Southern Manners Basics

Knowing southern manners is essential when living in the South. Every southerner knows the importance of good manners. Whether he or she uses them or not is a whole ’nother story.

Southern Upbringing

It seems like there’s something about southern mamas—and sometimes daddies—that compels them to harp on the importance of being mannerly. I think it must be in their blood. Whatever the case, all my friends say the same thing: Keep your elbows off the table.

Even a casual table needs a proper place setting, according to the southern manners rules.

Southern Manners on Steroids

I had a double dose of manners lessons, with my daddy being in the U.S. Air Force. Not only did I have southern etiquette to contend with but I also had the military rules. As a military “brat,” I was a reflection of my active duty daddy.

Proper etiquette lessons begin at a very early age in a southern home. In fact, you want to begin before the young’uns take their first step to make sure it’s done properly.

Teach Your Southern Child Good Manners

Here are some basic things a well-behaved southern child needs to know:

  • Say “ma’am” and “sir” to your elders. Always.
  • When addressing adults, use “Mr.” or “Mrs.” with their last name. If they insist on your kids calling them by their first name, add “Miss” or “Mr.” (i.e., Miss Sally)
  • Say please and thank you to everyone—to the point of annoyance.
  • Keep your elbows off the table.
  • Put your napkin in your lap.
  • Start eating with the fork farthest from the plate.
  • Don’t spill, but if you do, clean it up and apologize.
  • Try not to interrupt unless the house is on fire or a bone is protruding through the skin.

Thank You Notes are Essential for Southern Manners

  • Send a thank you note to anyone who does anything for you. If you’ve attended a birthday party, send a thank you note. When you receive birthday presents, send a thank you note. If someone introduces you to the coolest kid in the school, send a thank you note. You get the picture.
  • Never burp or pass gas in public. However, if one slips out, say, “Excuse me.”
  • Hold the door for anyone who needs a little extra help.
  • After you meet someone, say, “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. So-and-So.”
  • Occasionally, offer a compliment, but don’t overdo it.
  • Don’t whisper in front of others.
  • Don’t laugh at other people’s mistakes because sooner or later, you’ll make a mistake too. How would you feel if others enjoyed watching you mess up?
  • Never gossip. (This will be amended later.) Don’t squirm or make a scene in church.

Southern Manners for Adults

As we get older, proper etiquette should be second nature to us southerners. However, there are times when we forget—especially after having to commute on busy roads to and from work.

Show your southern manners by bringing a hostess gift when you visit someone’s home.

Brush up on some of these southern manners tips to keep a social edge:

  • Always RSVP after receiving an invitation—even if it’s not requested.
  • Send a thank you note. (See children’s manners list above.)
  • Southern manners dictates bring a hostess gift when you’re invited to someone’s home.
  • As soon as you sit down at the dinner table, put your napkin in your lap.
  • A proper place setting is important for all meals—not just a formal dinner.
  • When at a dinner party, see what the hostess is doing and follow her lead. For example, if she’s using the finger bowl as a water glass, you do the same.
  • Pick a football team (preferably a college team in the South) and root for them, regardless of whether they win or lose. Loyalty is essential to being a well-mannered southerner.
  • Don’t gossip unless you begin with “Pray for her” or “Bless her heart.”
  • Avoid whispering in the presence of others who aren’t in on the secret.
  • Don’t laugh at other people’s mistakes. However, if a chuckle slips out, pretend it’s a cough and excuse yourself.
  • In any setting other than a casual get-together, sit up straight, and cross your legs at the ankles. As old fashioned as this may seem, it’s still considered good form in the South.
  • Don’t share too much personal information with someone you don’t know well. After all, this person might use it against you later.
  • Your handbag and shoes don’t have to match, as long as they “go.”

Pork Chops and Other Finger Foods

Southern manners rules allow pork chops to be considered a finger food in the South.
  • Know what’s a finger food and what must be eaten with a fork. Some of the rules are different for southerners than folks from other parts of the country. One example is that in the South, pork chops can be a finger food. And it’s perfectly fine to gnaw on the bone as long as you don’t make any noise.
  • Pick a mayonnaise you like and stick to it or be shunned. After all, if you’re from a Duke’s family, bringing Hellman’s into the house is like a slap in the face.
  • As soon as you pull into the church parking lot, put on your Sunday smile. Keep it there until you leave, and only then should you resume your normal sourpuss face.
  • When someone you know is sick, bring food.
  • After a family member of a close friend passes (The word “dies” sounds harsh to a southerner’s ears.), bring food.
  • When someone brings you food when you’re not feeling well or someone close to you passes away, always say, “Oh, but you shouldn’t have. But thank you so much. Would you like some tea?”

Southern Manners Passed Down

Most southerners know good manners from very early age, and it’s not always learned from the parents. In fact, I actually gained my knowledge by hanging out with my grandparents and great-grandparents. This is why I’m developing a strong relationship with my own grandchildren. We do fun stuff together, as well as creating traditions.

Making memories and teaching southern manners.
Learning southern manners while making memories (and butter) with Nana.

This past summer, I held Camp Nana once a week. My granddaughters came over, and we did a lot of fun things that I hope they’ll always remember.

As you hang out with your grandkids, you’ll occasionally catch yourself saying things your own grandparents told you. And that’s okay. Relax and enjoy the relationship. This is the time when teachable moments are fun and not work.

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