What is southern hospitality? Where can you find the Soul from the South? A recent USP Content production commissioned by BBC Radio 4 tries to find out. It is without a doubt a different way of life and the programme goes in search around various towns, cities and events of America’s deep south, teemed with Rich Hall’s comedic understanding of the place he originally comes from.
Rich starts by aiming to explore the geographical definition for ‘southern’. Is it below the Mason Dixon line, the mid-south or deep-south and what do Brits think of the so-called Southern Charm? There are those who believe the charm, the hospitality and friendliness to be a façade for a dark past or reality.
The programme rightly delves into history. Could it be that the former gentry culture which the upper classes adopted from English country life influenced the current image of southern America? As the programme explores, you’re never too poor to be hospitable. The notion of be friendly and welcoming stems from the lonely days on the farm where those working on the land would welcome visitors to hear new stories from the outside world to order to compensate for their sheltered life.
Rich goes in search of culture in Memphis, home to Elvis Presley and the country, hill-billy and blues music scene. Is it possible that the exportation of music is the firm vibe of true southern hospitality? Down in the farmers’ market consumers give their opinions, food, family and festivals of music are all the key ingredients of a staple southern life and conversational diet. To them, it’s the freedom to approach anybody safe in the knowledge that they will talk and dance and ultimately love life, which keeps spirits high – even the most sceptical of souls.
The unique culture, which contribute to Southern Hospitality, also contrast between the old and the young. Rich discovers that real Southern Hospitality for the younger generations is less about being hospitable and more about how you view others and accept them to make them feel comfortable.
Rich goes to a ‘tailgate party’, which to those less familiar is a pre-football (American not soccer) festival of cooking, drinking and serving up music for strangers on the street. The answers to any questions he has range simply from telling their colourful life stories to simply smiling and saying ‘Hi’ in return.
So what is this well-known and well-loved concept we call Southern Hospitality? Is it food, music or friendliness? Rich neatly wraps this up while hanging out on a balcony overlooking a porch in front of the community at large. It is here that he, and therefore we, become the fabric of the community. The porch is your true living room, in front of the neighbours where the opportunity – and honour – to get an invite up to a stranger’s porch should always be taken. There is surely no better focal point to engage in the hospitality Rich went in search for, but right here!