Southern hospitality is a phrase used in American English to describe the generalization that residents of the Southern United States are particularly warm and welcoming to visitors to their homes, or to the South in general.
Southern hospitality described
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 traveller, 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, 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.
Several cities are viewed as being bastions of Southern hospitality. These include New Orleans; Lafayette; The Upstate of South Carolina known as the Golden Corner; Charleston; Columbia; Nashville; Charlotte; Wilmington; Lexington; Birmingham; Houston; Tulsa; Little Rock; Memphis; Richmond; Annapolis; Jackson, Mississippi; Stillwater, Oklahoma; Savannah, Georgia, Augusta, Georgia and Atlanta, Georgia
Southern hospitality has been examined by sociologists and other social scientists, some of whom have characterized the practices as a masquerade designed to cover deficiencies in southern culture, such as slavery, discrimination, and widespread poverty.
One such author writes:
“Tradition and manners are repeatedly framed as the glue that binds the South together, distinguishing it from other regions. This is a familiar mantra, one linked to the "famous" southern hospitality capitalized on by many of the tourist attractions highlighted earlier in the book. Contemporary fascinations with the "grandeur" of the Old South depend on a certain sense of decorum, and this genteel mise-en-scene of southernness is constructed via a carefully manipulated stage set of moonlight, magnolias, and manners. White southerners frequently stress the importance of keeping up appearances; for example, in her Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South, popular writer Shirley Abbot describes the "natural theatricality" inherent in southern hospitality. It requires "a talent for taking on a special role in a comedy of manners that will apparently run forever, no matter how transparent its characters and aims". This maintenance of an aura of tranquility despite a certain degree of transparency suggests that southern hospitality is a performance, a masquerade, an agreed-on social fiction, albeit a powerful one with material effects. ”
Southern hospitality has also been examined, however, as a reflection of the deeply-held religious beliefs of the region; the idea that one should be good to strangers is an outgrowth of such Biblical parables as the Good Samaritan. Indeed Ernest Hamlin Abbott wrote in 1902, "as religious observances are in the South as naturally included in the hospitality of the home as anything else, so, conversely, hospitality in the South is an integral part of the church services".