People Really are Nicer Down Here

Yesterday I saw something interesting.   It was around 9:30 AM and I was coming back from Walmart.  On the southbound side of Highway 61 near the intersection with Highway 8 someone had either broken down or ran out of gas.  It was hard to tell which, though the latter would be ironic since there was a gas station right across the street.  Fortunately, a second car had stopped in the middle of the road and the two men inside got out to help the stranded driver push his car into that gas station.

Now many of you might say that’s no big deal, but I beg to differ.  Highway 61 is the main road that traverses the Delta from Memphis on south.  There was traffic on the road including an 18 wheeler sitting at the light.  So it would have been easy to justify passing by instead of stopping to help.

Most of you have probably heard the term “Southern Hospitality”.  People from the Deep South are supposed to be friendlier and more helpful than those from elsewhere.  On the whole I have found this to be true and not just because of the incident above.   When I first moved here one of my neighbors came out, introduced herself, and asked what had brought us here.  By contrast, when I moved into my apartment in Albany back in 2010, there was no one around and to this day I couldn’t identify all of the people that lived in my building and it had only six apartments.  And when I’d meet new people around Cleveland they would first ask how I was doing and how I liked the area. 

The mannerisms are different too.  In the Mississippi Delta, everyone addresses each other as “sir” or “ma’am”.  It is considered polite to smile and make eye contact even with strangers.  Now admittedly not everyone does that.  But Cleveland has about 13,000 people.  Smiling at all of them would be tiring.  Even the Highway Patrol (equivalent of the State Police) supposedly spend a lot of their time giving gas cans to stranded motorists.  In New York State they mostly seem to exist to give people tickets.

There is a counter argument of course.  Some people have reported that Southerners aren’t truly nice  and such politeness is false.  There certainly are some people who seem phony around here.  But let’s be real for a second. Those sort of people can be found elsewhere.  For example a friend of mine lived in Seattle and reported the natives were very insular.  And who from the tri-state area can forget that Manhattanites look down at people who live in the suburbs, let alone in other cities*.

My point isn’t to condemn anyone only to say that jerkdom and insularity know no bounds.  From Manhattan to Mississippi, Americans often live in bubbles and look down on those who don’t share theirs.  Southerners are no exception.  Where they are different is in making an effort to be friendly and helpful to strangers and newcomers even when their feelings are more complex than that. 

*I must confess that I have been guilty of this in the past (despite being from those suburbs) and often proclaimed New York to be the center of the world.   It certainly seems that way when you’re there.  But living outside the New York City area has changed my perspective greatly.

Article by Mike

Mike is the Head of Discovery Services for the Delta State University Library. He has lived in Cleveland since May 2013.

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