Southern Hospitality: Is it a Joke?

“It was always so hot, and everyone was so polite, and everything was all surface but underneath it was like a bomb waiting to go off. I always felt that way about the South that beneath the smiles and southern hospitality and politeness were a lot of guns and liquor and secrets.” -James McBride

Southerners swear up and down that Northerners are loud, rude and have terrible tempers while Northerners swear up and down that Southerners are fake-friendly, extremely inhospitable and shoot first and ask questions later.

Stereotypes aside, as a born and raised Southerner, I have often questioned the validity of the label “Southern hospitality.” Every day, I see people refuse to take the time to hold open a door for people behind them.  I have witnessed youngsters address adults without respect to them, nor the use of the signature Southern “ma’am” and “sir.”  When did it become okay to address your parents or elders by their first name?

What is Southern hospitality exactly? I know what the words mean: an attitude that has supposedly been ingrained in the Southern culture; a label put on the South to describe the people as kind, gentleman-like and welcoming to strangers. I am asking this because the definition of Southern hospitality is slowly becoming obsolete.

I am not sure when this occurred, but Southern hospitality is dying out like an endangered species. Or, maybe it was never really a realistic characteristic of the South and its people. When I hear that a stereotype of the South relates to the words “kind” and “nice,” I scoff in disbelief because I know that the South is generally not a “nice” place. This can be argued by any Southern-loving folk, but I have witnessed and experienced first-hand this “hospitality deterioration.” There are good people, do not get me wrong. However, you will be surprised by how much you notice about the people around you if you actually looked away from your phone and kept those headphones out of your ears for a few minutes.

I have made eye contact with people who have closed doors behind them, refusing to help or acknowledging the fact that my hands were too full to open them myself. I have been trampled by people who refuse to understand personal space, or any space at that.  I have been nonchalantly ignored by my comrades, my brothers and sisters, my fellow Southerners who complain about being disrespected but sneer at and ignore those who give them their undivided attention.

Aloofness is trending. But, I guess I was too idealistic to think that we would not just live for ourselves and the monster that is apathy. I believed that as proud Texans and college students we would include each other in the message “Don’t Mess with Texas.” Instead of sticking together against the struggle that is college, the real world, and people who loathe the idea of America and what we are supposed to represent, we “mess” with each other. We ooze apathy. We hurt each other with our laser beams of subtle hostility and uncaringness.

Is southern hospitality a joke? I believe that the South today mocks its idea. I am not naïve. I am (as you should be) well aware that the world is a grim place at times, and that to be cuddly and welcoming to everyone is a ridiculous thought. Nevertheless, it does not condone a worldwide disrespectfulness; for one thing, it is psychologically unhealthy to live as a hypocrite, radiating a demand for respect, yet behind the scenes (or upfront) be an unreasonable individual.

Now that I got that off my chest, go forth, the newly-enlightened. Represent with pride that dying southern hospitality. Revive it! You can start by remembering to open that door for the person behind you.

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