Southerners don’t have the lock on good manners, although we are notoriously raised on “yes ma’ams” and “no sirs.” In reality, mothers all over the country have raised their children with their own versions of etiquette and acts of kindness. And yet here we are, squashed flat by the pandemic, with our good manners spiraling down the drain of rudeness.
It seems like our entire country needs a refresher course in basic, across the board good manners. Yes, even Southerners. (I must go into hiding now).
Although travel has been restricted, I’ve still managed to mosey through nine different states over the past few months. Most, but not all, were located in the South. What I found was that we need to alert Judith Martin and release the hounds . . . no one seems to have good manners anymore. Fearful of the virus, people keep to themselves, with the rare exception of a few, like the man in New Orleans who jumped to my aid when I was balancing luggage and a box of books. He said, “let me help you with that.” His mama raised him right.
An attitude of aloofness and irritation dominated just about everyone in gas stations, elevators, restaurants and hotels with the exception of the Peabody where everyone was lovely. I didn’t want to leave. The grumpy masses elsewhere acted like they had a stone in their shoe or had taken a swig of sour milk.
The mask brings anonymity and thus enables us to ditch civility. We’re left with generic faces, absent of smiles and limited communication abilities. Irritated with a year-long trial of frustrations, people are snapping and have tossed out the niceties of life. Cheerful conversation is strained and it’s easier to say, “give me a table” instead of, “hello, how are you today? Could we please have a table for two? “Thank you” is long gone with the wind.
Good manners aren’t only for the fancy, educated, elite or wealthy. They are the way we show appreciation for others and put them at ease. The well-mannered hostess would never shame her guest for using the wrong fork, but would instead, ignore it or pick up the incorrect fork herself to make sure everyone felt comfortable. Men hold doors open, not because ladies are weak, but because they are cherished as the mothers and wives in our communities. Our children stand so their elders can sit in order to demonstrate a necessary hierarchy in society. Contrary to child psychologists, no, they aren’t equal to grandpa. They are our beloved children, but they haven’t earned the right to dump Pops onto the floor.
Valuing those we know as well as strangers honors the commandment to love. That’s it in a nutshell. Just love. Plain and simple.
So, what’s to be done? How do we make manners great again? How do Southern manners, Northern manners and Western Manners make a comeback? Maybe we’ll remember that “normal” doesn’t just mean returning to big parties, open businesses and hugs. We can also remember that “normal” also means using gentle words, kindness and good manners. Not just in the South, but all over America. And if you know who Judith Martin is, you’re probably already very well mannered.
This story first appeared in Advance Publication Newspapers.