A lot of great things have been said about “Southern hospitality,” and to that I say “no.” Southern hospitality is not as hospitable as some might think.
The thing with Southern hospitality is there is almost always the patima of superiority about it. It is a subtle one upmanship where people try to outdo each other in small ways. There are subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) shades of condescension; as if a “bless your heart” is never far away.
Now for you Northerners who have never encountered a “bless your heart” before, know this: in some areas, them’s fightin’ words. “Bless your heart” is passive-aggressive shorthand for “you must carry such a burden being an idiotic cretin who is horrible, wrong, and stupid in every conceivable way.” A part of this phrase also includes the subtext: “I am utterly unlike you and superior to you. This is as indisputable as gravity.”
That is the kindest form that “bless your heart” takes.
Furthermore, in certain Southern areas a Confederate flag is often nearby, indicating that some people are less welcome than others.
Some Southern meetups I’ve been to reminded me of a group of porcupines about to mate. They have to pee on each other’s quills to become approachable.
I’ve found that Southern hospitality is very hospitable given one huge caveat: if you are seen as a conforming part of the community, then things are very hospitable.
Midwesterners are a whole different thing.
Be Nice Until It Bleeds
One great thing about Midwesterners is their obsession on being “nice.” There is even a phrase in the north: “Minnesota Nice.” “Minnesota Nice” is when a person is outwardly extraordinarily polite and courteous, even if they are a bubbling cauldron of rage and hate inside.
Midwesterners are polite to a fault. They will say “hi” to strangers they pass on the street. They will earnestly listen to you talk about your day and generally try to root for you. They have exceptional phone courtesy, and are affronted if someone hangs up abruptly. Midwestern phone calls last longer than they should because EVERYONE signs the social contract the second someone responds to “hello.”1
Although there may be a storm of resentment roiling underneath, social gatherings are VERY hospitable. There’s just enough frontier salt to keep things interesting, and just enough “churching” to keep things friendly. You don’t need to fear a “bless your heart” from anyone in the Midwest.
And why’s that?
You Are Bad and You Should Feel Bad
Something that the Midwest has is a LOT of Protestants. The “Great Awakening” flung Protestants to the far reaches of the wilderness in the 18th and 19th centuries. The upshot? You get a large group of communities who still have Calvinism and “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” boiling in their heads, even if they’re Atheists.
Guilty people make for a polite people. They’re far more concerned with the whole “mote in another’s eye/log in your own eye” part of the Bible than most other people. “Clean up your own backyard” is a very Midwestern attitude.
Midwesterners don’t like people who “put on airs” because they shy away from people who think that they are better than everyone else. Everyone’s a sinner in the hands of an angry God, so get off yer gosh durned high horse.
To Talk or Not To Talk. What Was the Question?
As Tom Waits said, strangers always talk about the weather. In the Midwest, there’s a lot of weather to talk about so strangers always have a dependable subject at hand. Indeed, Midwesterners can blather on about the most mundane subjects with a gusto that surprises the agoraphobes from the coasts.
A probable reason for this is that talking about minutiae takes time away from actually having to deal with feelings. But that’s a supposition.
So any subject is fair game, so long as it’s inconsequential. It’s why sports are so big in the Midwest. It’s a subject that people can debate that doesn’t really have much impact on anyone’s life. That’s why discussing politics, religion, or sexuality is considered rude. They are consequential.
To Summarize the Summary
I am certainly not saying that Midwesterners are more virtuous than anyone else. They’re not. They can be just as horrifyingly terrible as the next ape. But they are polite.
That’s why I prefer Midwestern to Southern hospitality. Midwestern hospitality doesn’t feel hypocritical to me. Not so long as personal guilt is involved.
So accept the offer of muddy buddies and a tall drink of chat with no fears2. Stretch out and talk about how the Vikings are doing. Wonder about what is happening with the weather and how amazingly different it is from last year. Ruminate on inconsequential things long into the night, with a belly full of cassarole singing you to sleep.
1 I could no more jump out of my own skin than end a conversation without going through the good-bye ritual on the phone. This involves wishing someone a great day, waiting for the appropriate reply, then thanking them for it and saying “bye-bye.”
2 An exception to prove the rule: don’t let Ohioans and Michiganders talk about football – especially with knives around. It won’t end happily. Ohio and Michigan have about the same love for each other as the Crips and Bloods in the 1990s. Why? Toledo. Really. It’s about Toledo. I cannot begin to understand why this is still a thing.