Reading Dave Barry's syndicated column in the Miami Herald this week I was surprised to learn that there are several places in Miami where you can enjoy High Tea--a practice Barry defines as a ritualistic quasi-meal involving a large quantity of etiquette. My partner, whose family is British, serves what you might call a Low-Brow Tea--complete with chipped cups--in our cracker box-sized kitchen on Saturday afternoons, but that the High Tea tradition is alive and well elsewhere in Miami of all places was news that warmed the canapés of her little Wiltshire heart.
While in Miami Barry met and tea-ed at the downtown Marriott with Marjabelle Young Stewart, a manners expert who publishes an annual survey of America's Most Polite Cities. According to Barry, the primary ingredients of their meal were doilies and cute little sandwiches too tiny to be seen with the naked eye. But wait...the big surprise to me was that at least one etiquette expert considers the party city I now call home a possible candidate on a top ten of citified niceness.
Stewart said Miami had come ''pretty close'' to making her 1998 most-polite-cities list. Barry asked if her key criterion was the cleanliness of handguns. Another guest who had joined them for tea resounded this cynicism.
"I think the people here are mean-spirited,'' she observed (as only a Miami resident could). She followed this with a definitive ''Ouch!'' (Apparently Miss Stewart had pinched her under the table for her "let-me-say-something-mean-because-I-can't-think-of-anything-nice" lack of creativity.)
In 2009 the Swiss financial experts known as UBS ranked us the richest city in the US and the fifth wealthiest in the World. Filthy rich of course is not always associated with filthy generous, as one episode of the Real Housewives of Miami can teach you. But I'm happy to learn there are still those in the media who believe our city of notoriously macho male and surgery-enhanced female residents is generally well mannered in spite of the typical self-centeredness of which we're often accused.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Miami's metro area is the seventh most populous and fourth-largest urban area in the United States, with a population of 5.5 million. We are known as a tourist destination--the one that replaced that other one that died with post-imperialist Fidelism in the late fifties. We became the new-old swing city edging into Havana's previous celebratory territory, which is why we were once called the Magic City. Back then (?) we were bursting to the seams with casinos, nightclubs, exotic dancers, and glammy mobsters.
In 2008, Forbes magazine ranked Miami "America's Cleanest City." (Because of the parks, guys...not because of our reputation for drug rehabilitation. Our rate of violent crimes per square mile is after all, still seven times that of any other square mile in the state of Florida. But Miami's violent crime rate is, though worse than New York's and somewhat even with Chicago's, at least less than you could expect to deal with in Memphis according to recent studies.)
In my experience, tourism does indeed encourage cleanliness (of the garden variety, that is)--as does sunshine, sand, and palm trees--but Miami has seldom been called out for its Southern hospitality. In fact, most of the rest of the southern US has never recognized Florida as part of "The Old South" at all and we are at the bottom of Florida's recognition food chain. Plenty of Floridians will never claim our oddly tropical city as part of the real Florida. We are viewed instead as a country unto ourselves. And most Miamiites seem to like it that way.
Having spent the past week with visitors from Michigan, and having to calm them with deep breathing exercises after their first I-95 driving experience in which they practiced what I call that old "Gripping the Wheel for Your Life" bit of pleasure, I cannot say I entirely agree with Stewart's analysis of our citizens' all-around politeness. Barry too must have been thinking about Southern Florida's unique form of defensive driving when he asked Miss Stewart for suggestions to deal with motorists who treat their car like a weapon.
"If they give you a bad signal -- you know, that naughty thing they do -- you just blow them a kiss and drive on,'' she said.
I tend to be a pessimist but I'm willing to give that air-kiss strategy the old college try. Still, I confess, the sentiment expressed by another observer at the restaurant may be spot on: "I don't think in Miami you should blow them a kiss,'' she said, obviously picturing the impolite little street melee that might ensue after such a gesture.
You can read Dave Barry's complete essay at: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/02/25/24696/mind-your-ps-and-qs-and-teas.html?story_link=email_msg