Growing up in a small town in south Georgia—so small and bucolic, even finding it on the map is a challenge—I was raised to believe that hospitality isn’t a choice. It's more of an institution in my household, where we abide by Southern rituals and customs beyond swinging on the front porch, sipping on sweet tea, and gathering together on Sunday for a sit-down potluck supper.
While most would define Southern hospitality as being neighborly and welcoming family, friends, and, yes, even strangers into our homes, the catch-all term comes with myriad definitions. In fact, one survey conducted by Twiddy narrowed it down to six definitive qualities, with politeness and down-home cooking topping the list, as well as the Southern states that are the most (and least) hospitable. Here, we explore those six primary characteristics of Southern hospitality that are as consistent as our famously hot summers.
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Despite what society says, there’s still a place for manners in the South. Before most children are taught how to spell or how to count, they learn these few magic words: “yes, ma’am,” “no, sir,” “please,” and “thank you.” The idea is that if we’re taught at a young age how to be polite, it’ll carry us through the rest of our lives as adults. And because we love company and, admittedly, talking, conversations with loved ones and guests are never rushed. The motto of the South is “what’s the hurry?” and that is certainly reflected in the way (and pace) in which we speak and engage other people.
2. Good Home Cooking
Entertaining and delicious food go hand in hand in the South. Every Southern woman knows how to whip up a warm peach cobbler or a classic Hummingbird Cake. We make no apologies for loving our tub of lard and embracing tradition in the kitchen, often preparing time-tested recipes passed down through generations. Our thinking in the South is that one dish is never enough, because you never know when you’ll have unexpected guests or relatives for dinner. And you can rest assured, a slow cooker or cast-iron skillet is almost always involved in cooking comforting and soul-satisfying food emblematic of the South.
We treat our guests like they’re family in the South. As the saying goes, “There are no strangers, just friends we haven't met yet.” And we extend this kindness to everyone, forming lifelong connections and opening our homes and hearts. The most powerful gesture of kindness in the South is often a simple handshake, where a good, firm grip still goes a long way here.
You can forget about fixing your own plate or helping with the dishes as a guest in a Southern home. We take pride in preparing a home-cooked meal, serving company, and cleaning up once we hang up our hosting hats. We’re gracious enough to lend a hand to our neighbors, and we’re always willing to offer directions if you’re lost on some old back road. That is, if you don’t mind hearing a few stories or settling for navigation guided by town landmarks.
What some deem as charming is just the natural Southern way of being kind, witty, and considerate to everyone we encounter, whether it be at the post office, grocery store, or at church. Having grace under pressure and making others feel welcome and comfortable is also part of the Southern charm. Yes, we take our pleasantries very seriously in the South, and we hate saying goodbye to guests come over. But eventually, we’re willing to wave them off like a polite host should, with the colloquial promise of, "Y'all come back now, you hear?"
The golden rule in the South is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, without expecting reciprocation. Southerners don’t give or dole out favors as an obligation, but we do it out of courtesy, respect, and mere habit, in hopes that you’ll return again and again.
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Regardless of how you define Southern hospitality, there’s one thing we can all agree on: In the South, there’s truly no place like home.