Although I have spent more than half of my life living in the South, always by choice, I was not raised by a mom from the South, unless you mean the south end of Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn.
There were many reasons I headed south. I went to school there, I taught there and I ran a business there. My business is currently headquartered in the most geographically southern state of all, but sadly, people down here lack any of the cultural benefits of the South.
I've tried to be a bit of a student when it comes to Southern values and culture. While writing from places like Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., I've come to interview a number of locals about their sense of manners and what little acts of kindness are most appreciated.
Perhaps my favorite bit of research for a column was the uncovering of a newspaper interview with the leading socialite in Charleston on April 12, 1861. Confederate guns had opened fire on Fort Sumter earlier that morning, and by the next afternoon, the garrison commander, Maj. Robert Anderson, surrendered. That was, as you know, the start of our Civil War.
The local newspaper asked the socialite what the coming events might mean for her friends in Charleston. She patiently explained, "The boys may have their war, but I have a social season to run." In fact, parties were held during the war, including a number of debutante events at the fort.
There is something to be said for custom and, especially these days, for manners. Which is why I want to launch a crusade to ask every travel agency owner in America to purchase elegant sets of personalized thank-you stationery for every employee.
Southern women of a certain age know that typing an email thank-you to a client or a supplier is just about the crudest expression of sentiment known to man or woman. It represents a total lack of effort. Email should never serve as an attempt at authentic appreciation.
Now I want you to contrast that with a handwritten note using carefully chosen words on soft linen paper and an attempt at careful penmanship. It takes effort, and that is, as every properly raised Southerner knows, exactly the point. Here we sit at our desks, making dreams come true. We send out lists and documents, but how often do we do the most human thing of all: take time to write a note by hand?
The stationery must be handsome, and the quality must shine. All you need to motivate yourself is to ask a simple question: How do you feel when, amid the magazines and flyers and the bills, you see a hand-addressed and elegant envelope from someone you know? You will, I promise, be remembered.
One close friend familiar with New Orleans high society explained to me that it isn't "only the quality of the thank-you note; it is the timing." She noted that in some circles, it is considered essential to keep a supply of thank-you notes in the glove compartment of the car so they can be written and mailed within an hour of a client meeting or dinner.