How to learn Southern charm?
August 31, 2010 1:36 PM   Subscribe

How to learn Southern charm? Is there a book? Should I go to finishing school? How to have the grace and wit of Southerners?
posted by UltraD to Society & Culture (39 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Having grown up in the south amongst tons of southerners with enough southern charm to be oozing out their ears, I say: HA!

Do you actually know any people who have the particular qualities of grace and wit that you'd like to emulate? If so, then what hansbrough said.

If, however, and this seems the more likely scenario, you are talking about this so-called "southern charm" as seen in television and movies, well, Han Solo isn't real, either.

There are plenty of books on southern etiquette; I don't know if any of them are any good. If all else fails, you can always put pineapple crap up everywhere.
posted by phunniemee at 1:50 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: i didn't mean to offend! yes, clearly there are many people in the south or elsewhere that are and aren't charming. perhaps, i'm just lucky with the charmers I've met :)

in lieu of going into the examples of each 'charming' incident, i took a shortcut by calling the collective idea southern charm. i meant to depict the plain old mainstream view of southern charm that you see in movies, on blogs & in people.
posted by UltraD at 1:56 PM on August 31, 2010

Hm. I don't know if this is what you are looking for, but as someone who learned much my grandmother, I'll give it a shot. She is very charming to me and these are some reasons I think so:
- She wants others to feel comfortable, physically, when they are her guests. She offers folks a seat and a refreshment, even if it's boxed butter cookies and percolator coffee. She gives the impression that she is delighted (and in fact she is) that you are talking to her or are visiting her home.
- She's not ostentatious. She doesn't overdress or behave flashily* or try to impress.
- She is polite and she and my other grandmother taught me the cornerstone of etiquette is to make others feel comfortable.
-She avoids (unless with her intimate friends or close family) topics like politics and religion and instead will steer the conversation towards not controversial topics that let the other person speak & share things about himself/herself.

*of course, this is situation dependent. If you are Lady GaGa, then it might put people off if were to be NOT flashy :)
posted by pointystick at 2:00 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mod note: few comments removed - seriously, early answerers, please ask yourself if you are making metafilter a better place with your answers.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:04 PM on August 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

Be comfortable in your own skin and help others feel comfortable in theirs.

Genuinely, it's no more complex than that. It's not serving dinner surrounded by a Stonehenge of silverware where everyone's in stupor over which fork to use. It's making people feel welcome and accepted.
posted by 26.2 at 2:10 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

If walking past someone on the street, smile or say hello.
If momentarily paused near someone, start a conversation about the weather.
If asked "how are you?" answer with more than a grunt, then follow-up in return.
If not asked "how are you", do so, then wait for and listen to the answer.
Memorize names and interests, use them often.
Say please. Say thank you. Mean it.

Act as if everything you do in public will haunt you. Act as if everyone around you is carrying a weapon, or has very large dogs, or has nothing to lose, or has a beautiful sibling that you just might like to go out with.

In the South, they take their frivolous social lubrication seriously.

Because not too long ago it was a tiny world full of broke-ass farmers and hunters one drought away from disaster and a person's honor and reputation as a member of a tightly-knit society was the only thing they could reliably trade on.

Oh, and also: it's not iced tea. It's sweet tea.

(25 year southerner, transplanted to Ontario. Yeah, it's wierd here.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:10 PM on August 31, 2010 [25 favorites]

*If you can't say something nice, don't say anything.
*Smile and make eye contact with others at the store; make conversation with those waiting near you in line.
* Sit down and talk with people much older than yourself, particularly those who seem to embody this charm you're looking for.
posted by bizzyb at 2:11 PM on August 31, 2010

I agree with others that you shouldn't lump all Southerners into being charming, but as someone raised in the South and having lived in the NYC area, there is a certain... je ne sais quoi... of Southern culture than lends itself to that stereotype.

That said, there are things you can do that don't require finishing school or whatever. Reading etiquette books may help, but mainly because you will feel more confident in yourself for doing the right or "proper" thing, and that confidence will come across as charm and grace. (And let's be honest, what you are really asking about are social graces.)

Be kind. Be thoughtful and considerate. To EVERYONE. The low and the high, whether they deserve it or not. That in itself is huge. "Do unto others" is the Golden Rule for a reason. What you may see as "Southern charm" is actually just an extension of being kind, nice, and considerate, even when you don't want to be.

The side benefit to being a kind, thoughtful person is that others are often more forgiving of any faux pas you may do.

Another thing to consider: travel. Can be international travel of course, but could also mean seeing a rural area if you are a city person or the big city if you are stuck in the wilderness. Exposure to a wide variety of people, cultures, etc. will lend itself to being charming, witty, and graceful in any social situation. And as my dear friend told me, "when you come back to the south, you'll appreciate it all the more."
posted by southpaw at 2:15 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

(Echoing Sean above - - and as a native Texan who has spent time in NYC) Engage in chit chat. A quick "howz it goin?" to a casual acquaintance in the north can be a 5 minute conversation in Dallas that might start with the weather and end and with catfish recipes.

I've seen Northerners in the South react as if their privacy is invaded with forced social conversations, but really it's just pleasantries. Southerners take their pleasantries seriously.

But normally the interest in the other person is genuine and I think completely charming. There is almost a zen beauty to be able to stop what you are doing, smile, and take the time to engage in polite chit chat when there is no logical reason to.
posted by kongg at 2:31 PM on August 31, 2010

Southern Charm also applies to driving. Years of the backroads taught me this:

While holding the steering wheel with one hand, when an oncoming car is close enough to make out the other driver, extend your pointer and middle fingers up in the air while loosening the thumb, almost as if you're making a kind of shooter that would be aimed at the top of the windshield. If executed properly, you'll get a 'hey' back.

Very impractical in an urban setting, but on the backroads it really makes you feel like you belong - no matter how lost you may be.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 2:36 PM on August 31, 2010

As a Southerner living in a smallish city, I feel like I'm constantly interacting with siblings, friends, etc, of people I already know. The idea that every person you meet is connected to someone you like might be helpful for putting you in the right frame of mind for interacting with people.

Also, I definitely feel that it's true in general that Southerners are quite friendly. Every time I visit a different part of America, I'm always a bit perturbed at first by how withdrawn people seem to be. If I'm walking down a street and see someone walking the other way, I'll most likely give a "Heya!". Constant small talk - thanking service people profusely, complimenting stranger, and the like - make for the complete Southerner (or perhaps it's just me?).

Maybe just going about your everyday life pretending that you're running for public office and need the people you meet to fall in love with you and vote for you could do it.
posted by estlin at 2:38 PM on August 31, 2010

It does exist, still, but more quietly than in the past. Pointystick's description of her grandmother reminds me of plenty of lovely women I was fortunate to be able to observe while growing up in Tennessee. In Philadelphia, you might find women of a similar sort in the Junior League (if you present as female) or in any number of hospital auxiliaries or the like (if you don't). You aren't so far north that there won't be a few genuine transplants, but even if that isn't the case, the people who truly seem to revel in volunteering are the type that will possess the most qualities in common with the Southerners you probably have in mind.

One characteristic to build on what the others have mentioned: frequently, this extroverted charm takes the form of mild-to-moderate flirtation with pretty much the entire world, the idea being not to seduce anybody but to enjoy bantering conversation and leave all participants feeling a little bit better about themselves. Consider the things that might make others have a more pleasant day, and assist them as much as you feel comfortable. Remembering to thank people, both in person and with cards, is very important- if you're not the type to send thank-yous, birthday cards, Christmas letters, or how-are-y'all-doing catch-up notes, that's a good place to start- Crane paper and a nice pen will help get you in the mood. For learning how to move and carry yourself: adult ballet class, preferably with an instructor who will harass you incessantly about proper posture.

As for books, you don't have to like Florence King as a person to be amused (and possibly offended, sure) by her earlier books, which contain colorfully embellished reminiscences and studies of varyingly accurate Southern stereotypes. Can be helpful for getting in the mindset, though it's by no means an entirely positive picture.
posted by notquitemaryann at 2:47 PM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

Southern Charm is easy, its all about being open, honest, and direct - maintaining a legitimate warmth in the process. Don't over think it.
posted by platosadvocate at 2:53 PM on August 31, 2010

Somewhat tangential, but I once had a friend who was excellent at "kinfolking." She'd hit the feed store at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning and not emerge until she had chatted with other folks in the aisle, the cashier and the man who loaded feed onto her truck. She would ask after their animals and compare notes on home veterinary remedies. As a county fair judge, she always had a kind word for the kids who *didn't* win, and praise for the hard work of the few who did. A transplant from the midwest, she was nonetheless interested in how people raised their animals (and not at all, at least in public conversation, about how they reared their kids; no gossip for her) and, in seeking out their expertise, learned a lot herself and was as at home with the auctioneer and banker as the feed slinger down at the mill.

Her skill at kinfolking stood her in good stead during a trip to the Middle East when, while colleagues fumbled for what to say, she struck up conversation about her host's goats. Like I said, at home with anyone, anywhere, through the sincere desire to learn and share information while implicitly acknowledging the other person's humanity and worth. While she was not warm in the sense you're getting at, she projected an honest sense of connection, and connectedness, with those around her.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:59 PM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

Southern Charm is easy, its all about being open, honest, and direct - maintaining a legitimate warmth in the process. Don't over think it.

In my experience, it's the exact opposite of this... it's about maintaining a well-composed facade which shows no signs of inner feelings. It is total separation of public and private.

If you love someone, smile at them. If you hate them, smile bigger.
posted by chicago2penn at 3:00 PM on August 31, 2010 [9 favorites]

If you love someone, smile at them. If you hate them, smile bigger.

And follow it up with a big "Well, bless your heart!"
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 3:05 PM on August 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

Tooty and Chicago are right. Southern charm is all about belng warm and polite to everyone, even if you want to stab them in the back. It's just good politics.
posted by justcorbly at 3:36 PM on August 31, 2010

There's also the Molly Ivins brand of Southern charm: wittily aware of cultural gender differences (among other differences).

I remember a number of years ago listening to a female Tennessee State legislator, talking about her political career to a mostly female audience. She said, "Pearls are a girl's best friend. Always wear pearls. They get you in the door. Plus, they help keep the Old Boys off balance when you grab their balls and squeeze hard to get what you want."
posted by Short Attention Sp at 3:41 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

I found Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil to be very telling of Old South culture and charm in recent times.
posted by chicago2penn at 4:02 PM on August 31, 2010

Yes, I want to echo some of the things said above. We just went to New England for a week and noticed some things very noticeably missing from N.E. culture that we take for granted in Texas:

1. On a two lane highway, people coming from opposite directions wave to each other. While driving in general, people wave thanks for someone helping them (letting them in or whatnot).
2. While passing in the street, people smile and say hello.
3. And this is extended when you're in a line or something. Conversations get struck up all the time here between strangers in situations where they're just standing next to each other. Elevators and food lines are famous for this.

What to talk about? The weather, of course. It's hot today, and likely to be hot tomorrow. But perhaps some day, it will rain. Won't that be nice?
posted by Addlepated at 4:03 PM on August 31, 2010

I don't think I've ever even MET a genuine Southerner (being on the other side of the planet and all) but I loved the attitude of these chicks, when I stumbled across one of Jill Connor Browne's books. Tongue-in-cheek, sure, but I think if we all adopted some of that attitude the world would be a better place.

When I grow up, I wanna be just like them. And I don't apologise for my shameless adoption of y'all, both online and in real life. Um, that is, the adoption of the phrase y'all, not the adoption of y'all personally.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:38 PM on August 31, 2010

Makes me think of two of my old girlfriends, one from here (Texas), one from Alabama, both from relatively old money. The one from Texas wouldn't say "Shit!" if she stepped in it, or, rather, she'd say it with a smile, she'd say it real honeyed, you could hear the smile in her voice.

And this same applied to stepping into social shit, as it were, she'd not say anything about it, she was pleasant as could be, she'd never tell anyone "No way!" but she'd never do anything she didn't want to, regardless she'd say she would.

Which is to say she's a liar. But charming.

My old sweetie from Alabama was harassing me once -- politely, of course -- about my snoring, which, I've been told, can stop time. She went on about it, too long, seemed to me, and I said that at least I didn't fart all night, like she did, to the extent that the drapes were moving like in a thunderstorm, neighbors banging on the walls, etc. She was mortified! "I do not!" and I'm like "Oh yes you do, it's horrifying!" and I'm telling her it's very scary, I'm having lots of fun here. She knew I was kidding but it terrorized her anyways. She never said another word about my snoring, not one.`

It took me -- blue-collar stock from Chicago area -- quite a while to figure these women out. But it takes me time to figure *any* woman out, regardless. So maybe it's just that. I can't say. But I can say that they are different from yankee women.

seanmpuckett: "Because not too long ago it was a tiny world full of broke-ass farmers and hunters one drought away from disaster and a person's honor and reputation as a member of a tightly-knit society was the only thing they could reliably trade on. "

What Sean wrote her absolutely pegs people from East Texas, and Louisiana, and Mississippi, and Arkansas -- all through those piney woods -- these people are by far the friendliest people I have ever met. And the charmingest, too, though that's not a word probably, but I don't care and neither would they, it fits them perfectly.

They are my ex-wifes people. She was from a small town in northeastern Arkansas, and not from money, she was from salt of the earth people, who I really, really loved, and they loved me, too. When I went there for the first time, she took me to meet ALL of her people, friends and family, here and there, this side of town and that one, one residence really, really nice, not a mansion but very comfortable, one residence an old (no, really -- old) mobile home with differing pieces of house built on to it this way and that way, and residences all in between, too.

Here's the thing: At each of these homes -- every one -- the people answered the door, said hello ... No, they didn't say hello probably. Probably they said "Hey, how'r ya'll doin'? Ya'll come awn in an' have somethin' to eat!" Each house. "Ya'll come awn in an' have somethin' to eat!" Not "Come on in and we'll talk for a minute or two" or whatever else, but "Ya'll come awn in an' have somethin to eat!" *That* is charming, or was to me; I truly was charmed.

I still am. Austin isn't the piney woods, for sure, but it's got some of that, and I'm very glad to live here, and while I love to go back to visit I'd never consider moving back to yankee-land.

Ah, this too: Being from a white-bread yankee suburb, I was pretty dang alarmed at the fact of so many knives and guns, so casual. I've shot guns my whole life and had knives and whatever, but there in Arkansas it was just So. Damn. Casual. The violence was implied, just a fact. Really incongruent with the kindnesses, seemed to me. And I've found that here in Texas of course, and when I lived in Florida also, just lots in the south and southwest (try Arizona, get into the desert towns). That's probably not too charming if you're not used to it, but it's a fact of life here. And I know now that (mostly, anyways -- jesus) no one is going to stab or shoot anyone, but it's just always there. And not just guys, women too. Maybe that's why everyone's so polite?
posted by dancestoblue at 4:48 PM on August 31, 2010

When describing a particularly rude or unpleasant person note only their resemblance to a Polecat and you'll be swinging under the Magnolia and sipping iced tea with only the finest of company.
posted by pianomover at 5:00 PM on August 31, 2010

There's several books that, while not guides to etiquette, explain Southern manners and customs rather well.

Being Dead is No Excuse

Some Day You'll Thank Me for This: The Official Southern Ladies' Guide to Being a "Perfect" Mother

Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden

Mrs. Whaley Entertains: Advice, Opinions, and 100 Recipes from a Charleston Kitchen

There's plenty more of this ilk. Mrs. Whaley is quite a character.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:26 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a Tennessee girl (now displaced) and a pretty hardcore introvert. However, I smile, I wave, I please/thank you and ma'am/sir. I can chitchat with strangers, give compliments, ask questions and actively listen, fill awkward silences, draw people into conversations, and think a great deal about the hospitality of my guests. I'm powerfully driven to feed people when they come to my house and I can hardly bear to go to someone else's empty handed.

Among other Southerners I probably read as polite and interested if, perhaps, a touch reserved. After having lived in Boston and San Francisco, I've been surprised how many people I know who don't quite believe I'm really introverted. What passes for the basic currency of social lubrication and manners how I was raised frequently reads as gregariousness to others. Even when it terrifies me to talk to strangers, I can do it and do it well.

As others have said, I think it basically boils down to words and actions intended to make everyone feel as comfortable and welcomed as possible in every situation. Manners exist to make society easier to navigate, not harder. And real manners aren't about which fork to use, they're about ensuring that everyone feels at ease.

Of course, this commitment to smiling and manners can be crazy-making in situations where everyone loathes everyone else and you just wish someone would snap and say what they really feel, but on the whole, there is something to be said for the business.
posted by mostlymartha at 5:45 PM on August 31, 2010 [15 favorites]

Oh, one most important rule I forgot to mention: persons older than you are to be addressed as "sir" and "ma'am." They ask you a question, you don't answer "Yes." You answer "Yes, ma'am." Doesn't matter who it is, whether it's a cashier at the grocery store or your mother in law or the queen of England. Elders are treated with respect. (And make sure to stand up when they enter or leave the room!)

This is something that I have found really tends to throw - and impress - people not from the South.
posted by Addlepated at 5:46 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

In the South, they take their frivolous social lubrication seriously

This, a million times.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:56 PM on August 31, 2010

I'm a Southern transplant - from the West coast - and I think "Bless your [or insert pronoun] heart" sums up Southern charm.

It doesn't always mean, "Bless your heart." Sometimes it means the exact opposite, but they still say it like they mean it. And like "y'all" it's a figure of speech I've picked up while living here in the Deep South.

Bless their little hearts. ^_^
posted by patheral at 6:23 PM on August 31, 2010

I was born and raised in East Tennessee, my grandmother went to finishing school in Middle Tennessee, and despite my being an unrepentant tomboy, Granny taught me a few rules of Southern womanhood.
- Always smile and be polite to strangers.
- Always have a cold beverage and something to eat in the house to offer guests.
- Always ask after someone's family and try to remember the important bits to ask about later.
- Don't be nosy or overstep and get involved in someone else's business, example: my grandmother once witness two women almost get into a knife fight at the Cas Walker's (a local grocery store), when she told us about it and we asked what she did her response was "I went to the other line, of course. Those ladies didn't need anybody else up in their business."
- Don't be too impressed by displays of money, don't talk about money, in fact, pretend that the entire world is well to do, but just getting by at the same time.
- Always compliment an acquaintance's shoes, hat, dress, gloves, hair, whatever you can if they look nice. If they don't, ask, "Have you changed your -----? It's striking. Only you could pull that off."
- Treat those around you with politeness and kindness, unless they are rude to you, then drown them with sweetness until they choke.
- Finally, trashy is as trashy does.
posted by teleri025 at 6:51 PM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

"Y'all" just makes more sense. Modern English provides no proper term to delineate the collective "you" from the singular "you", and where other regions of the country have solved this language lack by contracting woefully improper phrases like "you guys" or "you ones," we contracted "you all." QED

To add on to Addlepated's remark about "sir" and "ma'am":

Elders that one may address familiarly are always addressed with a title, no matter how close the relation. It's always "Aunt Jen", never just Jen. Very close elders that do not have a family title like "Grandpa X" or "Aunt So-and-So" ought still be called "Miss Olivia" or "Mister Bob." It doesn't matter if they have known you since birth; showing proper respect for an elder always means using a title.

I don't know if this next one is a Southern thing, per se, as I've never lived anywhere else but Texas and maybe it's just a universal thing. But I personally have found it challenging to appreciate the personality of anyone who "puts on airs". I don't care if you are worth a bazillion scrillion dollars; that alone makes you no better than the person who scrubs your toilet. The worth of a man is his actions everyday—and most obviously in how he treats children, animals, subordinates, and those who might not be as smart as he is. Especially when no one is looking.

Upon reflection, I think this is a product of what seanmpuckett called being "one drought away from disaster." In the South, there will always be some kind of boom (be it oil or crops or internet stocks), and then everyone will get rich and be in high cotton for a while. And there will always be a bust, and times will be hard for everyone. "We're all in this together, friend."

And how you treat your neighbors during boom and bust reflects on who you are... and memories are very long. You can be in the mansion one year and in the trailer the next, and neither one makes you a good or bad person.

You mentioned having the "grace and wit" of Southerners. In the wit especially, I think there is something slightly akin to an English sensibility in this... in that neither culture takes itself all too seriously. The sense of humor comes from the ability to consider oneself an Everyman, all the time, and therefore to poke fun at oneself. Much of a "Southern sense of humor" lies in the ability to be self-deprecating. There is a saying that "You can get glad in the same pants you got mad in", and it sort of sums up the ability to back down from a puffed-up posturing position of self-importance (read: got all het up) and have a laugh.

tl;dr version: Southerners expect you to get over yourself.

A quality that people from other places seem to always pounce on as a charming "Southern" thing is the commitment to ritual, even if it is impossibly "old-fashioned" or obsolete. Just a few examples that spring to mind: homecoming mums; handwritten correspondence; asking one's girlfriend's father for permission to propose; no white clothes after Labor Day or before Memorial Day (with exceptions made for brides and Easter dresses); and the million odd little customs that go along with a wedding.

But I don't think these are an actual element of "charm" nor are they particularly Southern. Every culture has its rituals which it performs because "it's the way our people have always done it" or because "your mama did it before you and her mama before her, and her mama before her, since before we first stepped off the boat from [$wherever]."

I just think that the rituals of the American South happen to evoke a moneyed, historic, genteel (and frankly, whitewashed) time in the past that often seems charming... the men were gentlemen, the women were ladies, the settings were idyllic, and the manners were profuse.

I don't know exactly how best to emphasize that you should talk to and spend time with people who have the traits you seek... instead of reading "Southern behavior" books. I can always tell someone who has read too many of those books and tried to pass.

Just be genuinely kind, and interested in the welfare of another—whether you'll know him for five minutes, or five decades.
posted by pineapple at 7:53 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Popped back in to second everything teleri025 said, with particular emphasis on not discussing money. Ever. This is not done.

Akin to what pineapple said, the money thing, among many other intricacies of proper behavior, is something I've noticed Southern people have in common with the British. You can a just imagine the difficulty the first few times my Southern husband and I went out to dinner with our new British friends a while back. Splitting the check was among the most drawn out matches of manners chess I've ever been involved in.

Actually, now that I think on it, a lot of it has something to do with the ingrained belief that there's an appropriate, gracious mode of behavior at all times and that one is obligated to uphold that standard under even (or perhaps especially) the most trying circumstances. And if you don't act right, you and everyone you're related to or friends with can be judged by your failure.
posted by mostlymartha at 9:09 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll just add two things. First, a link:

A Handbook On Southern Manners

And a saying: "A Southern man is the most perfect gentleman you'll ever meet, right up to the moment that he's mad enough to kill."
posted by magstheaxe at 9:38 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, when you greet someone, please offer a firm handshake. If you're female, offer a firm handshake anyway. Either way, offer females a firm handshake, but not so much that it makes their rings dig into their finger bones. Look right into your greetee's eyes and tell them your name and that it's nice to meet them. Eye contact + firm grip. Important!

One person I know reiterates her name when greeting people who aren't among her close circle of friends in a social setting. It's a huge help, especially to people like me who are horrible with names.

Sorry to keep tossing out little tips. I think, overall, what people have said previously about being kind to others is a good foundation, but there are specific ways to put it into practice that keep coming to my mind (in this case, showing respect to those you meet) that I want to pass on.
posted by Addlepated at 10:27 PM on August 31, 2010

Southerners or ex-pats Southerners, could you please weigh in on this passage, from magstheaxe's link?

"In the past, children called their friends’ parents by Mr. or Mrs. (Sir-name). It has now become common practice for young people to use first names or at the most formal, Mr. or Mrs. (First-name). This practice creates a blurring of the lines of authority and a loss of respect. Adults wanting to be a child’s friend instead of their authority figure or role model has wreaked havoc on the fabric of our society."

My children address adults as "Miss Sally" and "Mister (or Doctor) John," *never* using first name only. My husband and I agreed that this would preserve respect while reducing confusion. Have we done wrong? Is this horrendously incorrect, at least as far as Southern manners go? (We are Yankees, if that makes a difference.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:46 AM on September 1, 2010

Sorry, "ex-pat."
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:46 AM on September 1, 2010

MonkeyToes: In all my Southern upbringing (South Carolina/Georgia/Louisiana) it has been considered proper for children to refer to close, non-related adults (parents of friends, Sunday School teachers, neighbors) as "Mr/Miss Firstname." Mr./Ms Lastname was reserved for adults you didn't know well or to whom you were supposed to show a greater level of respect: your teacher, your doctor, etc. This is widely considered both appropriate and charming, at least in my circles.

To the general discussion, a polite Southerner (especially a Southern lady) has a horror of acting, or appearing, tacky. Many sins social and moral are condemned first not with "that's so wrong!" but with "that's so tacky!"

("Tacky" in this case meaning not "sticky" but more along the lines of "showily vulgar.")

Actually, it's kind of like Regency England as depicted in historical novels, but with fewer corsets.

Also note that the smaller the town, the more this is true.
posted by oblique red at 1:20 PM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

MonkeyToes, I second oblique red.

"Miss Sue" for example might be a kindygardy teacher; a friendly adult often seen gets the Miss/Mrs/Mr Firstname treatment.

"Mrs. Jones" is an official, a doctor, a secondary school teacher, and the spinster neighbour you don't see too often... until she invites y'all in for sweet tea and sticky buns and tells your kids to call her Auntie Mae.

Something else I'm not sure has been mentioned: nothing fazes a Southerner. Life is full of surprises, and how well you handle them is a big sign of your character -- panic and uproar is bad; calm and collected is good. Don't freak out at anything that happens, just pause and deal with it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:48 PM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thank you, oblique red and seanmpuckett!
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:26 PM on September 1, 2010

Say "Bless her/his heart" and any minor insult is glossed over. For example: "She's not very bright, Bless her heart" or "He drinks a bit much, Bless his heart."
posted by misspat at 6:32 PM on September 2, 2010

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