Don't discount weather for 'friendly' reputation

While the tradition of Southern hospitality certainly plays a major role in Charleston and other Southern destination cities getting high marks for friendliness, some locals say our generally warm weather, sunshine and time outdoors makes for a happier population, which in turn contributes to friendliness.

While Charleston is long used to being ranked No. 1 as the most polite and most friendly city in the United States, other destination cities in the Southeast rank fairly high, too.

But can we chalk it up to the tradition of Southern hospitality or is there more to it?

Some locals who travel frequently have their theories and they say living in a place with mostly warm weather, bountiful sunshine and ample outdoor activities plays a role as well.

Plus, if you live somewhere that people like to visit for vacation, it's probably not a bad place to work and play on a daily basis - and you're generally happier. And if you're happy, you're likely to be friendly, right?

As most have heard, "Conde Nast Traveler" magazine's 2014 Reader' Choice Awards ranked Charleston as the No. 1 friendliest city in the United States - again.

The trend doesn't stop there, though. Eight of the 10 friendliest cities were in the South (if you count Texas). Charleston's sister on the Georgia coast, Savannah, came in second, while her sister in the mountains of North Carolina, Asheville, finished 10th.

Meanwhile, seven of 10 "unfriendliest" are in the North and only one, Miami, was in the South - though some may argue whether New York City's so-called sixth borough is in the South. Cities in New Jersey and Connecticut took four of the five most unfriendly city spots, with Newark, N.J., being the grumpiest of the grumpy.

Jennifer McNeil Buckaloo, a personal trainer who lives on Sullivan's Island, used to work for a company that required her to travel to meetings in Newark, so she said she understands why it was the most unfriendly city.

"Newark is a very dreary, sad place," says Buckaloo, who theorizes that friendliness is closely tied to good weather.

Most of the cities on Conde Nast's most friendly list, she notes, feature mostly warm, sunny weather, which is conducive to an array of outdoor activities. By contrast, those on the unfriendly list typically have long, gray, bitterly cold winters.

"When it's cold, you tend to stay inside more, eat more, watch TV more and get outside less," said Buckaloo. "When I travel up North or even out West, I always think, 'It's nice to visit, but I could never live there.'"

Kris Pratt Price, a mother of two who lives on Daniel Island, travels about six times a year and has visited many of the places on the Conde Nast lists and agrees with most of the survey results. She, however, disagrees with the order for the first two friendliest cities.

"I love Charleston more than any city ever, but honestly, I think Savannah is friendlier," said Price. "I take girls' trips down there all the time and they always treat us like we're supermodels."

She adds that Asheville, New Orleans (No. 5 friendliest) and Key West, Florida (No. 8) are friendly because of their "laid-back" attitudes.

Price says she thinks one city, Los Angeles, didn't deserve to be on the unfriendly list. She and her husband visited LA, ranked seventh most unfriendly, two years ago.

"I expected LA to be trashy and dirty, kind of like I imagined Detroit (ranked No. 6 unfriendly) to be, but we loved it there and the people were friendly," she recalls.

"I think if you live somewhere where people regularly visit for vacation, you're living in a nice place and tend to be happier."

Perhaps some of that happiness translates into our style of hospitality?

Dan Blumenstock, director of hotel operations of Fennel Holdings and chairman of the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the kind of hospitality exhibited in Charleston is genuine, not robotic.

"When you witness a local giving a tourist directions down at the Market, it shows that hospitality, as a whole, in Charleston, is very authentic," said Blumenstock. "It (hospitality) comes across as very natural, not pushy."

Despite the fact that the South is drawing more residents who were not raised in the South, the tradition for hospitality remains deeply rooted.

Mac Burdette, executive director of Patriot's Point Naval & Maritime Museum, was raised in the Upstate but has lived in Mount Pleasant for more than 30 years.

"I think I'll stick with what my grandmother said and simply tell you that we are seemingly more friendly and more hospitable to our guests because 'It's who we are and who we always were,'" said Burdette.

Like Blumenstock, Burdette said he generally observes staffers and volunteers at Patriot's Point "treating visitors well because we have genuinely nice people working or volunteering for us."

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.