A Downhome Perspective on All Things Southern

Home About Us Blog Genealogy Recipes Gardening Manners and Etiquette  Destinations History Art   Photojournalism Southern Furniture Maker Inspiration Write Life Opinion Contact-Education

Manners and EtiquetteAnswer to Question on creating a Southern HomeManners and Etiquette
Q & A

Southern Wedding

Simply Southern Wedding Part II

Southern Mother of the Groom

Parties and Showers

The Wedding Raising: Planning Ahead

The Wedding Raising: Implementation

Baby Showers

Manners and Etiquette Q & A

Questions and Answers

In answering your questions, I want us all to keep in mind that manners and etiquette are mainly just common sense, thoughtfulness and consideration. It has become formalized simply because not all of us are gifted with the same innate sense of courtesy. Frequently, the customs of the past that made us a genteel, gracious society have fallen out of custom; therefore, websites like this are merely reminders of how society works best and what is expected of us from those who do know the rules of etiquette. Many of the questions I answer address the "dance" of good manners. None of us want to be embarrassed by bumping into a gentleman who has been so gracious as to stand and pull out your chair when you return to your seat at the table. To save us from that embarrassment, rules of etiquette were developed just to choreograph situations in which we will all find ourselves. Because of new situations in our increasingly technological age, we will have to develop a new choreography.

We have before us a question of the ages. This is an etiquette question from a mother. I told her I would put it to my crack etiquette experts to see if you all have ideas to offer. Everyone is welcome to chip in.

Son forgets birthday, girlfriend slaps son

This is more of a relationship problem than a manners situation,  so I decided to query some friends regarding this.

Dear Sharman,

I know this is a little off the beaten path but it's in the realm of etiquette and manners and I thought you might have some good insight on this situation. My 17 year old son has been dating a lovely young lady (photo below) for the past few months. Her birthday was last week and he completely forgot about it. When she told him about it, he responded with something like “Oops, I’m sorry I forgot. Let’s do something next weekend since I have plans with the guys this weekend.” I know, cringeworthy to say the least!  And if that wasn’t bad enough, there was strike number two when he trivialized her birthday by saying “what's the big deal, it's not like it’s your 21st" and then strike three when he told her she was just being silly and taking a "hissy fit".  After a heated exchange, she exclaimed “you just don’t get it!” and then landed a stinging slap across his cheek and stormed off.  Needless to say, he has much to learn about the opposite sex, and I teased him about getting his face slapped by a few more ladies until he starts behaving like a true gentleman 😉 To his credit, he took it like a man and seems less concerned about his wounded pride and more concerned about the young woman's feelings. I think this could be a teachable moment for him, and I also think he can repair his relationship with his girlfriend if he goes about it the right way. Just wondered if you had any nuggets of wisdom to offer.

My two favorites came from men and that's probably a good thing for your son's consideration of their advice.

1. As someone who has worked with students of this age for 40 plus years.....pack his dop kit and move on. Both need to grow up before getting serious---she maybe more than he. (Roy Watford)

2. "Dating for a few months" apparently allowed this young lady to quietly form high expectations, and then visit them upon this young man after-the-fact (he missed her birthday!) **** He had already apologized and offered to atone for his faux-pas well enough in context of his scheduled commitments. Then it seems she was MORE upset that he would not break those previous commitments 'just for her'. **** When responses include a "heated exchange" and a slapped face -- OUCH! That's a deal-breaker! Recommend: Leave her alone to sort out her own emotions, expectations, and boundaries for dating. With the chain of events described above, it might be her turn to offer an apology. JMHO... (Samuel Phillips)

I think all of the responses (about 20) shared the same opinion as mine; he's just not that into her -- yet-- and probably should not be with her immediate response to something not going her way being physical. This is a toxic relationship waiting to happen. Be grateful he and she found out early.

The "Miss" Dilemma

I hope you can help clarify something for me.... Verbally we always call women 'Miss.' and then their first name such as Miss Pat.  We do this whether they are married or not so, how do we correctly put that in written form if they are married?  I often see people write out Mrs. Pat and it seems odd since that is not how we say it. Is it wrong to do Ms.? Tyanne

That is an excellent question. I would think one would just write "Miss Pat," but not on the outside of an envelope. "Miss Pat" is really just a form of endearing familiarity. If one were writing a formal correspondence one would surely use the formal address (Mrs. Patricia Jones or Mrs. John Jones, for example). Ms. would be an appropriate address for a divorced woman.
Those are my thoughts on that Southern dilemma. Sharman

Dinner Table Chair Approach 

I have a question regarding a lady approaching the dinner table and being seated: Which side of the chair are you to approach to be seated - to the right or to the left? Also, from which side do you exit when dinner is over?

A lady approaches the chair from the right because the man on your left will be pulling your chair out for you to sit. Should the gentleman pull your chair back at the end of the meal, I would think he would be doing so from the same direction you approached the table so you would also step back from the right.  However, it all depends on where the gentleman is standing. The most important thing in any social situation is to make others feel comfortable. Having too hard and fast a rule on these things complicates situations in which there might be a crowd -- or a conversation -- and a lady must act graciously accordingly.

 Addressing an Envelope

Also, when addressing the outside of an envelope (just regular correspondence),  where does the return address go, on the front upper left side or on the back of the envelope flap? And, when inserting a birthday card, etc., into the envelope, do you insert it so that when the envelope is opened,  it is facing the recipient? 

The address should be on the front upper left side unless the address has been formally printed on the envelope. You place a card into the envelope fold side first so that when a right-handed person pulls the card from the envelope the card is facing the recipient.

Bridezilla Asked Future Sister-in-law to Give a Bridal Luncheon

Dear Ms. Ramsey:

I have been asked to give the bridal luncheon for my nephew's fiance (more like roped into).  The bride has many, many over-the-top requests and I have already spent a fortune to meet her rather unbelievable demands for items that can't be rented.  My brother and sister-in-law (parents of the groom) are very well-to-do in that area and are mortified that I am going to fail miserably (and are expecting me to fail miserably) - and if that happens, then this will be a point of contention for them.  I want to make sure this luncheon is done to absolute perfection even though this is WAY out of my budget.  

The bridal luncheon will be held outdoors at a mansion I am renting.  I live 650 miles away so I have to rent a place to hold this luncheon.  Originally, the bride insisted it would be held at her house - so when she decided that she wanted it somewhere else, I was relieved, to be honest.  I have put a huge amount of effort into planning every aspect of this luncheon and I think it will be a very nice event.  Because I live so far away, I am having to collect all of the china, crystal, etc. at my home here (thank goodness for eBay) and will have to literally rent a U-Haul truck to move all of this down there.  However, I am determined to do it and make this a memorable, gracious event that would be worthy of the cover of Southern Living!  haha! 

Here's my question.  I don't have funding to hire a staff for this - so an old friend who lives in that area will help me set up the day before.  Unfortunately, due to a prior commitment my friend can not join me on the day of the luncheon.  I will have the food catered but I will not have anyone to do the filling of the glasses, serving of the cake, coffee, tea, hot chocolate (for the 2 children invited - yes I've even had to get two gold high chairs).  Would it be okay if I do not sit down to eat with them but instead act as the attendant?  Otherwise, I feel I'll be hopping up and down so much that it will seem frantic.  

By the time this is done, I will have spent over $17,000 on this ridiculous luncheon - which is a HUGE amount of money for me.  And to make it even more frustrating, now the bride is claiming that she wants for them to eat and run within 1 hour because they have to get their nails done.  Yes - she is Bridezilla.  Therefore, I really do not want to have to pay even more money for attendants, too.  Would it be rude for me to not sit down and eat at a luncheon I am hosting? 

Thank you very much.

Kindest regards,

I am assuming that this is a legitimate inquiry, though I am hoping it is not because I hate to think that there are people this ungrateful and inconsiderate in the world!

I must say first of all, that I am appalled that your family would be telling YOU how to host a luncheon. They should be grateful for whatever kind of luncheon you host because you are a valued member of this family (or should be) and your capabilities should be respected. You will be paying for this event for years! I’ll bet the marriage doesn’t last as long as you will be paying for the Bridesmaid’s Luncheon!

You know that now other members of your family will expect you to entertain them in the same manner. This is definitely not something you need to be doing. Even if you can afford this you shouldn’t be doing it because of their demands and lack of grace.

I can assure you that this group that you are attempting to impress will not be impressed. They will simply take this as their due and you as their minion. You will not make points with your brother because there will be some trifle that they will make a mountain out of.

I posted your letter (minus your name) on my Facebook page to get the response of my Southern Lady friends. Needless to say, they were as appalled as I was.

Here are some of their responses:

1. Stand before the mirror and practice saying NO!!!!! If your relationship with your brother is so fragile, it won't last anyway. You must end this. Have a nervous will be easier. If you have to pay for a couple of nights in the hospital you'll come out cheaper. It's your fault if you don't stop this.

2. It's never too late to say no.

3. I just noticed that she said, "By the time this is done..." Maybe it's not too late for her to get out. At least she can stop spending money.

4. At this point, I'd make it a buffet and let everyone serve themselves including Bridzilla if she wants to eat. If brother doesn't like it or can't stand up to his wife, or rest of family for that matter, tell them to take a flying leap. If they are that abusive, and yes this is a form of abuse, you haven't lost anything any way. Wasn't much of a brother to begin with. No matter what you spend or do, it will never be enough and don't hold your breath waiting for a Thank You. It will not happen. Good luck. You are going to need it.

I must say that I agree with my Southern Lady Friends and hope that you will let us know how things turn out. At this point, if you are determined to follow through, I think the idea of a buffet is a good one. I would probably just give my brother a withering stare rather than telling him to take a flying leap or perform anatomically difficult acts, though I think you are probably entitled to do so.

You are certainly in our thoughts and prayers!

Sharman Ramsey

A friend of mine added this: 

Dear Miss Party Giver, I think instead of paying $17,000 to host a bridal luncheon many miles away. It would be easier to pay an English teacher $25. 00 to assist you in composing a lovely note to the bride and your brother declining from this luncheon, that is almost impossible for you to achieve. Especially since it can only last an hour. However, I think she deserves a luncheon at Publix. That would be the kindest thing for you to do if you want to save relationships within the family. Nancy Prim Stewart, The Protocol of Washington (Etiquette Instructor)

Explanation of Sir and Ma'am

I just moved from California to NC.  I'm an RN in my early 60's.  By my peers, bosses and locals I have been called ma'am a lot. (In California it is kind of an insult it shows age) and have also been called Miss Breck from instructors when I've asked questions in class and have heard my peers call some RN's Miss and others not.  No order of age or rank.  What is proper for me.  I can't find any pattern that would make any sense on when and why or timing or place or rank.. what gives.. Breck

I am 42 and live in Tennessee.  I was raised to always say “sir” and “ma’am” to anyone older than me.  Now that I am “middle aged” I am unsure if it is polite or if its condescending to use these terms to people obviously older than me.  Are they my contemporaries or still viewed as older and should be shown respect?

It was recently brought to my attn by a friend that using those terms to someone our parents ages can be viewed as condescending—it had never occurred to me that it was anything but being polite and respectful.  I would appreciate your feedback. Jennifer

Southern mothers begin early teaching their children to say "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am, "yes, sir" and "no, sir" to their children when addressing adults. It is considered disrespectful for children to speak to their elders or those in a position of authority with a simple yes or no. My husband, an attorney, addresses all of his adult clients, regardless of their relative age with "ma'am" and "sir" out of respect. I said "yes, ma'am" and "yes, sir" to my mother and father until the day they died and would never have considered doing anything else!

This is not a term of derision. Saying "ma'am" and "sir" does not demean your own position.

While I realize personal relationships might develop where "ma'am" and "sir" may be dispensed with, there is still a time and a place to maintain the professionalism and respect those terms acknowledge. Using a person's first name is also considered a form of familiarity. Not knowing the marital status of a woman, the term Ms. has become a common form of address. Many, including my husband, have a problem with younger people in their profession continuing to address them as Mr. or Ms. after being asked to call them by a first name. After being requested to address a person by a less formal name, that request should be respected.

A college or university classroom setting is considered a formal setting though in high school classrooms a first name is usually used. Students should always address their instructor with "ma'am" or "sir".

I am a firm believer in maintaining civility in society and think we've gotten way too casual in our personal relationships. A respectful form of address may help to provide the distance needed to keep office relationships from sliding into problem causing personal relationships between men and women. I would suggest that maintaining that buffer in the male female office relationship might be proper and should be considered.


Is staring rude?  You've got to answer, trying to break my husband (Mr. California) of the habit! Paula

Yes, it is rude. People deserve their privacy. Plus, it makes others uncomfortable. Those of us who consider good manners an important attribute cringe at the thought of making another person uncomfortable.

Food Brought to Family upon Death of loved one

Why is it when someone dies in the South it is common for neighbors to bring food??? Dave

Bringing food is the very best way one can comfort a grieving person. You feed their family until the shock is gone. You don't have to talk. They feel your love and concern through your actions.

For a bit of humor with a lot of truth on this issue read Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral. It comes with lots of great recipes as well.


Politics and Southern Women

What is proper etiquette when it pertains to politics?  Do southern women speak about politics in a diverse group?

You know, that is a very good question. Southern women have intellect and opinions. But, a southern lady would temper her opinions with thoughtfulness, respect and consideration for another's opinions, without compromising their own firmly held beliefs. Let no one mistake the iron backbone in that gentle spirit. And when sterner stuff is needed, there may be a glove on the fist, perhaps?

 Gentleman Stand when a Lady Approaches a Table

At what age should young gentlemen stand when a woman approaches the table? I think around 12. Bob

I think you are right. That is the age they are identifying with their father and should definitely be encouraged to be a gentleman.

Not Enough Familiarity Offensive?

My wife and I raise our four daughters in New Orleans, and we were seating ourselves on the sidewalk tables of a restaurant yesterday when a woman about 20 years my senior (I'm 38) passed us and said hello, and I offered up a hello in return, however I offended her.  Here's how.  Let's say her name is Jane Doe.  Well, I said, "Hello, Ms. Doe."  She stopped and protested albeit playfully.  Then I offered "Hello, Ms. Jane?"  Which she still stood dumbfounded.  So hastily and finally I said "Hey Jane!"  To which she seemed ok with but - - - 

Jane is a peer in the real estate world, but she is also old enough to be my mother.  I also want to set a respectful example to my daughters.

So who's right?  My original actions?  Or was she right to be offended? Jean-Pierre

She was not right to be offended. Your address to her was your example to your daughters as to how they should address her. Making you feel uncomfortable in an innocent exchange in front of your daughters was improper on her part. It is credited to Jonathan Swift to have said, "Good manners is the art of making those people easy with whom we converse. Whoever makes the fewest people uneasy is the best bred in the room." She could have smiled and said, "Call me Jane, dear." Still, your daughters, being well-bred southern girls would know to call her Mrs. Doe unless there is a close relationship there and they have been given permission by their parents to address her as 'Ms. Jane.'" Simply being a professional peer would not warrant that address. (My opinion -- Sharman Ramsey)


 Couples Shower

I am hosting a “couples shower” perhaps a tool and gadget shower along with 2 other ladies. We are all good friends of the grooms mother and all of our sons have grown up together and are in this young mans wedding. Any suggestion as to what we should refer to this shower as? It will be fairly casual at a very nice outdoor pavilion in May. Also what is the proper protocol for gifts? Beth Ann

What a fun event! As friends of the groom, I think the perfectly fine to provide this family with guy necessities rather than the usual items considered under the woman's domain. Calling it a "Tool and Gadget Shower" lets folks know exactly what you are trying to do. All of those boys will really enjoy shopping for the things they are bound to be borrowing. Send me a picture. That sounds like something others would be inspired by!
God bless the happy couple that is so lucky to have friends like you.

Professional and Southern Greeting for Female Boss

Could you please tell me the most professional & southern greetings for a female boss?  Something similar to “Good Morning” & “Good evening”?  I am a Northerner and have offended my 100% southern boss.  If you would be so kind as to provide a few different examples so that I do not appear rude or condescending, it would be greatly appreciated!  Thank you!

"Good morning! How are you today?" is a very good greeting wherever you are. Always accompanied with a smile and sincere interest. Perhaps “Have a good evening!” when saying good night. Or "See you in the morning!” if you need something other than a simple "good night."

As you get to know your boss, you might also inquire as to specific family members, etc. A son playing in a baseball game. “Did you win?” you might ask. Or “I heard your mother was in the hospital. I hope she is doing well.”

Not necessary, just always an asset to be sincerely interested. You don’t want to get too chummy too fast, just judge according to your own personality and the limits your boss places on sharing about herself/himself. I personally think it is good to keep a distance between employee and employer especially if they of different gender. Calling your male boss Mister is a good separator and reminder that this is a job, a workplace, not a social situation.

Folks sometimes tease southerners about our inclination to ask, “How’s your mom n ‘em?”
Meaning how are your mother and the family doing? I am not saying for you to do this, but just sharing how friendly southerners are and how we pretty much know the mother and family in relationships. So don’t be surprised if that kind of friendship opens up in a business situation. Just settle in and observe for awhile. I think you will love being in the South and will soon become one of us!

May Mothers Throw Baby Showers?

Is it proper for a mother to through her daughter a baby shower?  Isn’t it usually friends who do that?

It is proper for a mother to give her daughter a baby shower. Usually there are others who join in on a baby shower, but that is not a
necessary pre-requisite. Let me share a couple of baby showers I have thrown for my own daughters and daughters-in-law. Often the mother's friends and other relatives join in to celebrate the happy event.