Southern Chivalry? Yes, Southern chivalry, or as Vic Dye defines it Southern hospitality (read my interview with Vic Dye here, use the password “vic”. This interview is available only through this article). Chivalry truly is about respect, something that is instilled in Southerners from the time they are learning how to crawl, and swipe all the breakables off the coffee table.
When I grew up in the South respect was a universal thing, more so than to previous generations of Southerners. You showed respect to everyone, and people who did not, were frowned upon. What you did in your home was one thing, but in public (particularly in front of children), that was another. I can remember my father being upset with something someone said in public, even though I had heard him say the same thing at home. I grew up poor, and school busing in Florida did not start until I was entering third grade, before that you went to the nearest school. Until third grade, I went to Browning Pearce Elementary School Campus Two, where as a white boy I was in the minority. When northerners talk about racism in the South I reply, “I never saw a lot of that when I was growing up, all the other kids treated me just like everyone else, and they didn’t seem to mind that I was white.” Northerners think I am trying to make a not-so-funny joke, but I am not and this was how I grew up. Every adult (black or white) knew that if I was not behaving myself they were to paddle me, and then tell my dad, where upon he would paddle me again.
So, what are some of the ways that Southerners are chivalrous? Here are just some of the things I remember from my childhood:
- “Please” and “Thank You”, every single time no matter what, no matter who. If you do not get what you want you say, “Well, thank you anyway.” If someone does something for you, “Thank you very much, I really appreciate that.” Also, “May I?”, “Your welcome.”, “Excuse me.” or “Pardon me.” If you don’t say these things, Southerners will silently question your upbringing (upbringing: Southern speak for how you were raised and what you family is like), thinking you do not know better and were not raised properly.
- You always act with humility, putting others first. In the South the “golden rule” is still gold. Many shortcomings in a person’s personality will be overlooked if they know how to behave in public around other people.
- If you are going to make a mistake, err on the side of being too nice.
- Be friendly! Southerners wave to strangers with a heartfelt smile, and they mean it. Greet the people you come into contact with. If they respond with a few comments, then you answer them. Example: “Hi.” “Hi, beautiful day isn’t it?” “It sure is. You have a nice day.” “Thank you. You too.” “Thank you.”
- Men always take their hats off when entering a building, during prayers, the national anthem, and when the flag passes in a procession (like a parade).
- When walking on the sidewalk with women, men ALWAYS walk to the street side with women on the inside. This is a safety issue, though walking on the sidewalk today is safer than in years past, though from time to time we still hear of someone losing control of a car and hitting people on a sidewalk. This is also done in Europe, though for a different reason, in years past people threw their trash into the street through open windows and a pedestrian being hit near the street was not uncommon.
- All females are referred to as “ladies”, whether you think that particular one is or not.
- You always hold the door open for others.
- Always conduct “small talk” with others, whether you know them or not.
- Do not interrupt.
- Always offer guests to you home food and drink.
- Always respect elders.
- Always look people in the eye when they say something to you, or you say something to them.
- Always shake hands with a firm grip, not an overbearing painful one (men and women both).
- When a major event happens to a family (death in the family, new baby, home from the hospital), you visit them and bring food, even if you stay just long enough to give them the food and convey your feelings on what has happened.
- Stand by your family and friends.
- Always welcome new neighbors. Yup, they are not being nosey, in the South this is polite and shows “good upbringing.”
- When in doubt treat others the way you would want yourself and your loved ones to be treated.
In the South men always treat women with respect, carry heavy packages for them, pull out chairs for them, open doors for them. When a lady is in need of assistance you always offer her your hand. If the chairs or seats are all taken and a lady is standing, you stand. Even if the lady refuses your generosity you stand. In the South, a gentlemen never sits while a lady is standing. Also, when a lady enters or leaves a room, a gentleman stands. The things I said in my earlier article about women’s high-heeled shoes apply. Never speak bad about a lady to others, particularly in public. Yes, there are gossips in the South, but you will be held in high regard for refraining from talking bad about others or repeating disparaging rumors. When women are talking you give them your attention, maintain eye contact, do not interrupt, and listen attentively. All of the many gestures of chivalry most certainly apply these and more.
A chivalrous Southern woman does not yell in public and keeps her composure. Women who can say more, with fewer words are viewed as very intelligent and held in high regard (concise is good). Men and women who appear to use more words than are necessary are treated politely, but never enthusiastically (wordy is never good). There is wordy, about right, and concise, men get no points for concise or about right, and like women are avoided (when possible) if known to be wordy in their conversations with others.
Something “outsiders” always seem to miss is the understanding of the phrase, “Well bless your/his/her heart …”. When a Southern woman starts a sentence with “Well, bless your heart …”, despite what it sounds like you are not about to empathized with, you are about to be, politely, told you are stupid. It may sound like a compliment, but make no doubt about it, that Southern lady just told you, you are “too stupid to pour pee out of a boot with the directions written on the bottom.” (This is not to be confused with the two expressions “Well bless you …” or “Well, bless my heart …”)
A Southern lady is a wonder to behold, they are far more capable, intelligent, cunning, loyal, and above all subtle, than most people realize, and certainly more so than Southern men. Poise, graciousness, subty, good manners, calm, these are the hallmarks of a Southern chivalrous lady. Chivalry for women in the South is not a matter of “do the same stuff men do for women, only you do it for men,” no. A chivalrous lady in the South truly does have the upper hand to all other people in any forum.
It is not possible to do this subject justice in under 1500 words, but you have an introduction. My best advice is to travel to a small or medium sized city in the South, find a good location and observe locals. You will learn more about Southerners in thirty minutes on a street corner than you ever could in a book.
One last thing. As a visitor to the South, you will not be held to the same standard Southerners hold each other too, “it just wouldn’t be polite.” Southerners know you are not a Southerner, but as long as you try to behave in a “Southern manner”, you will highly thought of and respected.
Part four will be on chivalry and feminism, and I hope you are surprised as I am.
Have a great day, and be chivalrous.
To learn more about the South and Southerners read the interview with Vic Dye and my Cup-O-Joe articles, particularly the article, “The Lesson.”
“Has Anyone Seen My Lance — Chivalry Part 1”
“Who Made This Lance Anyway? — Chivalry Part 2”
- Sunday’s Article … “I Found My Lance Chivalry Part 3″ (joeccombs2nd.com)
- Chivalry is not dead! (southofmainstreet.com)
- Forget Feminism: What about Kindness? (acculturated.com)
- Southern Coterie: The Must-Visit Virtual Front Porch (thedailysouth.southernliving.com)
- 20 Things To Keep In Mind For 20-Somethings Visiting The South (thoughtcatalog.com)
- Overcoming Southern Culture (a4cgr.wordpress.com)
- Is America’s Future Southern? (theamericanconservative.com)
- The sum of the South (thetimesnews.com)
- 5 Southern Touches at Monday’s Inauguration (thedailysouth.southernliving.com)
- Northern Monkeys and Southern Fairies (thebreathbetweenus.wordpress.com)