January 9, 2017

Politness in Mississippi is everything we expected from the South and more. True to their reputation as the hospitality state, people are extremly polite. Coming from the North West, the ‘effusive welcome’ here can be overwhelming. They make eye contact and they welcome us with a smile but it’s more than that, actually making me uncomfortable at times, like the time I was in the grocery store…

I was in produce rummaging through a mound of potatoes in search of the perfect size, when a man appeared next to me. “Having potatoes tonight?” he asked. Caught off guard by his comment, I said “maybe”, smiled and went back to searching for the elusive perfect potatoes. He then preceeded to converse with me as I picked out four medium, round potatoes. He talked to me for about 5 minutes, asking me about my holidays and describing how to cook his favorite potatoes. He found the recipe while watching a chef on ‘Youtube’. I am convinced he would have talked to me alot longer,  if I hadn’t made a polite exit to finish my shopping. I ran into him two more times in the store, once in the baked goods isle, and once in dairy. Each time he made eye contact and greated me with a smile or a nod. Just when I was beginning to wonder if I was being stocked, I was greeted by another person and then another.

It seems like Walmart greeters are not just at Walmart, and they don’t wear vests in Mississippi. They show up anywhere and everywhere, the store, the gas station, the movies, your neighborhood….

A week ago, I was at my son and daughter-in-law’s house when the garbage truck pulled into their culdasac. My daughter-in-law calls out to our son, “Nick did you remember to put out the garbage, they are here?” He was distracted in the side yard racking leaves for the third day in a row, as there were alot of leaves. Not waiting for an answer, I opened the garage and started to drag out two big construction bags crammed with leaves. The man on the back of the truck saw me and immediately jumps off the back of the truck. “Let me get that for you ma’am” he said taking the bags from my hands and carting them the rest of the way, before tossing them into the back of the truck.

The grandkids come running around from the side of the house followed by their father who stopped to grab another garbage bag in the garage. “I missed you last week” the sanitation worker said to the kids with a big toothy grin. “I was off, did you have a good Christmas?” “Are there any more?” He called out to my son politely as Nick brought another bag from the garage.

I can’t think of a time I ever spoke with our trash collector except to say ‘hi’ and he certainly never helped me take the garbage to the curb.

The previous week it was cold and with true Southern hospitality, my daughter-in-law made the sanitation workers all hot chocolate, and the kids happily delivered the hot, brown, liquid goodness. It was received with graciousness and a smile.

I found a good salon near Timberlake Campground which we have been calling home for the last 5 weeks. I immediately felt a connection with Alesia at Lemuel Salon. She had been there 30 years and made me feel like I was a visiting a friend in her home. She was the warmth that made me feel welcomed and I thought to myself ‘so this is Mississippi hospitality’.

Then there was the old cowboy we met in the fishing isle at Bass Pro. I’d guess he was around 78, give or take a few years. We were trying to pick out bait so Dan could take our grandson fishing. He soon caught on that we didn’t know what kind of bait to get.  This gave him an opening for a conversation. “What kind of bait ya lookin for? He asked us. He was very helpful and he answered all our questions, all the while addressing us with yes ma’am and yes sir. He quickly advanced the conversation and before we knew it, we were talking about California, Mississippi, gun control and yes even the death penalty! Dan and I walked out of Bass Pro with our heads spinning and a grin on our faces. “Only in Bass Pro in Mississippi would we meet someone like that and have a conversation like that” Dan said on our way out. My take on the encounter was that the old cowboy would share anything with us. In fact, I think he would have given us the shirt off his back had we asked for it, but don’t cross him or mess with his family, and certainly don’t try and take away his guns!

I’m pretty sure he was strong advocate of God’s laws and the laws of our land…..just as long as they agreed with Southerner’s laws, which trumps both in Mississippi.

I have been told that Mississippians (is this even a word?) have been raised to be polite no matter who they are, or who you are. Manners maybe a culturally ingrained pattern of speech, but it is also a sign of respect and it is used by everyone of all ages. I read that children are intentionally trained to produce good manners and in the South it includes the exact words to use in order to demonstrate respect. Yes ma’ma and no sir are followed by please and thank-you’s and it is not unusual to have a man open the door for someone when entering a building.

I always admired these manners in my husband Dan and he has always admired my strength as a woman. He still opens the door for me when we are out, which doesn’t make me feel inferior or weak. When a stranger opens the door for me, it is just an act of kindness, nothing more. In our relationship, it is an act of respect. He is putting me first before himself, which makes me feel loved as his wife.

I believe acts of old fashion courtesy are disappearing in part because we as modern day women no longer accept these jesters of kindness. No matter the reason, kindness, manners, politeness and showing respect for each other are not things that we outgrow or that become outdated, even if it makes us a bit uncomfortable sometimes.


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