The South has its own unique set of rules when it comes to manners, etiquette, and just about everything else. Folks from other regions get a little discombobulated on some of it, so I thought it would be fun to put together a small list to help them out. I am a southern gal, born and raised, from coastal South Carolina. I am also a storyteller who favors writing in the southern vernacular. Of course, these two criteria make me an authority on all things southern. Not really, but sort of…
Rule #1 – Do not take yourself too seriously.
Seriously, you cannot use fun words like ain’t, y’all, and young’uns without understanding this first rule. And this rule covers a lot of territory, such as there’s nothing wrong with eating without using utensils and laughing out loud—cackling—is acceptable in public. It’s also perfectly okay to go barefooted but you should always have a pair of flip-flops handy for quick trips to the store or Wednesday night prayer meeting. An incident comes to mind after mentioning this. Close to running late one Wednesday night, I quickly slid on a pair of flip-flops as my family rushed out the door, but I didn’t realize until we arrived to church that I was wearing one of my tiny-lady flip-flops and one of my hubby’s big-guy flip-flops. Needless to say, I attended church barefooted that night and the folks at my church understood this first rule and, sure, they had a good laugh at my expense, but they welcomed me right on in. This rule is important because life is so tough, and it can be downright stifling if you can’t figure out how to lighten up.
Rule #2 – Always take God and your family seriously.
Southerners will assure you there’s only one true God, but a whole mess of kinfolk. At community gatherings, if you get to talking to someone long enough, y’all will figure out you’re distant cousins on your daddy’s mother’s father’s side of the family. Luckily for me, my husband was born in Michigan and is a southern transplant, so I was fairly certain we weren’t kin no how ‘fore I agreed to marry him. Yes, I’m laying my twang on a little thick. Refer to Rule #1 to understand why.
Faith and community is important and pretty much everything else centers around it. We experience hurricanes in my parts, and it never ceases to be awe-inspiring how my community will rally together to help one another out. There’s a saying about how even on Sundays you have to get your Ox out of the ditch if it falls in, and you can guarantee several neighbors will be on the way with their mud-covered trucks or tractors or whatever else is needed to help you out. Don’t take your Savior or your community for granted, and take your role in your faith and family seriously.
Rule #3 – Don’t underestimate the power of a well-placed “Bless Your Heart.”
Southerners love this phrase and can slip it in to just about any type of conversation. Although, there are various meanings depending on the tone used to say it, the main purpose of this phrase is to soften a stinging comment. ~That’s her third piece of pie and that button on her pants is already holding on for dear life, bless her heart. ~That young’un couldn’t sit still on the pew if they hogtied him to it, bless his heart. Sure, I’m trying to be funny with my examples, but the point is, southerners know we are all flawed. More importantly, we don’t hold it against each other. If folks could combine this rule with the first rule, then all this being offended over the tiniest thing could be put to rest.
Rule #4 – Politeness will get you far in the south. Rudeness will get you a “Bless your heart.”
Go right ahead and overuse the following phrases. Yes, sir. No, sir. Yes, ma’am. No, ma’am. Please. Thank you. Some folks call these phrases outdated, but we southerners call it being respectful. Thank and you are only two simple words, yet when combined to form a sentence, they can go a long way. Another is holding the door for someone. I’ve even held the door for a man before, and let me tell you it was appreciated. Young’uns in the south stand and offer their seats to the elderly or women. We wave. A lot. Whether it’s passing someone on the sidewalk, or driving by them on the road, we wave. And we get the importance of making eye contact when speaking to someone and sharing a kind smile. Again, it’s all about respect and acknowledging those around you.
Rule #5 – There’s a wrong way and a right way to be lazy.
There is a time and a place to be lazy—work ain’t that place. My first job was at age twelve in a tobacco field. This job taught me many lessons, but the one I’ll share today is respecting myself enough to always do my best, no matter what the task is. And it’s disrespectful to leave work unfinished for someone else to do when you can handle it yourself.
The right way to be lazy is an artform southerners have down pat. Shoot, we even know how to make our speech lazy! All you need is a porch or a picnic table or a shade tree, glasses of iced tea, and a group of friends. Just simply relaxing with no clocks or cell phones in sight to rush or disrupt conversations. Keep in mind, this is done only when the work is complete.
Rule #6 – Be a decent human being and treat others the way you want to be treated.
This rule covers most every rule. If you can handle this one, then the rest will fall into place. One of the goals I set for Lulu’s Café, and have strived to continue in every story I’ve written since, is to showcase humanity by using various forms of it, such as friendship, politeness, compassion, respectfulness, understanding… Even humor.
Kindness draws folks in like moths to a porchlight. In a world that seems to be dimming by the day, I encourage you to give some of these southern ways a try and allow it to guide you to be a light.
Lulu’s Café by T.I. Lowe
“T. I. Lowe has crafted a terrific novel with characters to root for. This author is one to watch!” —Francine Rivers, New York Times bestselling author of The Masterpiece
When a damaged young woman is given a chance to reclaim her life in a small South Carolina town, she must reckon with the dark secrets she left behind in order to accept the love she deserves.
On the run from a violent past, Leah Allen arrived in tiny Rivertown, South Carolina, battered and broken, but ready to reinvent herself. By a stroke of fate, Leah is drawn to the Southern hospitality of a small café, looking for a warm meal but finding so much more. Lulu, the owner, offers her a job, a place to stay and a new lease on life. Through Lulu’s tenacious warmth and generosity, Leah quickly finds herself embraced by the quaint community as she tries to put herself back together. Given she’s accustomed to cruelty, the kindness is overwhelming.
Soon Leah meets Crowley Mason, the most eligible bachelor in town. A lawyer and friend of Lulu’s, Crowley is wary of Leah’s sudden, mysterious arrival. Despite his reserve, something sparks between them that can’t be denied. But after all she’s been through, can Leah allow herself to truly love and be loved, especially when her first urge is to run?
Exploring the resiliency of both the heart and the spirit, Lulu’s Cafégorgeously illustrates how old scars can finally heal no matter how deep they seem.