Friday, May 25, 2018

Southerners and Our British Roots

Highclere Castle values its gardens as much as its interior.
Recently the royal wedding triggered a line of thought that has been traipsing through my mind for many years, and that is the close connections between Southerners and the British. Of course we know that the South was settled largely by the British. Many of the plantations of the South were originally land grants from the kings of England. But even if you cannot trace your family’s history back to its British roots, you can trace some of the South’s culture back to the United Kingdom and, thereby, explain some of our…tendencies.

When visiting the United Kingdom last year, I was taken aback by the ubiquitous use of the word “proper.” There seemed a proper way of doing everything—as exampled always by the rules of royalty. Though much of the South has taken on a more casual way of living, make no mistake about it, doing things the “proper” way is still the preferred way to many Southerners.

First of all, we (who notice) are like the British in our formal behaviors and manners.  Dining, sitting, introductions, decorating—all have protocol. Though they were too gracious to call us out on our American dining habit of switching our forks and knives when we ate, we caught the way the British looked at us. Though we eat with our forks upturned in our right hands and don’t ascribe to pushing our peas with a knife onto an upside down fork in our left hand, we have our own standards for manners when dining and interacting with others, and like the British, we would never call people out for putting their elbows on the table or for eating and talking at the same time. There is simply a way to behave in “proper” society, and then there is…the improper way. Though our “rules” may differ slightly, propriety is the overarching theme for both cultures.
Proudly on display in the Cotswalds are wool pillows,
throws and upholstered chairs, as well as wool clothing. 

Dressing for the British and for “proper” Southerners is a more formal affair, as well. The British love their tweed and wool from the Cotswalds, and we ladies from the South love our Lilly Pulitzer dresses, but what we both have in common is our united sense of dressing conservatively and well. We have a sense of what is proper to wear where and when. And though it’s not always adhered to, the rule in the South about not wearing white before Memorial Day and after Labor Day is still on the books for many in the old guard. Do I even need to point out our affinity for pearls? And nowhere is the similarity more evident than when dressing our children. We Southerners decorate our young children with smocked dresses, shorts suits and outfits made of heirloom stitching, and we slap bows the size of our little girl’s heads in their hair. We have a sense of fine fabrics, cardigans, and “proper” shoes for our little ones, as well. Just take a look at the royals—if you’re in doubt.

Serving tea is a religion in the South and in Great Britain.
The foods and beverages we consume in the South have British roots, too, though some may not fully understand. Our meat puddings, like liver pudding and hog’s head cheese, have their beginnings in merry old England, where meat pies and puddings are staples. Have you ever eaten black pudding? In the South, we call it blood pudding. And do I even need to mention the connection we have with tea? It is an everyday staple for Southerners and the British. Though we have morphed our consumptions (sweet iced tea for us and cream tea for the UK), the unifying part is the tea.

Where do you think we get our love for hunting? That’s right, Great Britain! The list is long: Fishing is a religion. We look for occasions to pull out and use our best silver. We love our Southern gardens, Southern gates, and Southern architecture—all of which harken to the United Kingdom. Like the British, we go overboard naming our children with family names. Our churches and our faith are serious business. We love to decorate our homes with English antiques or antiques that embody British aesthetics. We name our houses, gardens and lands like the British-Middleton Place Gardens, Charles Towne Landing, and Drayton Hall, just to name a few.

I’m not saying that some of these influences cannot be linked to other regions of America, but the fact that the traditions are magnified tenfold in the South cannot be disputed.
To further my point about our connections, I can direct you to my favorite Southern magazine, Garden and Gun, which is planning a trip for subscribers to Great Britain to celebrate all the things we have in common. The South’s execution of some of these traditions may be slightly different; however, our connection to the British is undeniable. Southerners have British roots that have grown deep and wide in this warm Southern soil!

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