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Warm Southern Hospitality Grates on Chilly East Coast

So I’m back from a week’s vacation with family in Hilton Head, SC, thrilled that we had a great time and enjoyed doing tons of stuff together, but introspective as I re-enter the reality zone of my life in Maryland.

I just read an article pertinent to a writer’s life (that would be me as I am busily reinventing) that said if a writer blogs the writer should not only blog about the topic of his/her book, but blog about whatever is on their mind.

I have taken this to heart.

I am going to throw out my dogged determination to make every article end with a huge chuckle and a knee-slapping epiphany. I am just going to write what I am thinking about, and it will probably turn out kind of funny anyway, because that is how my mind works. Like life is a bit on the cosmic-jokish side.

So this is what I am thinking about:

During our vacation, my husband and I were struck by how endearing and kind the people were. I mean everybody, from the grocery checker to

 strangers on the beach to people we nearly mowed over with our bikes. Everybody.

And we wondered about this.

Coming back to Maryland has been a bit of a shock, because, well, sorry to say but east coasters are simply not brimming with southern hospitality. I guess after three years we’d gotten used to it. In Hilton Head, however, we quickly hopped aboard the hospitality train like we’d never skipped a beat. For those unaware, we are originally from Little Rock, AR, and moved to Maryland for a job opportunity. I wasn’t sad to leave, but do miss the warmth of the people.  Though Little Rock might be categorized as parochial and good ole’ boy-ish, southern hospitality seeps from every community,  Razorback game, restaurant and riverboat.

Upon our return, freshly energized and oozing with southern charm, I skipped into a local grocery store chain to pick up a few things. I smiled at everyone. People looked at me like I was demented. Not to be deterred, I continued to checkout, basking in the memory of the friendly, talkative experiences we’d had in Hilton Head. I pulled out all my grocery items, loaded them on the conveyor, and figured I might as well slop some charm on the checkout gal as well.

“Hey, how’s your day goin’ ? My eyes seek hers and my lips curve into a winsome smile. She narrows her eyes at me and grunts.

I pull my cart to the handy disgorging slot that is apparently for clerks to swing the loaded bags into the basket after they fill them. Instead of putting the loaded bags into my cart, she plunks each bag in the opposite direction, where I must reach to grab it and place it in the cart myself. I wistfully remember the grocery stores in the south that took all items out of the cart for you and put them on the conveyor, loaded the bags after pricing the items, AND put the bags into the cart with a smile and a ‘ya’ll come back now’.

I shake my head and stretch myself to the bags and load them into the cart. “So how about this day? Isn’t it beautiful today?” Seriously hoping to dredge up a little Maryland charm. I wait expectantly as I pull out my debit card.

“Discount card?” she asks. Her expression is stony.

“Oh, sure, here.” I hand her the card and she hands it back.

“Credit or debit?” she asks.

“Credit,” I say, discouraged. The smile is leaving my face and my downcast gaze feels uncomfortably familiar. I look over my shoulder at a few

shoppers in neighboring checkout lanes. Not one of them smiles at me. One does, however, give me a suspicious scowl, and I quickly retrieve my gaze and point it toward the floor.

I plop the last of the bags in my cart and take the receipt from the clerk’s hand. I don’t bother to give her a grin or a ‘have a nice day’. No need. She has moved to the next customer and I am ignored. My newly resurrected southern  bonhomie is wearing thin, which I find unfortunate.

My husband and I have had several discussions about this, and have come to the conclusion that friendliness might be directly proportionate to the number of human beings per square mile. The Baltimore metro area has roughly 1500 people per square mile. By way of comparison, Columbia, SC has 950, and Hilton Head has 875. We have decided it’s a trade-off: living in a populous metro area where there are more professional and recreational choices versus living in a less populous, more laid back area where people are dang friendly but there are fewer options.

It’ll take a while, but my husband and I will subdue our drippy, sugary-sweet southern hospitality. We’ll compartmentalize it,  tie it up with a bow, and take it out as a gift to ourselves when we head south again.

Until then, if you smile at me and I do not smile back, I’m just practicing. Don’t take it personally.


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