“Did you have a nice weekend?” she asked.
I replied that I did, although I had spent the previous day stuck in airports returning from Florida.
“Oh, Florida! That sounds delightful. My husband and I honeymooned in Florida…” Rita continued, describing details of her vacation.
Afterwards, as I walked outside into the scorching heat of a typical July day in Dallas, I thought about that conversation. It was very pleasant, and although Rita didn’t know my name, she had been my cashier before and was equally polite and warm in our previous interactions. Was she merely a kind person, or was this an example of Southern hospitality?
Another day, I was outside running. It was way too late in the morning for a run, and the sun was high in the sky. I was huffing and puffing, dripping with sweat. As I chugged along, a white pickup truck slowed alongside me and a woman rolled down her window. She said something, but my blaring music drowned it out. “Excuse me?” I said, pulling out an earbud. In a thick Southern drawl, she smiled and told me, “You’re doing just alright.”
Interactions in Dallas that seemed normal in the past all of a sudden struck me as evidently more characteristic of the South. However, I must offer a disclaimer: these experiences are not comprehensive, with no research proving how these individuals were raised, nor can they really serve as proof of what is just a common stereotype of the South. Many people disregard the idea of Southern hospitality, claiming it holds true more often in rural communities and that politeness in a city like Dallas is simply an insincere façade. Others will argue that the entire idea is a concept, and kindness is just a reflection of character or upbringing.
Curious, I asked a couple of my friends who live in different parts of the country to conduct some observations. I requested that they carry out small case studies about behaviors in places where they live. Are people aggressively friendly? Do they maintain a normal amount of politeness? Are they standoffish? What would happen if they were overly friendly to the employees at a clothing boutique, retailer or grocery store?
My team of quasi-researchers set out and investigated. Aniket Naravane (MSB ’18) hails from Woodbury, Minnesota. “Many people will strike up a conversation, asking, “How are you doing?” But any response aside from “not too bad” or “great, and yourself?” is swiftly treated as the wrong answer. For example, the answer “My day is going terribly,” will most likely be met with, “Sorry to hear that! Your total is $3.45.”
Siân Rigby (SFS ’18), from Hockessin, Delaware, noticed that people tend to mind their own business, and want you to mind yours. “No one is really outwardly rude, but they do seem a bit puzzled when someone shows extra enthusiasm,” she noted.
Born and raised in San Francisco, California, Russell Guertin (SFS ’18) claims, “I would say that people in San Francisco, and those generally on the West Coast, are polite but not overly friendly. Exchanges in stores tend to be curt and polite but not too intimate.”
While this was not professional research in social psychology, my friends’ findings were interesting to compare to my own. In the end, all regions of the United States retain certain cultural stereotypes. Whether or not one holds them to be true is up to the individual.
As for the South, maybe my nine years in Dallas have acclimated me to niceties and excessive courtesy. I’m on a first name basis with the cardio class instructor at the YMCA, I hug the nurses and doctors when I leave their offices, and I’ve had more conversations about college with retail employees than with some family members. Maybe the pleasantries are just polite, but I’ll keep reciprocating.
Caitlin Karna is a rising sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. The Southern Drawl appears every other Sunday.
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