Southern Comfort

Generally, I like to think that I’m regarded as a fairly polite person. Yes, I’m a Londoner, and we’re not known for being super friendly or outgoing, but I do on occasion break the ‘no talking on the tube’ rule and always respond positively to the (many, many) people who stop me for directions on a daily basis. [I’m beginning to wonder if I have a sign on my forehead that offers this service…]

However, I don’t think I was fully prepared for the assault on my London sensibilities that would be the southern form of politeness. Reaching the gate for my flight to Atlanta, my hard exterior proved no match for the hundred or so Americans making their way home to the South (very few Brits seem to fly Delta). I’d barely been there 5 minutes when a group of men with epic beards and wearing dungarees engaged me in conversation – it was my own fault, their dialogue about the ways in which they were transporting Devon roses back to their wives tickled my interest. Before I knew it I was being given recommendations for things to do across the great state of Texas.

On board, the air stewards compounded my feelings of inferiority in the politeness stakes. There’s just something about being called “Ma’am” and having drinks brought to your seat that takes service to another level. It connected with what I like to call my ‘Waitrose mentality’. Waitrose is an upmarket supermarket (a branch is my closest grocery store) with a tendency of employing older ladies on their checkouts. This women are so nice to you that it shames me into ramping up my usual politeness several levels – headphones come completely out of ears; full attention is given; conversation is entered into; and my accent becomes even more plummy than it is usually. On board my flight, and for pretty much the entire time I was away, this was the mentality I adopted. No cynicism, no sarcasm, no ignoring people, no elbowing people out of the way, no avoiding conversation at all costs – it was quite the behavioural mind bender.

For example, when was the last time an attendant at a cheap clothing store (I’m thinking Primark…) wished you a good day, asked about the things you were trying on, or even commented on just how cute the skirt was that you’d chosen? [Lady in Old Navy, I salute you for your confidence inspiring compliments!] Or how about actual sincerity from a waitress and genuine interest from them in ensuring you have the very best frozen cocktail experience? [Cynically, we pondered whether one waitress was genuinely flirting with our male companion, or simply knew how to get a good tip – we went for the latter…]

It’s instilled from childhood too. I was slightly nonplussed when a friend’s 3 year old child addressed me as “Ma’am”, but I suspect he’s being brought up very properly. [As opposed to the child of a total stranger who at that point was using my backside as an obstacle course in the river in which we were lying…]

It all had quite an effect on me. By the time we’d boarded the first leg of our flight home, leaving San Antonio for Detroit, I’d had my first truly positive experience of airport security; a long chat with the man in Duty Free regarding the relative merits of Bombay Sapphire & Tanquerry gin; and then proceeded to chat without inhibition with an elderly lady from Michigan. Texas has changed me, and probably for the better…

…well, at least until my next rush-hour Piccadilly Line experience.

Another reason to fly Delta: that drink on the right is wine. 
It’s served in larger quantities than non-alcoholic beverages, like the Diet Coke on the left.

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