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Southern hospitality is a phrase used in American English to describe the stereotype of residents of the Southern United States as particularly warm and welcoming to visitors to their homes, or to the South in general.
Some characteristics of southern hospitality were described as early as 1835, when Jacob Abbott attributed the poor quality of taverns in the south to the lack of need for them, given the willingness of southerners to provide for strangers. Abbott writes:
“ The hospitality of southerners is so profuse, that taverns are but poorly supported. A traveler, with the garb and the manners of a gentleman, finds a welcome at every door. A stranger is riding on horseback through Virginia or Carolina. It is noon. He sees a plantation, surrounded with trees, a little distance from the road. Without hesitation he rides to the door. The gentleman of the house sees his approach and is ready upon the steps.”
Abbot further describes how the best stores of the house are at the disposal of visitors. Furthermore, says Abbott:
“ Conversation flows cheeringly, for the southern gentleman has a particular tact in making a guest happy. After dinner you are urged to pass the afternoon and night, and if you are a gentleman in manners and information, your host will be in reality highly gratified by your so doing."
Such is the character of southern hospitality.
Food figures highly in Southern hospitality, a large component of the idea being the provision of Southern cuisine to visitors. A cake or other delicacy is often brought to the door of a new neighbor as a mechanism of introduction. Many club and church functions include a meal or at least a dessert and beverage. Churches in the South frequently have large commercial style kitchens to accommodate this tradition, but many "fellowship suppers" are "covered dish": everyone attending brings a dish. However, if a newcomer arrives without a dish, he or she will be made to feel welcome and served generously. When a death or serious illness occurs, neighbors, friends, and church members generally bring food to the bereaved family for a period of time. A number of cookbooks promise recipes advancing this concept.
Other features of Southern Hospitality include proper local etiquette (i.e., calling one "Sir" or "Ma'am," opening doors for women (as well as men removing their hats when in the presence of a woman or inside her house), cooking enough for everyone who might be around at mealtime, inviting one to church functions, etc.) While persons from outside the region often mistake many of the southern hospitality customs as being disingenuous or fake in some way, in actuality the customs are often a way to make the visitor feel as comfortable as possible in an unfamiliar setting. Additionally, although some customs may be seen as odd or even offensive by people not from the South, they are considered polite in local culture and usually meant as an expression of traditional warm greeting