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Where Mothers Still Warn You About the Yankees

27 Sep

Just what is about southern friendliness and manners that creeps out northerners so much? They sometimes just don’t know what to make of us, being so friendly and all.

And that ‘yes ma’am’ thing can unnerve them. You don’t hear much fuss about ‘yes sir,’ maybe because of the military. But say ‘yes ma’am’ to a woman not from the south and she is bound to get down right irritated. Most say it makes them feel old. I have to admit than when a young man, say in his 20’s, answers me with a yes ma’am, it does kind of make me feel old because it tells me he noticed a distinct difference in our ages and that he was acknowledging it. But with respect.

Southern women will often say ‘yes ma’am’ to each other which is a subtle nuance of language that could easily be substituted for ‘You betcha’ or ‘Not a chance’:

“Did you buy those shoes on sale?”…”Yes, ma’am I did, aren’t they gorgeous?”

“Are you going to let your daughter go to the party?”…. “No ma’am, she’s on restriction.”

I grew up the daughter of a career Navy pilot, and so all nine of us children were required to say sir and ma’am always. Some of us find ourselves still saying it at times to our father.

Friendship Fountain

When Jacksonville hosted the Super Bowl in 2005 the one thing that kept being repeated in newspapers across the country was that we were all just too damn friendly.  All those volunteers in the yellow jackets smiled too much and were too eager to be of assistance. Friendship and southern hospitality is our hallmark and we’re very proud of it.  We even have a city landmark named  Friendship Fountain.

As I write this, I’m seeing multiple statements on Twitter about how obnoxious Philadelphia Eagles fans are while playing the Jaguars on our home turf. Somehow I can’t imagine the folks in Philly treating Super Bowl fans with the same hospitality they received in Jacksonville.  Mild temperatures, golf courses, beaches, friendly folks. Makes Detroit  or Philly sounds like punishment.

A friend of mine moved down here from New Jersey and said her teenage daughter remarked that if one more person in the grocery store said hello to her she was going to puke.  When did being friendly become repulsive? I have friends who won’t grocery shop on Saturday because they say they can’t get through Publix in less than two hours because they run in to so many friends there.  I live in Ponte Vedra Beach now, a section of Jacksonville known for its wealthy transplanted northerners. My mother warned me, “Watch out at the Ponte Vedra Publix, those Yankees will run you down with their grocery carts.”

At the same time, I remember going to a concert to hear the NYC Philharmonic on the Great Lawn of Central Park and remarking to a friend, also from Jacksonville, how absolutely amazed I was at how silent the enormous crowd was when the music was being played.  You could hear a pin drop. We agreed that it would never happen in Jacksonville. At a summer Jacksonville Symphony concert  at the TPC, I was shocked and mortified at the number of people who talked and laughed right through the concert at a regular speaking volume  as if the Jacksonville Symphony was merely background music. It was not only rude to the other guests, but especially to the musicians.  And I bet that half of the people in attendance grew up in the north.

Jacksonville will always maintain its southern hospitality, being South Georgia and all.  The many northerners moving our way won’t change that. No ma’am.  For every native knows that in Florida, the farther north you go, the more southern it gets.

(Note – This column appeared in the October 10 issue of skirt! in the Florida Times Union under another title.)