Back in 1999, I was in a downtown bar in Boston and a young woman, who had just heard that I was moving back to the Southeast, made the claim that all southerners are full of (&^%#) bologna, because why would anyone ever say hello to strangers? Well, if you have ever lived in Boston, you know that there is an unwritten law that precludes you from welcoming strangers, so while this woman’s comment seemed a bit ignorant, this was the culture she was raised in. And heck, if she ever watched Dukes of Hazards, you may not blame her for her research on Southerners!
So, why do Southerners smile at you and say hello? My 28 years of experience living in the north (NJ, WI & MA) coupled with my 27 years of living in the south (TN, SC, GA & NC) should make me qualified to tackle this question.
Culture & History
We are all by-products of our environments that we are exposed to, and tradition in the south is simple – be friendly to others. Or in lawyer terminology – innocent till proven guilty. Conversely, a portion of the north is opposed to such thinking as it might give the impression that Northerners really care about people they don’t know. Of course they are nice to their family and friends but strangers? Ha – one has to live in certain areas to fully appreciate its heritage and culture.
This might help explain that it is perfectly normal for a New Englander (or other areas north of the Mason Dixon line) to doubt the sincerity of southern hospitality. New Englanders are not wrong for believing what they believe but, it can take a while for a northerner to accept southerners for who they really are. Here is a real life example of North Meets South that happened in the Fall of 1979. I grew up in Ridgewood, NJ and had just graduated from The University of Tennessee and my first job was with Duracell Batteries. I was a sales rep based in Greenville, SC.
Approximately 2-3 miles outside of Abbeville, SC, two separate cars waived at me driving into town. I asked the Drug Store owner if I looked familiar and or if anyone in town also drove a 1979 beige Impala. He thought and said no, not to his knowledge. Then he asked why, and I replied “well sir, as I was getting close to town early this morning and two different people waived at me”. The gentlemen said “Son, where are you from?”. When I told him, he just smiled and grinned and said that those were just residents of Abbeville extending you a welcome to their town. I was so overcome with embarrassment that on the way out of town I waived at every car and have been waiving at cars ever since.
If you have ever driven the DC beltway, I-285 in Atlanta, the L.I.E., Route 4 in Jersey, Hwy 128 in Boston, I-294 in Chicago or I-95 in Baltimore at rush hour, the only waiving you are doing is generally not with a full complement of fingers. Traffic and busy foot traffic can make the nicest person in the world a raving lunatic, and if you’ve ever been there, well, isn’t kind of amazing that road rage doesn’t happen more often?
Part of the reason Southerners are friendly is that life historically is slower paced down here. Yes, that means your waitress may take an extra few minutes fetching your peach pie but hey, she ran into her preacher and my heavens, she just can’t walk by him and not chat for a spell! Plus, he needed a (free) refill on his (iced) tea!
Life is too short to rush through it and ironically, by doing so, you’ll probably shorten your life. There really is a lot to be learned from waiving, smiling and saying hello to folks you don’t know! And I have seen some strong Jersey folks come down here and take 3-4 years before they realize that Southerners aren’t acting this way, they really are this way!
Back in the winter of 2002 I was working for a large developer here in Brunswick County (Winding River Plantation) and was attending the Winter LiveSouth Real Estate show in Parsippany/Whippany, NJ. One afternoon I had folks about 3-4 deep listening to my schpiel on life in the Carolinas and a really large and imposing guy from Joysie started poking fun at Southerners in general. He was annoying and rude so I walked around our table/booth and stood nose to chest with him and said “Do you know what is nice about people like you”? In a deep voice he looked down on me and said “no, what?”. I replied that even people like you turn out to be nice if they move to the south. His petite embarrassed wife gave me accolades as did the rest of the crowd and well, I have a feeling he’s now single, still miserable and still living in Jersey!
So if you move south, learn to take a deep breath. Repeat and repeat again till your pulse acclimates to the climate. If you insist on having everything delivered to you in a nano-second, please take your home off the market because you will give Northerners a bad name. Life here is laid back if you allow it to be. Southeastern NC has a huge bull’s-eye on it for retirees and if Southerners were crabby, snobby and nosey, well, there’d be no reason to pull up your tent and head south on I-95 or I-75, would there be?