Southern hospitality – or – How are your Mama and ’em?

If there is one thing that sets Southerners apart from the rest of the country, it has to be our hospitality. Over and over people who are not from here tell me just how nice everyone is, how downright friendly. So much so that it’s almost…well, weird.

Drive down any country road and you will inevitably pass an old truck driven by an old man. If you are good friends or kin, he will wave at you with his whole hand. If he is only slightly acquainted with you, he will cordially lift two fingers from the steering wheel in sort of a half-wave. If you are a stranger, he will still raise his index finger to acknowledge your presence in the world.

But that’s down here.

“Don’t look anyone in the eye! And don’t talk to every person you pass!”

This admonishment came from my friend the first time I visited her in New York. And I have to tell you, it was hard. When you’re raised in a place where everybody smiles, waves, and hugs their way through society, it is all but impossible to walk through a throng of city folk, stony-faced and silent, without so much as a nod.

Down here, we ask about your Mama and ‘em. We go calling. We sit with the sick and sometimes the dead. We hold the baby. We pat your back when you win. We commiserate when you lose. We lend a cup of sugar. We hold the door. We help you raise a big ole barn. We help you raise a little Cain.

And most of the time we do it with a covered dish in tow. Soup, stew, casserole, cake, and/or quickbread – we all have a set of recipes for any particular occasion. After all, everyone knows the best way to raise the spirits is to fill the belly.

Why are Southerners like that? Why do we go out of our way to help a perfect stranger? Why do we turn up on the new neighbor’s front porch with a basket of muffins?

Because Mama raised us that way. Because it is better to give than to receive. Because it is the right thing to do.

Because we’re Southerners.