind your back; it doesn't matter where you live. I can promise you that just as much backstabbing goes on in the North as the South. The difference is that, here, strangers at least are expected to be nice to each other.

Not that there aren't downsides to Southern gentility. The hallway dance is one of the side effects of politeness we've all experienced. You know, you're walking down a narrow hallway or aisle when you notice another person headed toward you on a collision course. Inevitably, you both hop aside in the same direction. Ha-ha, you both laugh, and then simultaneously step to the other side. This dance can go on for hours.

A similar hassle occurs when Southerners attempt to enter and exit elevators together. First, the men wait until all the women have boarded the elevator. Once everyone is inside, the men get to jostle for the "driver's seat" (i.e., the guy who punches the buttons). The rest of the men must then find some way to wiggle to the back of the elevator to allow the women to exit before they do. But even as they travel in these cramped circumstances, people try to maintain decorum by making smalltalk, which is an irritating way Southerners demonstrate their politeness. You will not find a like experience in a Northern elevator. There, everybody crams onboard on a who-can-shove-whom-out-of-the-way-first basis. Then the whole group sort of frowns throughout the ascent/descent. This frowning is the Northern equivalent of Southern smalltalk. It only took me a year of elevator frowns to realize how much I actually liked hearing, "Looks like rain today, huh?"

Holding doors open for people is an even worse hurdle for modern man. For me, as a woman, it's not really a problem. I can hold doors for both men and women, and nobody really takes offense. Some men won't go through if I hold a door for them; they just gesture politely until I release the door and enter in front of them. They never get upset with me for holding doors. Unfortunately, men have it a bit harder since some women actually take offense at having doors held for them. I guess they believe that holding a door for a woman implies that the woman is too weak to open it for herself. Or maybe they just see it as a gender difference. Anyway, some women get pissy if men hold doors for them. I doubt there are very many of these women in reality, but the few who are out there have certainly scared the menfolk. Some men even make preemptive strikes and say, "I hope you're not a feminist because I still hold the door for women" or something silly like that.

Revolving doors have introduced a whole new problem in door holding. The Southern man's natural inclination would be to allow the lady to enter the revolving door first. In fact, both logic and etiquette demand that if a man wishes to espouse gender-biased standards of politeness, he should enter the revolving door first in order to provide the force necessary to move the door. Not being constant readers of Miss Manners' advice column, many Southern men are unaware of this rule, and often you see women herded into the revolving door and then forced to trot suddenly as the man enters the door and provides a massive push.

These are merely carping points regarding Southern manners. Sometimes our strange standards of behavior lead us into amusing situations, but overall I think our cultural standard of politeness is positive. I like living in a place where people smile at strangers and assume that when you honk your car horn, you're just saying hello. Since Northerners often mistake this friendliness for gullibility, however, my husband amended South Carolina's tourist slogan to help his Yankee college friends understand the truth about Southerners, and I think it sums things up nicely: Beautiful Places, Smiling Faces, Kicking Your Ass.

Add a comment