Hospitality Gone South?

April 2014
Written By: 
Ashley Burkholder

Cranky neighbors,impatient drivers make us wonder what happened to Southern hospitality

Y’all, I love some Southern hospitality like a Yankee craves a spring without snow. I love seeing it in the old-fashioned friendly smiles and nods from passersby. I love seeing it in the accommodating gestures thrown my way when dining or shopping with my two (hyperactive) sons. I love seeing it actually live up to the cliché born generations ago that it is still alive and well right here, where I migrated nearly a dozen years ago.

Neighboring city Charleston has even repeatedly scored national accolades as The Friendliest City in the U.S. by Condé Nast readers—and fifth in the world! That’s a planetary credence to live up to. Seven of the top 10 cities, in fact, are Southern; while five of the 10 Unfriendliest Cities come out swinging in the Northeast. (It’s OK, I’m a native Pennsylvanian. I can point out these flaws.)

But recently, Southern hospitality has been giving me the middle finger. No, really, it has. And that’s throwing me off course, especially on the roads around here. A middle finger is flipped up faster than a turn signal.
Congested construction areas, especially along the bypass where it’s practically an extreme sport for some to weave in and out of lanes, have led me to find that if you’re in an extremist’s left path a second too long, the birdie flies your way. It also seems folks don’t appreciate a tap on the brakes to remind them to back off your bumper. I’ve received a few hand signals from that, too, viewed via rearview mirror. And don’t even get me started on the drop-off loop in the mornings at my son’s elementary school. Parents are like NASCAR drivers, trying to get Junior to school before the 7:30 bell with gutsier cut-offs than Earnhardt.

Maybe I’m just realizing that patience and kindness and self-control, among the other fruits of the spirit, can still rot in the South. Unfortunately, there are no real geographic immunities. In fact, unfriendliness can live as close as a downstairs neighbor, like mine for instance.

Not-so-nice neighbor, as we’ll call her, has taken to pounding on the ceiling of her first-floor condo (with a broom handle I’m guessing) whenever my sons (ages 4 and 6) and I have broken her sound barrier, which apparently is low, because sometimes I don’t realize that one of the boys may have let the fridge door slam. But she reminds me.

Now, granted, I’m sure it’s not a treat hearing our feet overhead, but condo living is synonymous with Myrtle Beach. I’ve lived in mine for four years and haven’t received a single neighboring complaint. Lights out for the boys is by 9 p.m.; the earliest wakeup during the week is 6 a.m. And it does not condone downstairs neighbor to harass us with daily rapping reminders under our thin floorboards nor to curse me out when I go downstairs to civilly talk about what the problem is nor give me the middle finger and call me a b&*# when I walk by her glass storm door on the way to my car.

That’s crossed the line (in many ways) from unfriendly to unlivable—especially when my children are involved and within earshot. Bullying is unacceptable from anyone of any age or size. I’d like to hope it’s still not the norm here, but lately I’ve been feeling a cold draft.

Friendliness, no less civility, goes a long way—from neighbor to neighbor, driver to driver, parent to parent—especially when little ears and eyes act as witnesses to profanity, lewd gestures and communication etiquette. Because these sponges do and say as their role models do and say. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want those harsh hand-me-downs to outlive you and me.


Illustration by Taylour Beadling