Southern Traditions We Want to Bring Back–And You Will Too!
While we realize that the days of white gloves and calling cards may be gone, good manners and solid traditions should never go out of style. After all, Southern gentility, hospitality, and good manners are as central to a Southerner’s identity as sipping a glass of sweet tea on a hot day. While the world is changing, things like humility, courtesy, and basic politeness are mainstays of any civilized society and that should never change
Here are some of our favorites.
Saying Please and Thank You
Saying please and thank you are the bedrock of human civility. Children who have just learned to talk can master the art of expressing gratitude, yet many adults have seemingly forgotten the skill.
Saying Sir and Ma’am
When children call adults sir or ma’am it is a sign of respect and teaching children to respect each other and their elders is important. As the Manners Mentor website says, “Respect is so important to emphasize to our children because it’s the cornerstone of other invaluable character traits such as tolerance, selflessness, giving, and compassion.”
Proper Table Manners
You don’t have to know the proper placement of an oyster fork in a formal table setting to have good table manners. The rules are the same for children or adults: Put your napkin in your lap, talk to people on your left and your right, wait until everyone has their food before eating, and, of course, no phones at the dinner table. (As for that oyster fork, it goes to the right of the spoons, according to Emily Post.)
Cursive writing has been around since at least the 19th century and there’s no reason that it should die out now just because youngsters prefer texting. Plus, the flowing nature of cursive makes writing thank you cards and Christmas letters that much easier.
Handwritten Thank You Notes
Gracious guests always send thank you cards to their hosts as soon as possible after the event. It’s the least you can do to thank them for their hospitality and text messages just don’t carry the same gratitude as a handwritten note.
When picnic companions beg for the recipe for your lemon Bundt cake, you could just send them a link (to SouthernLiving.com, of course), but it’s far nicer to write out the recipe on a card for sharing.
Between PTA meetings, after-school baseball practice, and youth group gatherings, it can be hard for busy families to sit down together for every meal. Sunday supper, though, should be a non-negotiable, can’t miss event. It’s the perfect time for families to share a meal, catch up and, well, be a family.
Holding the Door for Others
If you’ve gone to the trouble of opening the door, it’s easy enough to hold it for another minute or two to help the person using the door after you. Naturally, if someone does hold the door for you, be sure to say thank you as you walk through.
Welcoming New Neighbors
Make a good first impression with a solid handshake that won’t leave your new friend wishing they had never stuck out their hand. If you’re not sure where your handshake rates, ask your most honest friend for an assessment.
Yes, it’s easier to text, but phone calls are a much better way to catch up with a friend or family member
We’re all busy, so don’t be rude by showing up late. When you make a plan, stick to it, and don’t waste someone else’s time by failing to live up to your word.
Dressing up for church is a Southern tradition and for women that frequently topping your outfit with a church hat. Whether you opt for a chapeau that is elegant, bold, understated, or over-the-top is between you and your fashion gods, although perhaps be mindful of whoever has to sit behind you in church.
Smiling at Strangers
While strangers get a bad rap, as William Butler Yeats said, strangers are “only friends you haven’t yet met” and that is particularly true in the South. The art of turning strangers into friends starts with a smile.
Making eye contact is the easiest way to let someone know that you see them and recognize their shared humanity. When you shake someone’s hand, make eye contact. When you pass someone on the street or at the grocery store, make eye contact— and perhaps even smile.
Hospitality (Open Door Policy)
True Southern hospitality means an open-door policy to family, neighbors, co-workers, friends, friends of friends, and even friendly strangers. While times have changed enough that you do need to trust your instincts, generally, when someone shows up on your porch, greet them with a smile and maybe a glass of sweet tea.
Helping Your Neighbors in Times of Happiness and Sorrow
The rules are simple: Is there a new baby in the neighborhood? Bring them a casserole. Is your neighbor mourning a loss? Bring them a casserole. While the casserole is negotiable, the act of showing your neighbors that you support them through food (or flowers or some other creative idea) is not.
While Southerners are known for their hospitality and will undoubtedly always greet a friend with a smile, it’s still polite to let your hostess know whether or not you plan to take them up on their offer. Email, text, or (gasp!) call to give regrets or ask what you can bring to the event.
When someone has invited you into their home, grab a bottle of wine or champagne or bring your hosts your favorite pralines or divinity for them to enjoy later.
If there is anything that we learned from multiple viewings of Steel Magnolias is that it’s almost impossible to avoid gossiping at the beauty parlor—and same goes for brunch or book club. It’s hard to avoid gossip, but it’s important to try.
Avoiding Swearing in Public
On a similar note, for gentility’s sake, try to avoid swearing in public. It’s not always possible, but any Southern woman should be able to make her point loud and clear without swearing. For proof, look no further than Designing Women’s Julia Sugarbaker.
Getting everyone out the door to church or brunch or both on a Sunday morning can be a challenge—and trying to put a tie on a little boy or wrestling a baby into tights can drive many to prayer—but donning your Sunday best is still a tradition worth keeping. Just remember, it is only once a week.