To gloat would be, perish the thought, impolite. But again Charleston tops the unofficial list of the best-mannered cities in the United States.
It’s the tenth time, and the ninth year in a row, this city of pastel buildings and ocean breezes has taken or shared top honors since etiquette expert Marjabelle Young Stewart started compiling her annual list 27 years ago.
“I think it’s because they got on top, my dear, and decided they were going to stay there,” said Stewart, of Kewanee, Ill., and author of 17 etiquette books. “It isn’t just Charleston. It’s the people who make it so human and kind and loving.”
Other cities come and go from the list, but the constant is Charleston, she said.
A number of Midwestern cities tied for second place this year: Springfield, Ill., Peoria, Ill., and the Quad Cities, which include Bettendorf and Davenport in Iowa and Moline and Rock Island in Illinois.
“They are all about the same size and have the same attitudes and their approaches are the same — they are very wholesome, friendly people,” Stewart said.
Pensacola, Fla., was third, San Francisco was fourth, and the Omaha, Neb., and Council Bluffs, Iowa, area was fifth. Rounding out the list were Nashville, Tenn., New York, Seattle, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Secrets of its success
One of the keys to Charleston’s friendliness may be its livability court, which handles quality-of-life complaints such as barking dogs, loud parties and trash in yards. The city has operated the court for the past two years.
However, Judge Michael Molony said Charlestonians tend to be so polite they are sometimes reticent to complain about their neighbors.
“I hear this a lot, somebody will say to me, ’I didn’t want to confront my neighbor about this. I was embarrassed’ or ’We get along fine but, boy this has been a problem for me,”’ he said.
“I always try to make sure that when people leave they know they are always going to be neighbors,” he added.
The city’s sidewalks and small shops also may help make the city more polite because residents roam the streets and interact, Molony said.
“It’s not like Atlanta or Charlotte where people are isolated in their cars and listening to their radios or talking on their cell phones,” he said. “When people have human interaction ... it brightens your spirit a little bit and if I see a tourist standing on the corner of Church and Broad streets looking at a map, I might say ’May I help you?”’
Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said the awards were simply “reflective of the good hearts that we find in our city’s people.”
The unscientific survey is based on letters and faxes Stewart receives from people who have taken her etiquette courses, and the general public. Stewart estimates she received more than 10,000 this year.