Why Southerners Take So Darn Long To Say Goodbye

We’d rather be late than leave impolitely!

Neighbors Walking and Talking

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The subtleties of the Southern social scene are nothing short of intricately crafted. For some, manners and graciousness are rules to live by, despite the looming decline of welcome casseroles, casual drop-ins, and neighborhood barbecues. Southerners have long been known to have the gift of gab, and that discerning quality has resulted in a rather enthusiastic take on small talk. Here, waving and chatting is expected, rather than avoided. For those who move to the South from other home regions, it can take some getting used to. 

Now, there’s plenty of specific nuances that surround welcoming new neighbors and waving hello to strangers in public. There’s even very firm opinions on unexpected house guests. However, nothing negates the unique way in which people from the South embrace socializing with each other, whether it’s stopping by for a quick chat on the porch or indulging in a random run-in at the grocery store. Which brings us to a very common joke that we Southerners—who are both the victims and perpetrators—like to say about how we converse. Namely, how does one get away from a conversation with a Southerner? 

The answer: It’s not easy. It can take more energy to extract ourselves politely from a conversation than to resist digging into the pimiento cheese before the party starts. It doesn’t matter if we are stopped in the middle of the street with the car window rolled down, exchanging pleasantries with a neighbor; or if lunch with friends is running hours-long; or even if we’re on the phone with just about anyone. Winding down a conversation needs to happen in a way that doesn’t suggest we’re tired of talking to that particular person, which is easier said than done when all parties are painstakingly polite. 

This usually leads to the usage of qualifying phrases. “Let me let you go!” “Well, don’t let me take up your whole day.” “I’m sure so-and-so is wondering where you are.” For Southerners, those are gracious ways of signaling that we’re going to stop talking now without actually saying goodbye. Then, the barrage of comments like “we have to do this again sometime!” and “don’t be a stranger!” start cascading until everyone's sufficiently exhausted and the politeness is almost overwhelming. That’s how you end a conversation with a Southerner. Basically, it’s the opposite of abruptly. This way, everyone leaves happy. 

That’s not to assume that everyone respects the very subtle goodbye we’ve formulated. Some extra chatty folks will refuse to take a hint. That’s when things get dicey. Odds are, in every small Southern town, there are those who are renowned for it. In these situations, all we can say is…good luck! 

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