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The Daily Tar Heel

In March 2023, I flew from my hometown of Las Vegas to visit Chapel Hill for the first time.

Before then, I had never even stepped foot in the South. Just after I stepped off the plane at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, I found myself at the baggage claim, locked into an engaging and insightful conversation with a middle-aged North Carolinian as we waited for our suitcases to emerge from the carousel.

Our dialogue must have continued for 20 minutes without a break, and touched on subjects I would never have considered bringing up in a first conversation: how her family was doing, how she felt about flying frequently, how long she had been in the area.

The entire time, I was taken aback with her clear willingness to interact so openly with a complete stranger — a college student nonetheless.

It didn’t end there. The bus driver, the rental car cashier and the academic representatives at UNC were the next people I interacted with, and each of them were friendlier than the last.

Scattered instances of “yes, ma’am,” and “yes, sir” trickled into conversations with people I passed on the street, accompanied with charming accents and pleasant salutations.

This is a phenomenon commonly known as “Southern hospitality,” the propensity that people in the South have to be both more willing and more likely to engage with others than people in different areas of the country, and the warmth with which they do so.

Before I moved here, I thought this was something invented for old-timey cowboys in Western films. Turns out, it’s a real thing — and it’s the thing that helped me learn to love Chapel Hill.

Southern hospitality is integral to UNC culture. It is natural to interact with other students, professors, faculty and the community at large when they are so eager to engage.

It’s part of what makes this area so inviting. I'm confident that students here will leave a lasting and positive impression on anyone they encounter. 

For those who have lived here their whole lives, this hospitality is standard and frequently overlooked. When I address this with my friends who are North Carolina natives, they dismiss the hospitality as being fake, saying, “they’ll be nice to your face, but talk poorly about you behind your back.”

While I empathize with their point and disapprove of disingenuity as much as the next person, hospitality does not imply an absence of gossip, dislike for others or contention in a community. It simply draws appreciation to the manners and attitude that people in the South consistently utilize with everyone they meet, regardless of how they feel about you individually.

Some view aspects of Southern hospitality as archaic, and I understand that. It’s okay to push for progress and to change our expectations for social behavior. I believe in the objective goodness of loosening social pressures around outdated methods of communication.

But warmth, manners and small talk are traditional talents that I think shouldn’t be pushed out of modern culture. There is space for conversational etiquette and progress to coexist.

Experiencing Southern hospitality in real life dramatically altered how I viewed my communication with others. We exist in a world that revolves around “connection,” but is revolted at the thought of conversational intimacy. The modern era of social media has terribly damaged our ability to casually chat with each other. Our likelihood to “conversate” — that is, to sit down, to convene, to share, to listen and to learn — is weakening with every passing year. This struggle is combatted partially by the culture that I am blessed to experience daily at UNC and the greater North Carolina. 

Now, I catch myself mimicking it. My trips back to the West reveal distinct parts of Southern culture that have ingrained themselves into my daily life and habits. I dote out “yes, ma’am,” and “yes, sir” while chatting sincerely with the cashier at the grocery store. I launch into dialogues with my Uber drivers. Sometimes, I even catch myself drawing out my vowels in my own replication of Southern twang.

All this to say, I love it here.

In a world that so blatantly struggles with communication, trust a girl from 2,379 miles away when I say: you’re doing something right, North Carolina.

@madelyn_rowley

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.comsou

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