In perusing the Internet I stumbled across an article written by a Mr. Jeff Fitzgerald titled 15 Things A Man Must Do To Be Considered A True Southern Gentleman. I’m not familiar with Mr. Fitzgerald and have not read anything else he’s written, but he makes a pretty good summary of fifteen food-related mannerisms of a Southern Gentleman. I recommend perusal of the full article, but I want to take a moment to apply Mr. Fitzgerald’s points to other areas of a Southern Gentleman’s essence.
- A Southern Gentleman is fad-proof. While this is true of multiple aspects of a Southern Gentleman’s life, it does not mean that he never adapts to the changes of society around him. Observations of manners of dress among Southern Gentlemen will indicate that while lapels and ties grow and shrink as trends wax and wane, a well curated wardrobe can weather the seasons of time from one’s teenage years onto later in life (barring the ebb and flow of ones waistline, to be certain). Likewise, the Southern Gentleman can appreciate music across multiple genres and generations, depending on the mood and the venue. When in New Orleans or Memphis, he mellows to the tunes of B.B. King or Louis Jordan. In Nashville, it might be Brad Paisley, Jerry Reed, or the man in black, Johnny Cash. In Huntsville, it’s Microwave Dave and the Nukes. In all aspects of life, a Southern Gentleman doesn’t eschew the old just because something new is trending.
- A Southern Gentleman has time to say entire words. Here, Mr. Fitzgerald is terse but precise, and the only things I would add to what he said in his article is that anything worth saying is worth clearly enunciating.
- A Southern Gentleman can cook. Yes sir, he can.
- A Southern Gentleman eats what is put in front of him, and receives it gladly. A Southern Gentleman is also appreciative of other acts of kindness and hospitality. When someone offers us a gift, we shouldn’t turn it down. This is an insult to the generosity of the giver. We accept it graciously and look for a way to pay it forward to someone else.
- A Southern Gentleman knows how to dine properly at a white tablecloth restaurant or a roadside Barbecue stand. In all areas of life, a Southern Gentleman knows the protocol for the event. He blends in with others around himself without being out of place.
- A Southern Gentleman never, ever wastes food. And a Southern Gentleman is a conservator of all that God has blessed him with. He’s not an environmentalist zealot, but he cares for nature. That’s often difficult to do in our disposable, consumerist society, but he tries, nonetheless.
- A Southern Gentleman always treats the restaurant wait staff with kindness and respect. And the janitor, and the lady at the checkout counter, and so forth.
- A Southern Gentleman respects tradition, but relishes new experiences. Going back to my earlier musical reference, just because he listens to Johnny Cash and B.B. King doesn’t mean he can’t also enjoy the Lacs or CeeLo Green. Even anachronistic curmudgeons need to freshen up the playlist every now and then. This applies across all aspects of life.
- A Southern Gentleman would gladly lay down his life for his family, his friends, his fellow man, or his country. But if he’s going to make that sacrifice, it had better be worth it. The Southern Gentleman who has served in the military made an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; …will bear true faith and allegiance to the same“. He is honor-bound to uphold his oath even when the politicians are less than honorable and do not uphold theirs.
- A Southern Gentleman doesn’t lord his culinary knowledge over others. And he doesn’t berate others with less education or experience than he has. While he may be better educated and well-off, he doesn’t make a show of it. Does that mean he speaks like an imbecile? No, he speaks eloquently, as a man of proper breeding naturally does. He speaks intelligently and respectfully, but not in a manner that puts down others who have not the education or experience he has been blessed with.
- A Southern Gentleman also doesn’t feign expertise, nor does he refuse advice. This statement extends well beyond food into all aspects of the Southern Gentleman’s life.
- A Southern Gentleman understands that Southern food is not one thing, but a collection of distinct regional cookery further delineated by the individual styles of predominantly domestic cooks. Likewise, there is not just one Southern culture. A Southern Gentleman from New Orleans will have very different traits from his colleagues in Nashville, Huntsville, Charleston, or Richmond.
- A Southern Gentleman is respectful of, and knowledgeable about, other cultures’ food. Mr. Fitzgerald’s comment on Philly cheesesteak’s is spot-on. Having eaten a real cheesesteak while working in the Philadelphia area, anything else is a weak imitation. Likewise, a Southern Gentleman is respectful of, and knowledgeable about, other cultures in general. A Southern Gentleman will not be dismissive of a culture just because it is not his own.
- A Southern Gentleman is never completely dry. On this point I must disagree with Mr. Fitzgerald, unless he allows a glass of sweet iced tea to count toward whetting one’s whistle.
- And finally, a Southern gentleman eats. Mr. Fitzgerald eloquently describes the decorum a Southern Gentleman maintains when engaging in this most pleasing activity. Borrowing Mr. Fitzgerald’s words and making an expanded application: “He sits down to a [pursuit] and devotes his time and attention to the enjoyment of the [pursuit] and company“. Anything worth doing is worth doing right and enjoying thoroughly, while in the company of one’s friends and family.
I sincerely enjoyed Mr. Fitzgerald’s article and the opportunity to ponder and make other application of it. My only regret is that it took me so many years to discover it.