Sunday, March 04, 2007

Crying over spilt wine

On page 98 of Supreme Conflict is a little story that highlights one of the most infuriating things about the South: namely, that Southern hospitality is largely crap and that the true basis of many, if not most, Southern social relations is in fact passive-aggression.*

Then-Judge Souter is brought down to D.C. to audition for the Supreme Court. He is secretly stashed at the Luttig house the night before his interviews. The passage starts here:
At dinner that night, Luttig found Souter gracious and confident, though a bit socially awkward and unable to read his southern hosts. Elizabeth [Luttig] offered Souter a glass of wine, even though the Luttigs don't drink.

"That would be nice," he said, and Elizabeth went off looking for a bottle.

She returned . . . . "The only bottle we have is one Chief Justice Burger gave Mike to have on a special occasion," she said with a rueful smile, waiting for Souter to politely decline, as would be expected of a man raised with southern traditions. [Bunch of stuff about how Luttig was like a son to Burger.] Luttig had been saving that bottle.

New Englander Souter missed the cue. "Oh, well, that would be nice," he said.

Elizabeth opened the wine, and the three spent the dinner talking about New Hampshire.
If you don't drink, why offer someone wine? Wouldn't that mean you aren't likely to have wine in the house? And if the only bottle of wine you have is one you're saving for yourself (and what are you saving it for if you don't drink, anyhow?), then why tell a guest it's available?
And did Souter drink the whole bottle himself, or did the Luttigs decide that they did drink, after all?

And isn't entertaining the next Supreme Court justice a special occasion? (Souter wasn't a sure thing yet, but it was down to two.) What's more, wouldn't this have been special for Souter? Denying the wine would have required him to say that this was not an important occasion: is this a hospitable position to put a guest in?

So Souter didn't realize that he was supposed to be self-effacing and decline the bottle of wine and this is somehow a great faux pas and evidence of his social awkwardness. But holding on to your resentment for sixteen years and crying over spilt wine to a journalist is perfectly okay and does not in the least undermine your status as great Southern hosts. Whatever.

* I apologize in advance to my judge, for whom this may be second only to Lee = traitor in the ranks of disses to the South.
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