Last year, I had the pleasure to venture to several of our fair Southern states for the first time in my life. I had been to Florida, but South Carolina and Louisiana were new adventures for me, and they had been on my travel hit list for a long time.
In short, I loved it there. There was history, amazing food, beautiful views and sights…and there was a graciousness in the people that is not as prevalent in the area where I currently reside. Yankees vs. Southerners.
People looked you in the eye and actually said “hello”!
Huh? That doesn’t happen around here. I was at the grocery store recently and the entire check-out happened without a single glance or utterance of a word. I wondered if I had been standing there in my skivvies if anything would have been different. To tell the truth, I conducted a little experiment of sorts, purposely not initiating conversation to to see what would happen. Well…nothing. Not a “here’s your receipt”, not a “have a good day” and certainly not a (gulp) “hello”. I left that store feeling completely invisible.
Friendly places do exist in my area, don’t get me wrong. There is a lovely little grocery store where we vacation in New Hampshire where they actually have bag boys (wearing aprons even, total 1950s) who not only bag your groceries, but walk them to your car for you. The first time I went there, it actually creeped me out. Now, I skip all the way to the car, showing that bag boy the way and revel in this bit of Old School customer service! I never knew I could love a bag boy so much.
And while in Charleston, I had to go into a grocery store. There was one firefighter in front of me in line and he and the checkout woman obviously knew each other, so there was a battery of conversation going on. After what seemed like only a mere 3 minutes, the firefighter went on his way and I slid up to the register. The woman looked me dead in the eye, smiled (what??) and said “I’m SO SO SOOO sorry for the wait!”.
I just about laughed. First, there was no wait. Not by my standards, at least. That was about the amount of time needed to yawn or switch from one foot to the other. That’s not a wait. Second, she said hi to me. And she smiled. The trifecta of the wonderful shopping experience. The only thing that could have made it better would have been if my item was on a super-slash sale (it wasn’t. I’ll cope). I just about wanted to move into this grocery store. Why on earth was she being so nice?? I’m no hero firefighter. Just a woman who needed to buy a box of bandaids for my little girls’ flip-flop blistered foot.
How how we gone from the full-service gas stations of the 50s where a team of men virtually assaulted your car, filling the tank and cleaning the windows to some public transactions that make to feel completely invisible? I have no idea.
Yes, there are plenty of lovely, friendly New Englanders but overall, they do get the rep of being a more stick-to-themselves bunch. Hey, I’ve lived here all my life and can verify that fact. Case in point, my family nicknamed one of our former neighbors “The Duds” because they never smiled, initiated any neighborly conversation or even said anything when they moved. They were just gone. The Duds.
But down South…that charm still sits perfectly perched on the surface of everyday life. You don’t have to know someone to say a nice hello to them, you just do it. To everyone. It’s blissfully wonderful and I found it to be one of the things I loved most about my Southern trips; the hospitality. The lost art of niceties.
Hence, I’m adopting a few Southern ways, this being one of them. Just trying to be “nicer” in my everyday interactions with people. Enough with the harried-brisk New York/New England stuff that permeates this area.
Well, it worked the other day. I was in CVS. It was a freezing day. I went to the register that was manned by a sweet Latino woman who I always seem to bump into there and who now calls me “Sweetie”. I was paying and still had my gloves on…fumble fumble for my CVS card (how many cards are in this wallet??). Well, she looked at me and said “Andale! Andale!”. On another day I would have said “Excuse me??” in an exasperated tone but I didn’t this day. Breathe…Southern-style. I giggled and said “Andale??? I can only go so fast with my gloves on!”. She looked at me and horrified, said “OMG, I wasn’t talking to you, Sweetie!! The guy who is relieving me of my shift just walked in and I want to go home!”. She and I both laughed and she added “Let me put in another $5 coupon for you since you are so nice!”.
Instant cause and effect. Awesome.
So. Be nice. Smile. Say Hello!