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Enjoying the niceties of Southern life

An English rose in Georgia

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POSTED: May 2, 2013 1:30 p.m.

One of the aspects of life in coastal Georgia that still delights me after four years of living here is the time people usually give to common courtesies, especially the willingness of people to say, “thank you,” and show appreciation for what you do.
Just about every week some kind reader takes the trouble to tell me, either via email or when they bump into me in town, that they enjoy my column. I am particularly embarrassed (but secretly delighted) when people ask me “are you the English Rose?” My husband says I should tell readers to tell my editor rather than me, but I am just very pleased that somebody has read and enjoyed what I have written. After all, writing can be a fairly secluded and sometimes even a lonely task, so getting some feedback from your readers — hopefully positive — is just great. So, thank you so much for your emails and comments.
The response to my last column about Margaret Thatcher set a new personal high for me in terms of reader feedback. I think I really hit a nerve with the patriotic residents of Richmond Hill and coastal Georgia who recognize the contribution that she, and her friend and ally Ronald Reagan, made to our world today. And a number of people really felt the need to reach out to me to tell me they liked and appreciated my column.
This feedback and open, extroverted show of appreciation may be very American, but it isn’t very British. It got me thinking about the way people thank each other and interact both here and back in the land of my birth.
While the British are not especially outgoing, and as a nation tend to be a bit reserved, they can of course be gracious and express thanks and appreciation. But many feel that saying, “thank you,” is just too formal, so over the decades they have developed a whole new language of showing appreciation — most of which wouldn’t be recognized by the average American. “Cheers,” “ta,” “brilliant” and “lovely” — they are all ways of saying thanks back in Old Blighty. Weirdly, some British young people have started saying “You star eleven, all right” to express appreciation. I have no idea where this came from — apparently there is not only a culture gap but an age gap as well.
London, like many big international cities, is not a place where people normally take the time to exchange pleasantries. Did you realize that there is a whole, unwritten etiquette about how to behave on the London Underground (known as “the tube”)? The tube is extremely crowded, carrying more than 1.1 billion passengers per year, according to Transport for London.
For a taste of serious commuter stress, travel on it at rush hour (as I did for a number of years). The unwritten rules include avoiding eye contact with other passengers at all costs, always choosing a seat that is as far away as possible from fellow passengers, NEVER smiling at or striking up a conversation with a stranger, not reading someone else’s newspaper over his or her shoulder and, although speaking is not usually condoned it is usual to mumble “excuse me” or “sorry” when you try to get past a fellow traveler on a packed commuter train.
My personal theory is that London is such an overcrowded city with such a stressful environment that these frankly unfriendly behaviors are the only way to get through it all day to day. Sarcasm is also a very common way of expressing displeasure or disapproval back in the U.K. While sarcasm might be the “lowest form of wit and the highest form of vulgarity,” it was certainly a day-to-day feature in my former existence.
What a contrast to beautiful coastal Georgia. This part of the world is full of positive attitudes, and “Yes, ma’am” and “thank you, ma’am,” which I always find delightful. Be humble, courteous, kind, friendly, well-behaved and modest and you won’t go far wrong in Dixie. I am particularly intrigued by the Southern “cop-out” — people say what they like about someone, but if you follow it with “bless her or his heart” then it seems to be OK.
Well, I knew we were divided by a common language, but the Southern U.S. certainly has a language all its own. As I continue to enjoy my life here and peel back the layers of American living like the skin of an onion, I find myself more and more comfortable and happy that we chose to settle here in the Coastal Empire.
I leave you with an observation made by great American author Mark Twain: “Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
God bless America!

Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009. She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.

 

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