As a Yankee living in the South, I had the hardest time coping with how polite people are down here. You might think it would be easy—pleasant even. But no, coming from where I’d be more likely to hear someone to pass gas in an elevator than say, “Good morning,” it’s taking some getting used to.
It doesn’t help matters when people, upon noticing an uncouth Yankee-type, try to take advantage of my social awkwardness.
Here’s a case in point. Not long ago, I went with some friends to a restaurant, where we shared a sushi appetizer. There was exactly one more piece of sushi than the number of people sharing. Where I come from, we’d arm wrestle over that last piece. Here, however, everyone was too polite to take it, and so there it sat. And though my companions seemed to pay it no mind, I was sure that this lone morsel, sitting there all by itself, was a source of considerable tension for us all—the proverbial 800-pound tuna in the room. I took it upon myself to break the ice and suggest that someone else at the table eat it.
“No,” they said, almost in unison, “you go ahead, please!”
I reluctantly grabbed it with my chopsticks, at which point one of my friends whipped out her phone and snapped a picture. That fast, my image was on Facebook, in a post suggesting that, as a dinner companion, I was on the same level as The Three Stooges. Now my wife won’t even to go out to dinner with me.
The courtesy of holding doors open I also found difficult to accept. I wouldn’t dare do that in the North, fearing a reaction such as, “What, do you think I’m too feeble to do it myself?” But here in the South, burly men, who could reduce the door to toothpicks barehanded if they so desired, would just smile and thank you for the gesture.
What’s more, people here often take the practice to extreme. It’s as if they’re competing to get their picture taken with the governor as “Gentleman of the Year”. I recall one instance when I was walking down the street, and down at the other end of the block I saw a man standing at the entrance of a building. He noticed me, immediately pulled the door open, and waited. I wondered whether the guy had a spotter up on the third floor. I, trying to be more conscious of my own manners, felt bad that someone was taking valuable time out of his day to do me this small favor. I didn’t want to keep him waiting. I thus quickened my pace, panting under the weight of my knapsack with its laptop computer and enough books to stock a law library. I reached the door, managed to wheeze out a weak “thank you” to the man, and went inside.
Heck, I wasn’t even going to that building.