- Grand Strand Weekend
- South Carolina for Kids
- South Carolina Bar-B-Que
- A Midlands Weekend
- Civil War Adventures
- South Carolina Waterways
- Three Days in Horse Country
- South Carolina for Seafoodies
- South Carolina Kitsch
- Gullah and African American History
- Upstate Weekend
- South Carolina’s Top Ten for Golfers
- South Carolina’s Offbeat Festivals
- Southern Comforts
- Lowcountry Romance
The prevalence and importance of good manners is the main thing to keep in mind about the South. While it’s tempting for folks from more outwardly and assertive parts of the world to take this as a sign of weakness, that would be a major mistake. Bottom line: Good manners will take you a long way here.
Southerners use manners, courtesy, and chivalry as a system of social interaction with one goal above all: to maintain the established order during times of stress. A relic from a time of extreme class stratification, etiquette and chivalry are ways to make sure that the elites are never threatened—and on the other hand, that even those on the lowest rungs of society are afforded at least a basic amount of dignity.
But as a practical matter, it’s also true that Southerners of all classes, races, and backgrounds rely on the observation of manners as a way to sum up people quickly. To any Southerner, regardless of class or race, your use or neglect of basic manners and proper respect indicates how seriously they should take you—not in a socio-economic sense, but in the big picture overall.
The typical Southern sense of humor—equal parts irony, self-deprecation, and good-natured teasing—is part of the code. Southerners are loathe to criticize another individual directly, so often they’ll instead take the opportunity to make an ironic joke. Self-deprecating humor is also much more common in the South than in other areas of the country. Because of this, you’re also expected to be able to take a joke yourself without being too sensitive.
The most basic rules are that it’s rude here to inquire about personal finances, along with the usual no-go areas of religion and politics. Here are some other specific etiquette tips.
Basics: Be liberal with “please” and “thank you,” or conversely, “no, thank you” if you want to decline a request or offering.
Eye contact: With the exception of elderly African Americans, eye contact is not only accepted in the South, it’s encouraged. In fact, to avoid eye contact in the South means you’re likely a shady character with something to hide.
Handshake: Men should always shake hands with a very firm, confident grip and appropriate eye contact. It’s okay for women to offer a handshake in professional circles, but otherwise not required.
Chivalry: When men open doors for women here—and they will—it is not thought of as a patronizing gesture, but as a sign of respect. Accept graciously and walk through the door. Also, if a female of any age or appearance drops an object on the floor, don’t be surprised if several nearby males jump to pick it up. This is considered appropriate behavior and not at all unusual.
The elderly: Senior citizens—or really anyone obviously older than you—should be called “sir” or “ma’am.” Again, this is not a patronizing gesture in the South, but is considered a sign of respect. Also, in any situation where you’re dealing with someone in the service industry, addressing them as “sir” or “ma’am” regardless of their age will get you far.
Bodily contact: Interestingly, though public displays of affection by romantic couples are generally frowned upon here, Southerners are otherwise pretty touchy-feely once they get to know you. Full-on body hugs are rare, but Southerners who are well acquainted often say hello or goodbye with a small hug.
Driving: With the exception of the interstate perimeter highways around the larger cities, drivers in the South are generally less aggressive than in other regions. Cutting sharply in front of someone in traffic is taken as a personal offense. If you need to cut in front of someone, poke the nose of your car a little bit in that direction and wait for a car to slow down and wave you in front. Don’t forget to wave back as a thank-you! Similarly, using a car horn can also be taken as a personal affront, so use your horn sparingly, if at all. In rural areas, don’t be surprised to see the driver of an oncoming car offer a little wave. This is an old custom, sadly dying out. Just give a little wave back; they’re trying to be friendly.
© Jim Morekis from Moon South Carolina, 4th Edition