Bless your heart: Is Southern hospitality a myth?

ssorich@ledger-enquirer.comMay 16, 2013 

The good news? A recent study suggests people in Georgia say "please" and "thank you" a lot.

Just in time for National Etiquette Week, mobile and online advertising company Marchex conducted a study that examined phone conversations to determine the frequency of cursing across the 50 states.

"The calls were placed by consumers to businesses across 30 industries, including cable and satellite companies, auto dealerships, pest control centers and more," according to a Marchex blog post.

The result: People in Washington were least likely to curse, while people in Ohio were most likely to curse. When it comes to the states most and least likely to curse, Georgia appears on neither top five list. Same goes for Alabama.

However, Georgia is No. 5 on the list of states most likely to say "please" and "thank you." South Carolina placed first in that category. North Carolina, Maryland and Louisiana rounded out the top five.

While listing the most courteous states, the aforementioned blog post notes, "Anyone else sense a Southern hospitality theme here?"

After nearly seven years in Georgia, I'm still not sure what constitutes Southern hospitality.

When I prepared to move here from California in 2006, I received a common reaction: "Oh, the South! People are so nice there!" The line often came from people who hadn't actually spent time in the region, but were infatuated with the concept of "Southern hospitality."

Don't get me wrong: People here are nice -- but I'm not sure they're nicer than what you'll see in other regions of the U.S.

I've lived on the West Coast and in the Midwest. Compared to those regions, Georgia definitely takes the prize for the most utterances of "please," "thank you," "honey" and "sweetie."

Do those words alone constitute politeness? That's debatable.

Enter the Southern reliance on "bless your heart," a phrase that sounds courteous but is commonly associated with criticism in disguise. It's consistent with one of the biggest critiques of "Southern hospitality" -- a belief that underneath the prevalence of "please" and "thank you," there's a form of harsh social judgment you also won't find anywhere else.

Some people argue they'd prefer to live somewhere like New York, where people don't mask their judgment in pleasantries.

Then again, I've witnessed genuine moments of kindness during my time in the South. Maybe even with its critiques, this region's politeness is still noteworthy.

Discussion time: Is the concept of Southern hospitality a myth or reality?

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