Commentary: The Southern politeness facade

The Charlotte ObserverOctober 15, 2009 

Bless their hearts.

That's about all I can say to whoever came up with the idea in the new book "Miracle on the Hudson" -- the idea being that the passengers handled the crash with grace because most of them are Southerners.

About two-thirds of the 155 passengers on that US Airways flight are from the South -- many from the Charlotte area. As they evacuated the plane in the icy Hudson River, they helped each other make it to safety, and the men made sure women and children were rescued first. "Perhaps it was because it was a plane full of Southerners," say the book's authors.

I guess Northerners would have clawed for the exits like lions after a wildebeest.

This notion of Southern gentility generally comes from someone who is not actually from the South. So maybe it's time to tell a few secrets. (Fellow Southerners, I'm sorry, but it's time. We can't let them be ignorant forever.)

Let's start with the beginning of this column. Some of you might be under the impression that "Bless your heart" is a compliment. "Bless your heart" is a complex phrase, with many shades of meaning, but here's the one thing it never, ever means: "Bless your heart."

Here are a few things "Bless your heart" can mean:

You don't have the sense God gave a two-by-four.

I don't think Architectural Digest will be taking pictures of your house anytime soon.

If your boyfriend was any uglier, people would start asking if he's a pointer or a setter.

As a rule, the more sweetly a Southerner smiles when she says "Bless your heart," the quicker you should check your back for knife wounds.

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