Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Cardinal Virtues of American Regions: the South

Have you ever noticed that there are social traits that are especially prized in certain regions of America? In my post-collegiate travels through a considerable range of America, I've noticed the existence of a "cardinal virtue" in each major region of the country. Today, we look at the South's defining cultural trait--not its only trait, of course, but its defining trait as compared to other geographic areas of the country. We look at the advantages and disadvantages of the South's cardinal virtue.

The people of the South are marked first and foremost by congeniality. They are an unfailingly polite people. I'm not sure how or when this developed historically. Perhaps the preeminence of politeness in the South developed from a more aristocratic culture fashioned by wealthy planters and tradesmen. Because the social structure of the South was for centuries top-down (as were other regions), in which a relatively small group of people dominated communities, the values they transmitted would undoubtedly take root in the regions under their watch. Aristocratic culture of all countries is generally known for its politeness and its esteem of decorum and social order. Such values would have diffused throughout Southern society as the elite of the region modeled and passed down such cultural virtues.

The politeness of the South comes through in numerous ways and is quite pleasant to behold. Men hold doors for ladies, say "yes Ma'am" to the waitress and postal clerk, and watch their language in mixed company. Women ask you how you are, smile at you, and call you "sweetheart" when taking your order. There is little hostile confrontation or public display of anger in the Southern areas I've inhabited. Southerners rarely seem to dress one another down and often bear with those making a fool of themself in a way more direct Northerners (think New Yorkers) often do not. Appearances are maintained, pleasantries are exchanged, and a sense of decorum and order prevails. All this is nice and pleasing.

I do at times miss the openness one finds in the North. Because Southerners are often very polite, a Northerner accustomed to a less filtered brand of culture sometimes struggles to perceive exactly what Southerners think of things. There is a certain amount of information shared among Southerners that does not always easily surface. Thus, the cardinal virtue of this region has, as with every cardinal virtue, its good and bad aspects. I do enjoy the kindness of Southerners and know that if I do leave this region, I'll miss it. Certainly, the waitresses are eminently kinder in the South, and that's no lie, sweetheart.


Blogger Matthew Wireman said...

Good post, brother. As a middle-man between the two cultures (born Northerner raised in the South) I find it interesting how the cultures interact. My wife who is Southern through and through had a hard time understanding the Northern culture in Minnesota.

I think there are definite ways to perceive what a Southerner thinks - in observing what is not said more than what is said. In other words, politeness is true of a Southerner and they will intentionally not say things so as to not ruffle feathers.

Personal lives are more open, it seems, in the South. But a deep connection is not easy to get. In the North, it is hard to get through at first, but over time you will go very deep and be genuine with a person.

The initial meeting is usually the major difference between the two cultures (note the warmth upon first blush with a Southerner and the warmth between long-time friends in the North).

11:40 AM  

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