The South isn’t just a region of the United States. It’s a culture that’s lovingly and emphatically passed on from generation to generation. Here are just a few of the things Southern girls learn from their mamas, preferably while they’re still in diapers. Which, of course, are always topped by smocked bloomers with their initials embroidered on them.
1. ‘Ma’am’ and ‘Sir’ are not optional.
I’m perpetually shocked when a child responds to an adult with a simple, unadorned, “yes” or “no.” Southern girls know that a proper response includes “ma’am” or “sir.” Leaving it out is akin to calling an adult by her first name, which, however, is perfectly acceptable if you preface it with “Miss”—but only if she and your mama are good friends. “Yes, ma’am, Miss Susan” wins out over “Yes, Mrs. Smith” every time.
2. You don’t have to be beautiful, but you are expected to make an effort to look your best.
God didn’t sprinkle all of us with fairy dust, but he did give us all the ability to make an effort. Brushing your hair and putting on makeup is just good manners; it’s a sign of respect. If you wouldn’t leave dirty dishes all over the kitchen and two-day old pizza slices on the furniture when company comes, then don’t leave the house looking like you just rolled out of bed. And, for the love of all that’s holy, put on some nail polish before you wear sandals. Nobody down here wants to see your naked toenails.
3. The correct way to use ‘bless your heart.’
The correct use of “bless your heart” is an art form, and it’s all about the context. Let’s say you’re telling someone about your crazy, hectic week at work, and they respond with, “Bless your heart.” In that case, they’re expressing sympathy. On the other hand, the same response when you tell someone how you drove off with your brand-new iPhone 6 on the roof of your car means, “You’re an idiot.” “Bless your heart,” in its purest form, is used when talking about someone who brought their troubles on themselves by being too dumb to know better.
4. The correct way to use ‘y’all.’
Wannabe Southerners inevitably out themselves by using “y’all” incorrectly. Southern girls know by the time they can talk that you should never use “y’all” to refer to one person. “Y’all” always means at least two. And “all y’all” is reserved for addressing a group of people acting as individuals. So if you’re leaving work on a Friday afternoon, you could say, “Why don’t all y’all meet me for a drink?”
5. When to bring a casserole.
Southern girls know that casseroles aren’t just for funerals. Everything from losing a job to getting a speeding ticket is a worthy excuse for showing up on your neighbor’s doorstep with a steaming-hot casserole. And maybe some sweet tea.
6. Always ask, ‘How’s your mama?’
This question is kind of like asking “How are you?” and really listening to the answer. It expresses interest and concern while honoring your familes’ intertwined histories.
7. Never underestimate the value of a little eyelash fluttering.
Flirting and fluttering your eyelashes won’t kill you. And, in the South, it won’t cause a man to think you’re a ditz, either. It’s a game, and we all know the rules. And it will get you a lot farther than, “Hey, I need my gas pumped!” It also won’t kill you to let a man hold the door for you or give you his seat. I might have to write a separate article on what Southern boys learn from their mamas, but trust me when I say that being chivalrous is in their DNA.
8. When barbecue isn’t barbecue.
Southern girls learn early that inviting someone to a barbecue and serving hamburgers and hot dogs is an unforgivable bait-and-switch. Barbecue requires barbecue sauce, and it’s served over ribs or pulled pork. If that’s not what’s on the menu, then don’t invite people to a barbecue. Invite them to a cookout. Or just fry some chicken and invite them to Sunday dinner.
We all learn important life lessons from our mamas. But Southern girls also learn how to be Southern. We all have our priorities.