When I was a child in England I thought there was only one way to speak English — the Queen’s English — and one way to behave, using the rather old-fashioned manners instilled into me at my very proper girls-only school.
As I grew up in the 1970s, I became exposed in a very limited way to American TV and movies (“Starsky & Hutch” and “Dallas” were very exciting to us), and I realized there was such a thing as an “American accent” and “American behavior.” Not only were there different, often exotic words for different things — who knew that a pavement could be called a sidewalk, a solicitor could be called a lawyer and that chaps were not always men but sometimes leather leggings — but that it was socially acceptable to do things like chew gum in public or drink coffee in your car.
Then I met my future husband — who is from Cincinnati but whose family roots are in Kentucky — and we lived in London, England, during the early years of our marriage. I naturally assumed that his Midwest drawl and unusual expressions were standard American English. Just why, when I apologize for something, why did he say “fuh-getta-boud-it” instead of “I accept your apology. Please think nothing more of the matter?”
Most of all, his rather direct way of speaking occasionally grated on me until I got used to it. I now understand that this is a rather northern U.S. way of communicating, but it did and still does seem a little abrupt to me, having been raised with traditional English manners. And don’t even get me started on his complex range of “grunts” in answering fairly complex questions. He says these are because he is a man, not because he is American.
In my husband’s defense, the British are traditionally extremely and often painfully polite. We are the only country in the world where it is customary to apologize to a stranger who bumps into you, and many social interactions are full of “sorry,” “oh sorry, after you,” and “I do beg your pardon.”
One of the many reasons I fell in love with Coastal Georgia is the gentle, friendly, welcoming and usually extremely polite way of interacting. This part of the world is full of “yes, ma’am,” and “no, ma’am,” and holding doors for the ladies. And I was very pleasantly surprised to be brought roast chickens and cakes when we first moved in to our home — the British would never be so bold with new neighbors!
I think it is charming that people in the South are less focused on status and position than in Europe or even the Northern U.S. And while people do work very hard here, there is a slower pace and always time for what my grandmother would have called “the niceties of life.” The flip side of this is that there is sometimes a more relaxed attitude to appointments, arrangements and RSVPs than in my past, fairly frenetic life in London. However, it is a price well worth paying.
I will leave you with an observation made by Emily Post, American author famous for her writings about etiquette: “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.”
God bless America!
Francis grew up in England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.