For some reason or another, I've always viewed the South as the last repository of good manners. Perhaps this is because the South prides itself on its manners, or maybe it's because of the long pedigree that manners seem to have in the literature of the South. Maybe it's just because everybody just talks more slowly down here. However, recent events have convinced me that the time has come for the South, or at least my little corner of it, to surrender the mantle. The time has come to admit that the South is peopled with intolerant, immature, agressive louts.From South Cacalacky to Silver Beach
A few years ago, my then-girlfriend Angela and I visited her mother, father, and great-aunt in South Carolina. As soon as I entered the house, Angela's mom had me in a chair and was shoveling food in my mouth. Seriously, the whole operation was creepily reminiscent of Lawrence Olivier in Marathon Man
. She started off with leftovers from breakfast; within an hour, she was force-feeding me food that had been in the freezer since the Nixon administration. During the seven days (and twenty pounds) that I stayed with Angela's family, Angela's mom rarely gave me a moment's respite. I was eating constantly, and not always willingly. I also noticed that every time I stepped into a room, Angela's mom would offer me a seat. I appreciated this a lot until I realized that Mrs. H refused to let me stand up.
Later that same summer, we visited my friend Billy's parents on Cape Cod. Now, Billy's mom is old-school Boston Irish, which means that she was half in the bag by the time we got to her house at 6 PM. Glaring at me through an alcoholic haze, she snarled "Siddown!"
She gave me the evil eye. "Ya want some blueberry pie?" she sneered.
I nodded, not trusting my voice.
"With ice cream?"
"Yes, ma'am." She practically threw it at me.
I ate it quietly and quickly--blueberry pie is among the many culinary delights of the Cape, and is almost always amazing. When she noticed my empty plate, Mrs. C practically yelled at me: "You want more?"
I smiled. "Yes, please."
She refilled my plate and slid it over.
After this interaction, I assumed that I had somehow pissed Mrs. C off, or that I just brought out the demon in her. However, when I saw Billy two days later, he told me that his mom had asked after me, and was wondering when I would be coming back. I told him that I thought I had pissed her off. Billy gave me a funny look, replying, "No, she really liked you. A lot."
Thinking about it later, I realized that Angela and Billy's moms were actually not all that different. Although Mrs. H was charming, there was never the slightest question that her gently-worded offers were, in fact, orders. On the other side, for all her brusqueness, Mrs. C took it upon herself to see that I was fed and well cared for while I was under her roof. Based on this summer, I started to reconsider my concepts of courtesy.Remember My New River Valley
One would think that the halcyon vales of the New River Valley would be a haven for polite, kind folk. Miles from any city, far from the madding crowd, it would seem the perfect setting for genteel manners. One would imagine the local gentry, tipping their John Deere caps to each other as they pick up their Skoal and Big Macs.
One would be wrong.
I believe in holding the door when somebody is nearing an entrance at the same time as me. I know that this is old-fashioned, but I was taught to be courteous, and some of my mother's lessons stuck with me. As an inveterate door-holder, I have grown accustomed to the rude looks and sneers of the people I courteously allow to pass ahead of me. My wife, on the other hand, lacks my sanguine, relaxed sense of justice. One day, she was holding a door for someone at the library. As the woman passed through, she made the mistake of giving my wife a sneering look of superiority. Bad move.
My wife hauled back and slammed the door into the woman's ass. As the offending shrew went sprawling, my wife yelled "Next time, say 'thank you,' bitch!"
My wife is the coolest person ever.Road Warrior
About a month ago, I was driving up interstate 81 into Roanoke with my sister and daughter. Two people ahead of me, a SUV and a Hooter's delivery van, were in a rolling roadblock. Both were going about 60, which was five miles below the posted speed limit. I was about one car length behind the Hooters van, and I flicked my lights to indicate that I wanted him to pass or get out of my way. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a white van slid into the tiny space between the Hooter's van and my car, nearly running me off the road. After I caught my breath, I laid on the horn for about fifteen seconds. The guy in the white van slowed down to fifty miles an hour. For the thirty minutes remaining in my trip, I tried to pass the white van. He would let others pass, then would slide ahead of me. There were times when he careened across four lanes of traffic to cut me off. I started to wonder if I was going to make it to my destination alive. One exit before I had to get off, I pretended to pull off, and the white van veered ahead of me. Once he was firmly inside the exit lane, I swerved back onto the highway. As I drove away, he flipped me the bird and shook his fist out his window. New York
This last summer, my wife, my daughter, and I wandered around New York together. Oddly enough, we found that New Yorkers were almost insanely courteous. Our previous experiences had taught us that, while New York was generally not as aggressive as its reputation would suggest, it was still far from polite. This summer, however, we found that it had an almost Jane Austen level gentility. Everywhere we went, people opened doors, held elevators, and gave us smiles. The final straw was when I was on a subway and a Jewish lady in her seventies offered me her seat. I didn't want to be the shmuck who took an old lady's seat, so I tried to pass George to my wife. Smiling, she said "No, I'll stand."
I stared daggers at the love of my life. "No, really, honey, you look tired. Have George and sit down."
She smiled sweetly. "No, I need to stretch anyway. You sit."
The yenta tapped my arm. "Sonny, really, sit down."
I tried to save the last shreds of my dignity. "Really, ma'am, I appreciate it, but I'm fine."
"Of course you are. Come on, sit, sit!"
There was no way out of this. Feeling like the biggest asshole on the face of the earth, I took the old lady's seat. We talked for the rest of the ride, and she told me that she remembered how hard it was to juggle kids and bags on the subway.
Of course, I know that people were only nice to us because we were carrying a cute kid, but this isn't the first time that I've noticed that people in New York are surprisingly kind to each other. After a few days of this treatment, the rudeness of Southwest Virginia was an unpleasant shock.
I'm not sure what's going on with courtesy, or why our daily lives have become a Mad Max in Thunderdome foray into barbarism, but I'm getting a little sick of the rudeness around me. Maybe I have to take lessons from my wife.
Labels: Cape Cod, manners, New River Valley, New York City, Roanoke, South Carolina, subway, Virginia