There's a great rumor that Southern people are generally more outgoing, friendly, caring, and likeable, and that all Northern people are cold, introverted, mean-spirited, and closed-off. I submit that this is not true. Or, only a little true.
I have now lived, for varying lengths of time, in New Hampshire, Los Angeles, rural Kentucky, and greater Houston. I've also lived in suburban Romania and rural Italy, but that's besides the point (actually, so is LA, but I'm already off track and we've barely started, so let's get back to the main argument).
The point is that while I certainly don't have a particularly large breadth of experience in regards to differences between South and North, but I feel that I might have a great deal more exposure than most of the people who actually advance these claims.
Therefore, based off of my limited knowledge of this subject, here are my...
Five Points To Keep In Mind Whenever Reinforcing South/North Stereotypes.
1. Every area has their own particular war, conclusive battle, or divisive point in American history that the residents of the area look back on proudly. If you live North of the Mason-Dixon line, this is most likely the Revolutionary War, or some event surrounding the birth of our nation, such as the signing of the Declaration or the Constitution.
In the South, this is the Civil War. Northern people laugh at Southern people's fondness for the Civil War, which is a dangerous thing to do. Remember, everyone - we had them outnumbered, outfunded, and outclassed, and they kicked our asses for years before we finally pulled it together. They don't laugh at our love for the Pilgrims. And the Pilgrims weren't all that great.
In Texas, this is the Alamo. Don't mess with it. This is a big deal.
2. Southern people are no more likely than Northern people to come up and greet you on the street if they don't know you. In most cities, South or North, no one does that. People still do that in small towns, it's true, but there's no strong Southern habit that Northern people haven't picked up.
3. However, people greeting people they don't know, smiling at strangers, or sitting out on the porch and chatting with people as they go by does happen more often in the South. I know that obviously seems a major contradiction in relation to point #2, but I merely said that Southern people are no more likely to. They simply have a major advantage - weather. Since Southerners are outside more, they spend more time out on the porch and out and about on the streets, greeting neighbors and chatting with people. It's really a cumulative effect. I mean, think about it:
In more southern states, spring begins really early - let's say February. People come out of their houses in the evenings, eat outside, spend their lunch breaks outside at nearby restaurants. This goes on until about May or June, at which point the sun comes out in force and everyone disappears inside until about September. At this point, people come back outside, enjoy the weather again until it gets chilly again in November.
In the northern states, spring begins really late - it, in fact, never actually comes. At about May, though, summer appears from out of the mud and northerners rush outside. They spend every possibly second outdoors until summer abruptly disappears at about August 23rd. But they don't go back inside yet - they hang on as long as they can, until finally after about six or seven consecutive frosts, they have to admit it's time and go dig out their winter clothes. This happens about mid-September.
So Southerners are outside about 8 months a year, versus a Northern 4. That's a distinct porch-sitting advantage.
(And yes, Northern people have two entirely different sets of clothes, winter and summer. And not just stylish Northerners. Everyone does.)
4. Southern hospitality in the more traditional sense - visiting someone's house and relaxing on lawn chairs or in their living room with a pitcher of iced tea, while the hosts refuse all help in the kitchen - is absolutely true. This is somewhat true in the North, with a key difference: it's for a much shorter span. You could stay at a Southern family's house for a week, and the whole time, you would be a guest. Someone would always be looking after you, and trying to pour you a refill.
After maybe one or two meals at the household, the Northern family would have decided you'd been around the house long enough to find your own way around, and just accepted you as part of the general household. You would be responsible for finding your own drinks and you'd be making breakfast for yourself, but you'd also never feel awkward at the house - you could show up and end up spending six hours on their computer without ever making any sort of conversational effort, and you probably wouldn't even raise an eyebrow. This hosting style is both comfortingly familiar and a little strange.
5. The final major differentiation that I've consistently heard reinforced again and again by people from both areas is the spiritual divide. I've heard it said that Southern people are much more spiritual: many more people go to church, are more open about their faith, and are much more accepting of Christian culture, music, and lingo and less cynical about its many trappings. In my experience, this is true.
On the other hand, I've heard that Northerners are more dedicated to their faith, more likely to research, debate, and wrestle with the major issues of Christianity and its church, and, while less likely to toe the party line, more likely to be passionate about the issues that they do face off about. In my experience, this is true as well.
It's a conundrum to me. I find that faith in the North is generally stronger, deeper, and more personal - but at the same time it stays so deeply wrapped that no one knows about it. The world has to seek it rather than it seeking the world.
In contrast, the Southern faith is constantly seeking, trying to gather in as many as it can, trying to bring people into the fold. But the faith product that's being sold is so weak and pablum that its unpalatable to anyone seeking something deeper. It's a faith that costs you almost nothing - a little cash and your Sunday mornings.
I guess the whole gist of this final point is that maybe there's more to this North/South divide than meets the eye.