Southern manners can get too uncomfortable

By Jennifer Smith | Reporter

In my lifetime I’ve lived in two states, Tennessee and Texas. I have an amazing father and two great brothers who were raised under southern standards. By “southern standards,” I’m referring to the values you can find in any old country song; raised in the church, taught to be polite and always expected to be a gentleman to women. And I respect that, I truly do. But as a 22-year-old woman, I’ve come to find out many men don’t know the fine line between being friendly and being too forward.

Gestures such as holding the door open, saying “Ma’am” and “sir” to your elders or giving your seat up for a disabled or pregnant person are all very kind, thoughtful acts. However, referring to women as “baby,” “hun” or “sweetheart” and winking at them when they pass you, or slapping their butt after they take your order at a restaurant, is not OK.

A few nights ago, my friends and I were piled onto the couch when one of them brought up her horrible day at work at a local diner. We got to talking, and those who also worked in the restaurant business shared cringe-worthy stories about the types of male customers they’ve encountered. Everyone seemed to know the type of person they were talking about –– inappropriately touchy and overly flirtatious. We started questioning their acts, asking ourselves, “Do they actually think that’s what ‘southern charm’ or manners are?”

This issue was brought to my attention again today while I was grocery shopping at H-E-B. I was scanning the pasta aisle for one of the 17 things I needed to find. As I was standing there, an older man, probably around 50, thought it was OK to place his hand on my lower back to “move” me as he said, “Excuse me, darlin’.” Every girl knows what move I’m talking about; the creepy male stranger who thinks it’s acceptable to touch you on the lower back or hips as he’s passing, as if saying “excuse me” wouldn’t be enough prompting for someone to step aside on their own.

This bothers me. This bothers me because not only would a man never touch another man in a grocery store, but if he did, I’m fairly certain it would not end well. Yet women are supposed to smile and accept it as “being polite.” It is not polite to treat someone like they are less than you. And it’s become clear to me that a man wouldn’t “suggest” another man move by touching their lower back because they see them as an equal.

When I travel up north, especially to New York, I love to see the stark contrast of cultures. It can be refreshing to hear how boldly and freely women speak to men who are being inappropriate. However, it’s no secret that would cause a bit more of a scene in the southern states.

I don’t expect this age-old issue to be resolved overnight, but let’s strive to teach our children, brothers and nephews the difference between being polite and being disrespectful and where those boundaries are drawn. And if you’re the “touchy” type described above, ask yourself how you would feel about a complete stranger un-invitingly touching your mom or sister or you in any given situation.