Southern lessons

November 24th, 2009

Last week we went to Tupelo’s with some friends. Tupelo’s, as the geographically astute among us might have figured out, specializes in Southern cuisine and it is indeed all that. (And reasonably priced, Boston locals take note.) However authentic the food and drink may be, however, the wait staff is distinctly New England.

One of our friends, who is from the South herself, decided to give our delightful Italian waiter some lessons to expand his Southern repertoire beyond “you all.” I’m not sure if my friend has had server experience herself, but she focused her language lesson on the art of the hidden insult, the deployment of which surely everyone who works with the public would find a soothing balm to their psyche.

The phrase she taught him was “Bless his/her heart.” This, apparently, is a codicil to conversation that will alert one’s fellow Southerner that one does not, in fact, approve of the individual whose heart has just been blessed. As in, “My sister in law certainly does love her Yankee Swap,* bless her heart,” or a simple, “Ahmedinejad, bless his heart.” Our waiter seemed to like this a lot, and I wonder how many “Of course we can substitute olive oil for bacon drippings, bless your heart”s he’ll be muttering in days to come.

(*The mere existence of the Yankee Swap ought to be enough to convince anyone that the South, despite its iron-fist-in-velvet-glove reputation, has not entirely cornered the market on sweet-seeming passive aggression.)

9 Responses to “Southern lessons”

  1. JoGeek on November 24, 2009 11:29 am

    Interesting how enforced holiday fun generates almost as much vitriol as kids and religion :-)

  2. Hope on November 24, 2009 12:18 pm

    I love Tupelos! Their crepes are out of this world delicious.

  3. Shulamuth on November 24, 2009 1:54 pm

    JoGeek, is that a Southern use of “Interesting?

  4. Carolyn on November 24, 2009 5:24 pm

    Molly Ivins’s great old example: “That Dan Quayle, bless his heart….”
    The update, and how I wish Ms. Ivins were around to issue it, would be “Sarah Palin…”

  5. JoGeek on November 25, 2009 2:21 pm

    Shulamuth: I hardly think southerners have cornered the market on enigmatic sarcasm :-)

  6. Shulamuth on November 26, 2009 3:09 pm

    Southern “interesting” isn’t (at least intentionally) enigmatic sarcasm. It’s what you say about something you can’t think of anything nice to say about. Admittedly, this has the same end-result, but it’s meant differently.

  7. Robin on November 27, 2009 11:08 am

    How does Southern “interesting” compare to Vulcan “fascinating”?

  8. JoGeek on November 30, 2009 9:23 am

    I’d say enigmatic sarcasm is all about the intent. The southern “interesting” in the mouth of a northerner is going to be more about snark than filler.

    If sarcasm falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it offend?

  9. Robin on November 30, 2009 12:01 pm

    JoGeek, I believe that situation is what is called “sarchasm”: “The giant gulf between what is said and the person who doesn’t get it.”

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