Dear Miss Annabel,
I’m a New England girl living in the South and, while I was raised with manners and taught to be proper, I’m nearly completely lost when it comes to Southern traditions and mannerisms. You see, I’ve been dating someone for a few months and it has come to my attention that his parents are coming to town and, gasp, I may have to meet them. This terrifies me because they are very traditional, old-fashioned, and Southern.
I do not know the first place to even start. My mother insists that all I have to do is “be myself,” but the last thing I want to do is be labeled “a rude Northern girl.” And since I know you are a Southern girl yourself I figured I would ask: what does one wear and how does one act when meeting her beau’s very Southern parents?
Thank you! Northern Girl
What a terrific question. Don’t worry! Meeting the parents may feel like a nerve-wracking audition or job interview, but I have plenty of pointers to help you make a fabulous first impression.
Your mother is absolutely right. You should indeed be yourself — your most gracious, vivacious, well-mannered self. Since you’ll probably be going out to dinner, I suggest you start with what to wear. The right outfit will boost your confidence and help set the tone for a lovely evening.
As you’ve probably noticed, southern women aren’t shy about embracing their femininity. Definitely wear a dress or skirt — something classic, fresh and pretty, like the ModCloth frock pictured here. Details matter, and little things like a manicure or a great pair of heels won’t go unnoticed.
Next, get ready for the all-important introductions. Your boyfriend’s parents are probably very curious about you, so be friendly, open, and prepared to answer lots of questions about yourself and your family. (Or, as we say in the south, “your people.”)
Also, be sure to ask interesting questions of your own. It’s one of the secrets of great conversationalists! If you’re feeling nervous, think of a few good ones ahead of time and tuck them in your figurative back pocket.
How was the drive down?
What all do you have planned for your visit?
How often do you get to see [boyfriend’s sibling]?
In terms of etiquette, it sounds like you already know what to do, but just in case:
- Address them as Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So unless they invite you to call them by their first names.
- Place your napkin in your lap the second you’re seated.
- Wait until one of your hosts takes a drink before sipping (in case there’s a toast).
- Don’t take a bite until everyone at the table is served.
- Thank both your host and hostess for a wonderful dinner.
- The next day, drop a handwritten thank-you note in the mail that they’ll receive soon after they get home.
One last tip: while I’m sure your boyfriend’s parents are thrilled to meet you, they’re in town primarily to visit their son. Even if you’re invited to another outing, be respectful of their family time. You may even want to bow out so as not to intrude. As a result, your beau’s parents will remember your thoughtfulness and appreciate you all the more.
I’d love to hear how this goes. Please write in with a recap if you’re willing to share. It might help other anxious girlfriends. =)
Best of luck!