Originally created 01/25/03

Charleston, S.C., again alone atop best-mannered cities list



CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Not to be impolite, but so much for Bronx charm.

Charleston, which shared the honor a year ago with New York City, is once again alone atop the list of America's best-mannered cities.

Charleston won the top spot for the ninth time since etiquette expert Marjabelle Young Stewart started compiling her annual list 26 years ago.

New York slipped from a tie for first to No. 3 this year behind Charleston and San Diego, the host of Sunday's Super Bowl.

Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, came in fourth. San Francisco was next, followed by Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Minneapolis and Seattle.

The unscientific survey is based on thousands of faxes, phone calls, e-mails and letters Stewart received from travelers remarking on how they were treated during their trips.

"I was in Charleston about a year ago, and I couldn't get over everyone saying 'Excuse me' and 'Thank you' and 'May I help you?"' Stewart said. "Southerners have always been known for their beautiful manners."

She also noted that many retirees are flocking to San Diego and "what they like there is the feeling, the emotion, the sweetness," she said.

The manners in New York aren't quite what they were a year ago, maybe because of the weather.

"They slipped a little," Stewart said. "I think it sounds odd, but they have had a lot of bad weather. It was cold and ugly, and so people say, 'Get out of my way.' They say, 'Excuse me, please,' when the weather is fine."

Not that the weather in Charleston was anything to brag about this week. After snow flurries danced about the city Thursday, the temperature dropped to a near-record 17 degrees Friday morning.

But the winter chill didn't alter the charm of this city of pastel houses, quiet streets and shaded gardens.

"I think the whole style has grace, and with grace comes tranquility or genteelness," said Rick Widman, who with his wife, Linn Lesesne, owns five small inns in the historic district.

"When I moved here from Los Angeles, one of the things that struck me was that people everybody said 'Hi' to you and they recognized you and they were very friendly," Widman said.

"I was born and raised here, and you're raised to have good manners," Lesesne said. "Nobody would ever not stop when somebody asked you for directions."

A year ago in Charleston, where family and manners are always taken seriously, the city started a livability court. The court deals with such common rudenesses as barking dogs and trash-strewn yards.

Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said the city was honored to be the most-mannered city and the award "gives credence to our belief that the small courtesies one can offer in everyday living make a tremendous difference in the quality of life."

Stewart said the most mannerly cities seem to be dispersed throughout the nation, perhaps reflecting the times.

"Since 9/11, there has been more interest (in manners) in our country," she said. "We are all getting more family-oriented, and I think that is very healthy. It shows across the country, not just in one section."

On the Net:

Charming Inns of Charleston: www.charminginns.com

Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau: www.charlestoncvb.com