Charleston School of Protocol and Etiquette
After a 12-year reign, Charleston officials have agreed with a survey's organizer that it has held the "Most Mannerly" title long enough, opting to cede it to its Colonial-era sister city on the Georgia coast.
"We've kind of reached the pinnacle," said Cindy Grosso, who owns the Charleston School of Protocol and Etiquette and assumed responsibility in 2007 for tabulating votes in the 32-year-old survey. "I just thought it's time to share the award."
Grosso planned to present the best-mannered city award Thursday to Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson, who applauded Charleston's graciousness. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley earlier this year accepted a separate award from Grosso for his city's long-standing recognition for courtesy.
While the two Southern cities now compete for tourism dollars and business at their bustling sea ports, their rivalry dates to shortly after the founding of Georgia's oldest city in 1733. A number of 18th-century settlers left Savannah for Charleston (then Charles Town) in protest over Georgia's short-lived prohibition against owning slaves.
Comedian Stephen Colbert, who grew up in Charleston, has cracked jokes at Savannah's expense. On Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," he once referred to "Savannah, the cradle of Southern civility, after Charleston."
For more than a decade, voters choosing the best-mannered city have agreed. Grosso said Charleston finished first in the latest poll with about 25 percent of roughly 1,700 votes - most cast via a link on her Web site. Savannah was the runner-up with 5 percent in the unscientific survey.
Johnson, the mayor since 2004, said the recognition is well-deserved by Savannah, which has long referred to itself as the Hostess City of the South.
"This is another acknowledgment that we have branded ourselves correctly," Johnson said. "I hope we earn it outright next year."
The "Most Mannerly City" survey was started in 1977 by etiquette expert Marjabelle Young Stewart, who wrote more than 20 books on proper manners and tutored the daughters of Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon in civility.
For 30 years, Stewart awarded the title to cities from her home in Kewanee, Ill., based on thousands of letters she received from travelers and etiquette students. After she died in 2007, Stewart's husband asked Grosso to keep the award going.
Johnson, a Savannah native, says old-fashion manners literally pay off in helping Savannah attract more than 6 million tourists a year.
Grosso has a theory on why people would rank Savannah and Charleston among the nation's most courteous cities: The sweltering summer heat makes people nicer.
"When it's hot, you move a little slower," she said. "And when you move a little slower, you have time to hold the door and time to say 'Good morning.'"
Bill Stuebe, who moved to Savannah 11 years ago from New York, said he's not surprised Savannah would be recognized for good manners.
Stuebe, a former president of the city's Downtown Neighborhood Association, said he and his wife were stunned by how friendly people were during one of their first trips to buy groceries at a Savannah supermarket.
"We were checking out and the cashier said, 'You need some lime with your Corona beer,'" Stuebe said. "We said we couldn't find any. She said, 'Well, I'll go get it for you.' That wouldn't happen in New York."