One Belle’s Response to the NYT’s — Frankly, We Do Give a Rip

Yes, yes, and yes. I saw the piece in the New York Times, the one that suggested southern chivalry is dead, or at least wounded, and manners are on the decline. It did ruffle my southern feathers and I have decided to opine. I took a few days to consider whether or not anything good could be gained by my wading into the conversation, but when you’re known as The Belle of All Things Southern, it can be difficult to remain in the background during this sort of melee.

I will, however, begin my remarks with one caveat: I wasn’t there and I won’t be speaking to the court case at the heart of the article. I’d rather address the larger questions that are repeatedly presented to me here at All Things Southern. They take varying forms but they can all be traced to a single root. Are Southern manners just a myth we like to perpetuate? Do we really treat others more warmly? Are we more hospitable? And the big one: even if this has been true in the past, does it still hold true today?

Being a storyteller, I’ll open with a little tale. I’ve done a lot of traveling in the past month. Too much if you ask my husband and my dog, and while those travels have been confined to the South, they’ve offered me countless opportunities to interact with people who “aren’t from around here.”  One such meeting presented itself during a long flight with a seatmate from Maine. After a bit of introductory chit-chat, and without any prompting from yours truly, my new friend offered several observations from his Southern stay.

“Everywhere I go down here,” he said, “people talk to me. And if they don’t speak, they nod at me. Strangers even talk to me in line! It surprised me at first, but I actually like it.”

Of course, since he opened the subject, I was quick to jump on the thread. I told him who I was, and what I did, and how often I get critical emails from people who aren’t southern accusing us of perpetuating the southern myth of hospitality.

“Oh, it’s definitely there,” he said. “People here really are nicer.”

Admitedly, I was puffing up so quickly that I almost missed the next curveball–

“Which is why I don’t understand why you don’t trust each other.”

What?! Someone pass the smelling salts! When I recovered, I asked my seatmate to explain. He told me he had noticed that people here were always afraid someone was going to steal something because we keep everything “locked down and tied up”. Backstory: my seatmate was a fisherman who had been in town scouting out the best fishing holes for an upcoming state tournament. If he could be believed, and why shouldn’t we trust him, he said he could leave his equipment in the back of his truck at the Wally World parking lot in his home town and find it right there upon his return. The fishing buddies he had met told him not to try that here unless he was willing to kiss his favorite reel good-bye!

My new friend and I went on to have a lengthy conversation but I filed that particular observation of his away to ponder. And ponder I have. To be frank, I’m still not sure what to do with it. Should we spin it? I could, you know.  It wouldn’t be hard to come up with a couple of theories to explain why that lack of trust thing was just an aberration. I could find a way to revel in his confirmation of our friendliness, while spinning his observation about some purported lack of trust, but I would rather be brutally honest. Like people everywhere, we Southerners are complicated creatures with virtues and faults a plenty.

What continues to differentiate us as Southerners may be that so many of us openly aspire to those lofty ideals of hospitalilty and charm in the face of relentless ridicule and sterotypical accusations. Indeed, we’re one of  the few remaining groups one can belittle with impunity. And yet, by large numbers, we struggle to hold the fort against the coarsening of society by insisting on manners others discount. We believe teaching children to use respectful titles like “no ma’am” and “yes, sir” remains a battle worth waging. We insist on the importance of family even if the different branches don’t see eye to eye. Oh, we don’t do it all right and believe me, we know it– but we’ll always celebrate good manners wherever we find them. And that, dear readers, brings me to my closing thought.

Maybe you’re reading this from another region of our country, or even another part of the world, and thinking to yourself, “But, Shellie, so do we!” In that case, I have only one thing left to say, “Thank you for being a part of such a worthy cause! There’s strength in numbers.”



Do you feel the South remains distinctive or have we melted into the rest of the country?


About Shellie Rushing Tomlinson

Known as The Belle of All Things Southern, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson is a national best-selling author, speaker, radio host, and columnist from Louisiana.
This entry was posted in All Things Southern, Friends & Family and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to One Belle’s Response to the NYT’s — Frankly, We Do Give a Rip

  1. Barbara says:

    YES! This is an important battle to wage. I am speaking of the one for keeping good manners. When my duaghter was in high school and college we went to finals in the northern and western states. Whereever we went (the other contestants and their parents) the people from other states always remarked about how much they enjoyed our kids manners. We do believe in extending hospitality but the trust issue is different. While we open our arms and homes to those we meet we also beileve that Biblically we must take caution and care of all that is entrusted to us. (aka fishing rods and reels in the back of the truck at Walmart) What some people would refer to as an opportunity to acquire items because of a difference in their raising (as I do believe we have always recognized here in the south). Do not put temptation in their paths!

  2. Well said, Barbara. I love the “because of a difference in their raising” line. 🙂

  3. Paula Smith says:

    Decline of society is everywhere and it’s here in the South, as well. With the world going crazy in all sorts of ways and some of it filtering down to the smallest of communities, people are a bit more withholding of trust. It’s a sad thing. The leaving doors unlocked at home and while at the store is a bit foreign to me. Though I’m in my 60’s and grew up in central Louisiana, when we left the house, the doors were locked. The doors on the car were locked at the local grocery and elsewhere–just habits my parents probably developed while living in DC.

    Now we are in southeast Tennessee–friendly Southern atmosphere, great quality of life and definitely more of a melting pot of other peoples and cultures than where I was grew up and lived in central and northwest Louisiana. I didn’t realize to what degree I wasn’t in “the South” and took it all for granted until my mother passed away after living here for 7 years. That was when I got a clearer picture of here and now and then and there. Dealing with the funeral home here was business-like, efficient and properly respectful. But then we traveled to Louisiana for her funeral and burial. Lord Have Mercy, I thought I had traveled back in time and landed in Tara. A difficult situation was made more palatible because of the funeral home in that small town. They treated me with respect that is afforded to women of maturity, tho I was about the directors’ ages. There are still spots of the South that supports the “myth”.

  4. Paula, I’m sorry your mother has passed. I pray you have good memories! I did, however, enjoy hearing about the small town in my beloved Louisiana that softened the experience. Thanks for the visit! I appreciate your thoughts…

  5. Paula Smith says:

    Thanks Shellie. Mother was 91 and in the nursing home, so for her to go be with Jesus was a blessing! She died in 1998, so it was not recent. I still miss her though.

  6. I’m sure you do. Blessings on you and yours today!

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