I’m originally from Tennessee, so I know a thing or two about the American South. And one thing’s for sure: the land of sweet tea and magnolia blossoms knows how to make a houseguest feel welcome.
“Southern Hospitality” means you never simply stay at someone else’s home. You’re the guest, and as such you’re fed, fussed over and made to feel like family.
Whether you live in New York or Natchez, try these 5 distinctly Southern tricks to make your guest feel at home:
If a guest feels the need to ask a host in the South for anything – including a Wifi password or a spare roll of toilet paper – it is considered downright tacky. So, prepare a few days in advance by stocking the guest bathroom up with things like toilet paper and an extra toothbrush (just in case).
Send an email out two days before with any necessary logistical information, like your Wifi network and password, your address and the garage door code. That way, everything will be taken care of before the guest arrives.
The goal here is to completely avoid any awkward or uncomfortable conversations, and it’s easy to do with a little bit of planning!
Before your guest arrives, make sure their room is ready by adding personal touches that make them feel special. For example, if they’re interested in kayaking, rent a couple of books from the library about that particular topic and place them on the bedside table. Make the room as comfortable as possible with details like scented candles and a matchbook from a local restaurant, extra towels in the bathroom and a throw blanket on the foot of the bed for chilly nights.
You want to do more than host – you want to entertain! The easiest way to do this is to be a delightful conversationalist. Here’s a trick: Before dinner, prepare two or three interesting anecdotes to discuss during dinner. Do a bit of research on your guest and make sure to include topics that they’ll find interesting.
Another good rule of thumb is to stay away from the following conversation topics: politics, religion and money. These topics are historically considered “rude” by Southern tradition. (Disclaimer: Rules are meant to be broken. My Grandmother would roll over in her grave if she heard me, but I love bringing up all three of these taboo conversation topics once I’ve gotten comfortable with someone.)
That’s right, a pineapple. According to Southern tradition, a pineapple symbolizes hospitality (More on that here.) Traditionally, the pineapple is placed either by the front door or as the centerpiece at the dinner table to visually welcome the guests. If you aren’t crazy about decorating your home with fruit, make a pineapple dessert like pineapple upside down cake instead, and use the lore of the pineapple as a conversation starter. Fun fact: According to Southern custom, the host would simply take the pineapple away when a guest had worn out their welcome. It was a subtle way to say "Get outta my house!"
If you actually have “good china” and real silver, then by all means use it! If not, this can also be used as a metaphor. Basically, make it fancy. You want the guest to see that you’ve taken an effort to make a nice dinner instead of the any-ole-Tuesday-night supper. (Whiskey and wine always helps the cause!)
The Bottom Line: When it comes to your guest, go the extra mile to make them feel special. If you treat company as a pleasure, not as a burden, they’ll notice!