Monday, November 4, 2013

Southern hospitality

Monsieur and I have a joke.  " If one of us dies, I'm moving to Miami".  It's an old New York Jewish joke, of course.  

 Well,  I want to modify that: " If one of us dies, I'm moving to Charleston….or Savannah…or anyplace in the low country. 

 Yes, I'm back and it was an inspiring trip. 

An egret in the reeds, iconic scene in the low country

I'm back in Nice with a changed perspective.   I have a new appreciation for hospitality and "niceness".  

 Now "nice" is perhaps the most banal adjective in the English language but I think that is because it means several things and sometimes there is no substitute word.   The French mostly use the English word "nice" as a synonym for "gentil" but there is more to it than that. 

 I want to say that the people I met that live in the low country whether Yankees or bonafide "Southerners" make it a priority to make you feel cared for.   Their "niceness" quotient is very high.

Here are a few examples of what I experienced from people that I had never met…what we call "perfect" strangers. 

1.  A smile and a greeting when passing .  Now this is pretty standard in America when you pass someone in the street but it is practiced enthusiastically in the South.

2. Airport agent lifting my bag onto the weighing station at Charleston airport.   My check-in agent, took the handle of my bag and pulled it onto the scale. " Let me get that for you ma'am. " and then ," now you have a wonderful flight. You are all set."  There was also a personal conversation, with even some flirting, which I must say does not go unappreciated at my age.  

3.  A negro cleaner in the airport toilet in Charleston asking about if I was flying.  And when I said I was she said, " Now you have a safe trip home. And a good trip home."  This is the first time I ever experienced a cleaner, stopping work to have a brief but personal conversation.  If it is just a ruse of sincerity in the South, it is practiced flawlessly.
4.  A woman crossing the street to help when my friends and I looked puzzled about an address in Charleston.  I have only seen this in NYC when folks notice before they are asked and then stop and go out of their way to guide you to your destination. 

5.  Four maitre d's and wait persons attending to our needs without having to ask... in the Pink House Restaurant in Savannah. The waitress was never in a hurry to scurry off if we wanted to gab.  I have never had the level of service in any restaurant that we had there.
6.  The young waitress in St Helena, saving us a table for later when we came too early on Sunday and talking for a long while about the area and places to go as I asked questions.   The young people seem interested to talk to all age persons and are accustomed to it. 

7.  A lovely black man on the train, calling me "my lady" and  politely joking with me about my selection from the cafe car.  The train personnel also lifted my heavy case on and off the train.  You struggle unaided in most cities, train or plane. 

8.  A woman walking her dog in Charleston, stopping to talk to us for a long time about the area etc.    Several other evening dog walkers greeted us,  the difference being that these greetings were not automatic, but with eye contact.   Most of us greet others without really engaging.  In the South the greetings appear genuine. 

9.  A caretaker opening up an historic church in Bluffton, S.C.  so I could see inside outside of hours.  (The opening hours were not until much later in the day).  

Of course, there are things I wouldn't like about living in the low country.  Mainly, the humidity is insupportable starting in June until mid October.  Everyone has air conditioning to survive it.  So I was visiting at an ideal time.

 And there are the euphemistically called "Palmetto bugs"( the American cockroach) and mosquitos with which the residents do constant battle.  ( I can't abide roaches, and mosquitos are not far behind in my loathing.)

 A strict hierarchical social system in the South might annoy me.  Status depends on whether you can trace your family back to the early settlers or the Civil war. (What nonsense.  We all have a family history, we just might not have it written out! And the war has been over for centuries!) 

Historic house in Charleston

The biggest impediment for living in the areas I loved however, is my lack of a large bank account.  For the neighborhoods that I like there is good reason why they are so beautiful.  Year round TLC ( "tender, loving, care")  of the homes takes time and money.  This is especially so in the historic districts where the Preservation Society reigns supreme.   Everything must be done to keep the authenticity of the house and to keep it pristine if you want to make their list.  But this TLC was just as obvious in Mount Pleasant with the newer homes.  People take pride in their city. 

I am afraid I am going to bore you with a "run down" of my trip.   But I can't wait to share my photos that I took with my new Lumix. 


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