If you google “Nashville nice,” you won’t find a definition or articles about it in the same way that you would for “Minnesota nice.” But as we heard on Thursday’s episode of This Is Nashville, “Nashville nice” is an attitude unique to the area.
What does Nashville nice mean?
The definition of Nashville nice varies from person to person, but it’s a shared sense of politeness and willingness to help people even if you don’t know them. It’s Southern hospitality with a Middle Tennessee twist.
“Nashville nice is Nashville-specific Southern genteelness. It’s where you come into a town people will speak to you, people will make sure you know your way. ‘Do you have a church home?’ (It’s) this making sure you’re settled in and creating initial sense of community. That’s what I experienced when … I came to Fisk University,” said Freda Player, a Metro Nashville Public School board member who first came to Nashville in 1986.
It’s also about how you treat the people closest to you.
While this unofficial code of conduct may not be obvious to someone who has only lived in Middle Tennessee, fifth-generation Nashvillian Tracey Hughes Royal saw the difference in behavior when she lived on the East Coast.
“Here’s a difference between looking a person in the eye versus not looking them in the eye. In New York, people are busy, and they have somewhere to go. So they’re not being rude; they’re being direct, and they’re trying to get to where they’re going,” said Hughes Royal.
She leads the public relations firm Tracey Royal Communications and has seen firsthand how Nashville nice influences local business.
“In terms of Nashville nice, we like to strike up a conversation and get to know you, especially if we were looking to do business,” explained Hughes Royal. “They may want to do happy hour or have dinner and break bread and understand your family, your values, your background. Where do you come from? What do you like? They will have the social conversation or the social graces before they even move into a business room.”
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Where did Nashville nice come from?
Nashville nice has roots in the local business community all the way back to the early 1900s.
The business community highlighted the kindness and graciousness of Nashville to make the city more attractive and unique, says Metro historian Dr. Carole Bucy.
“Pretty much, the Nashville establishment wanted people to know we were different from the Deep South states, and so it was this feeling of this is a unique place. It’s Southern … but it’s not that Southern,” explained Bucy.
Nashville nice is also much older, too. Bucy said that this sentiment can be traced back to well-born English colonists who settled the area.
“The English brought with them their expectations of people who were not on their level of society,” she said. “Everyone of that upper echelon expected to be treated with respect and deference.”
Christian churches also influenced the region’s behavior.
The downsides of Nashville nice
While Nashville nice promotes, well, niceness, it’s not perfect. It also gave society the “Nashville no.”
“We’re often not direct. We say, ‘Well, I’ll think about it’ when you know you don’t want to go to that or whatever it is. ‘I’ll think about it’ is really code for ‘no,'” said Bucy.
The inability to say no out of fear of being rude can have a negative impact. Vali Forrister questions the role that feeling played when she was kidnapped and sexually assaulted when she was a student a Lipscomb University.
“The man approached me at the BP station at 8th and Wedgewood, where I was getting gas, and he asked me if I could help him jumpstart his car. To my 22-year-old self, it did not occur to me to say ‘no.’ I was raised to be a good Samaritan, and I was raised to be nice. So I said, ‘Yes, as soon as I finish pumping gas, I can help,” recalled Forrister.
“Then I got in my car, and he came around to get in the passenger side. I had this little moment where my gut said, ‘This isn’t good.’ But, I overrode it because for me not to let him into my car, to make him walk while I drove, would not have been nice.”
The attacker pled guilty to his crimes against Forrister and was imprisoned. It took time for Forrister to heal from this trauma and reframe the experience.