Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Southern Welcome

After a day of recovering from jet-lag, I drove from my parents’ house in the country to the nearby city to run a few errands (finding that I was never quite sure which side of the road to drive on after five months in Ireland). The South gave me a (literally!) warm hello.

I began my stroll congratulating myself for losing the limp I had maintained for the past four weeks after an ill-fated leap from the ruins of a castle. “Hey,” shouted a construction worker from the roof of a house, “you got a bit of a limp there! Is it a ball injury?” Oh well.

Lest I suspect the alleged limp was only momentary, an hour later another stranger stopped me with genuine concern in his voice. “Are you okay?” he asked. “You’re limping there! Do you need help?”

One of my last errands involved some repair work for my car. I dropped car off and waited in the waiting room for my mom to pick me up. The summer heat was bordering on oppressive outside (or so I thought... those who had been around all summer commented later that the day was rather mild), and we in the waiting room were thankful for the AC.

“Do you want a coke or water or anything?” the man behind the counter asked the three of us as we waited. (“Coke,” incidentally, refers to any carbonated drink, called “soda” or “pop” or “soft drink” in other American cultures.) We all turned him down. Five minutes later another employee asked us the same thing. Again we turned him down. When the third employee offered a beverage, I finally accepted a water to keep them from offering. It didn’t work; I was asked a fourth time.

On our way home, we stopped at a rural produce stand. The owner greeted us warmly and kept chatting us up while we browsed, throwing a couple extra items in for free when we checked out. “Come by anytime,” he told us as we left. “If I’m not here, just take what you want and leave some money in the can.”

As I returned to my parents' house, I knew that the South had welcomed me home, that Southern hospitality was still fit to rival the Irish hospitality I had been enjoying for the past month. In this case, all the hospitality offered came from strangers, all people who had never seen me before and would likely never see me again. Southerners are not hospitable out of self-interest, out of a calculated investment with a hope of return. They are not even hospitable in an enlightened attempt to make the world a better place, to do their part to benefit the common lot of humanity. From what I have been able to tell from the past 22 years, Southerners are overtly hospitable simply because that is the decent way to be.

Oh my beloved South, how I shall miss thee!

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