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Visiting Texas - cultural differences?!

I will be visiting in late March - my first visit :). Have been to West coast USA previously.

What should I expect in terms of - language (no swearing?), guns (will people actually wear them?), tipping (how much, when and just how?) and 10-gallon hats (are these really a thing?)?

I realise this could be seen a lot like asking French people whether they all wear berets, stripes and carry a baguette - so I apologise if you think my post sounds ignorant and stupid...but...I'm curious as to how accurate are my stereotypes and preconceived ideas?!

I'm expecting that my accent will lead to some misunderstandings. :)

Posted by
1308 posts

I lived in Texas for a few years decades ago, so I hesitate to say anything other than Texas is huge and it would help to know exactly where in Texas you will visit.

Posted by
13559 posts

Being a Texan I can say we speak damn good English and language ain't no big deal. Unlike that stuff the Brits talk.

Thanks to TV and the like, most all Americans talk real good now.

10 gallon hat? Naaaa, but the occasional Bever Stetson. Boots? Yea, quite a few.

Guns? You probably won't see any. But that's because concealed carry is legal here. Maybe 5% of all Texans carry one on them or in their car. Open carry is also legal, but you rarely see it. I choose concealed carry.

Tipping, 10% min. 15% to 20% not uncommon. Nothing if you haven't got it or the service was bad.

Where in Texas?

Posted by
4690 posts

Lived in Fort Worth, Texas for years. I swore, never saw a gun, wouldn’t know what a ten gallon hat even looks like and I tipped 20-25%.

Posted by
1103 posts

Oh my!! Thank you, dear Kiwi person, for your sincere questions which still gave me a really well-needed giggle for the day. I grew up in Oklahoma (just north of Texas) and live in Louisiana (just east of Texas) and have been through and visited Texas many, many times. Oh, yes, many there (still) believe that their's is a country unto themselves. However, if you put a New Zealander and a Texan side by side, it would usually be purt-near darn impossible to figure out who is who. Malls, interstates, gardens, suburbs - pretty standard US versions. Usually your typical Texan doesn't swear excessively - except at football games, and guns are not usually tossed around - except on TV shows. Really, Texas has some beautiful hill country, fine museums, and lovely people (and that's from an Okie!) Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, and many other cities are extremely cosmopolitan with many visitors and citizens who were born very far away from Texas. Still, many that you meet will appreciate your accent, and offer you a very warm, Texas welcome! Enjoy!

Posted by
2018 posts

I have driven through Texas but haven't spent much time there. I would expect the Texans will find your accent very charming! I know I would. Your post doesn't sound at all ignorant or stupid; it sounds like you're looking for information to counteract what you call your 'stereotypical and preconceived ideas'.

Posted by
3491 posts

Language is mostly American English. Depending on the part of Texas, it might be heavily accented with Mexican Spanish. Houston, being the multinational melting pot of Texas will have nearly every imaginable accent from the most multicultural residents anywhere in the state. Swearing is no more or less than you hear anywhere else these days.

Guns will mainly be seen on police officers. At the airport in Houston, they carry their AR-15 rifles with them (why? guess it makes them feel safer). Occasionally you will see a pickup truck with a gun rack in the back window and a rifle and/or shotguns locked to it. This would be mainly in more rural areas. Otherwise, you probably won't see any guns at all.

Tipping is expected in restaurants. 15% or more added to the total bill when you are leaving. The credit card slips for signature actually have a line on them where you can add the tip amount, but you can leave a cash amount separately if you prefer. But if you don't feel the service was that good, tip whatever amount you want. A couple dollars for hotel staff that help you with your bags to the room is appreciated. Most other services at hotels will include a pre determined tip amount. A dollar at the coffee shop if they make you a fancy drink. Otherwise, follow what you do at home.

10-gallon hats do not refer to the volume of the contents. It is a corruption of a Spanish word referring to the hat band and means the hat is large enough to need 10. Basically, a cowboy hat. And no, not everyone in Texas wears or even owns one. During the local livestock shows and rodeos the cities will have more people dressed in western wear (that would be February in Houston).

I spent most of my life in Houston. Most of my vacations were elsewhere in Texas while I lived there. I still go back as often as I can. It is a fun place. I'm sure you will enjoy your time there.

Posted by
173 posts

"Houston, being the multinational melting pot of Texas will have nearly every imaginable accent from the most multicultural residents anywhere in the state."

Yes, indeed. This also means that we have a vibrant restaurant scene with every ethnic cuisine imaginable! We're not just Tex-Mex and barbeque anymore, although ours is the best around. Like many other places, Texas stereotypes abound. Our state is so vast and diverse that it's hard to answer "what should I expect".

Posted by
3789 posts

I was in San Antonio two years ago. The people were often the friendliest I have met.
However it is the only city visited that states carrying guns on the bus is not allowed. I didn't see any carried openly and didn't dwell on it. Saw more at the flea markets in Pennsylvania. Beautiful countryside

Posted by
6872 posts

If I could sum up Texas in one word, it would be "BIG". Everything is big.... the state itself (huge), distances between cities, meal portions, cars/trucks, homes, etc. Huge rodeo culture, plus huge (American) football culture (not too different from other places in the US, but still seemed pretty pronounced to me). Meat, tacos, Tex-Mex, and B-B-Q and lots of cuisine of all types in the large/r cities - get ready for lots of calories! Obviously, rich Spanish/ Mexican history reflected all over the place. Great mix of Mexican, Anglo, and mestizo plus very multicultural in Houston beyond those groups (Houston is representative of where the US is heading demographically). People are very friendly, open and down-to-earth - you'll easily see someone wearing a cowboy hat, bolo tie, and boots (the whole get-up) even in fine dining establishments (not unlike J.R. Ewing but likely overweight). Yes, you do get the hint that guns are popular even if concealed. Lots of diversity in landscapes, beautiful Hill Country in the middle, and laid-back feel. I would definitely try to see Austin/Hill Country (many Germans settled there historically and it has that feel), San Antonio, Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston if you have a lot of time to spare - each has its unique qualities (even Houston and Dallas, which typically aren't on the tourist radar).

Posted by
94 posts

Mark - following my home tipping customs would probably cause an outrage as we just don’t! Previously in the US I have found tipping awkward in situations where you can’t just ‘add it to the bill’ eg. a guide. I am wondering if I’m supposed to do that weird handshake thing with the notes in your hand?

While you are all being very kind and reassuring that it’s not that different....I still have my doubts!

I will report back after...

Posted by
2234 posts

As with most destinations you would benefit by getting out of the big cities and into the countryside - as wide and expansive as it is in the state of Texas. I agree that the Hill country in and around Austin and San Antonio should be a priority. For the sake of "something different" you might also include El Paso in the west, which has a Tex-Mex culture all it's own and which would be at least somewhat central to trips up to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and Big Bend National Park down along the Rio Grande. A visit to either or both would provide a pretty good overview of the charms of this part of the American Southwest.
Count on meeting kind, friendly, and helpful people wherever you go ... just like En Zed.

Posted by
31471 posts

Kiwi,

"I am wondering if I’m supposed to do that weird handshake thing with the notes in your hand?"

I haven't been to Texas, but I've never seen the "weird handshake thing" used anywhere that I've travelled in my life, and I'm assuming that Texas is much the same as other places. If you're paying with a card (debit or credit), the tip option is normally presented on the POS terminal before the transaction is finalized. If you're paying with cash just leave it on the table with the bill, or hand it to the server and tell him/her not to worry about the change. It's a very informal process.

Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
3789 posts

Tuck a cash tip under the plate rim and walk away with a 'thanks'.. I hate the awkward hand exchange of money.

Posted by
94 posts

Ken - to be more specific...I mean someone like a guide, where you’ve already paid for the guiding. Eg. a bike tour. It seems very awkward. Previously in Canada in this exact situation I watched to see what everyone else did, and they (Americans FYI) didn’t seem to do anything! I assumed I missed something but then wondering if it was ‘the secret handshake’?

Oh well, if no secret handshake exisits then I guess it’s just handing over cash (which feels patronising, but I will get over it to do the right thing).

Here we would just say thanks and wander off..,!

Posted by
901 posts

Something else about Texas, and the US south in general, is people are very friendly, smile a lot, and engage in small talk. A lot of my "Yankee" friends (and I use that term lovingly!) are like, "Why are these people talking to me?! Why is that person smiling at me?! What do they want? Are they going to rob me?!" when in fact it's just the Southern hospitality at work.

Posted by
3111 posts

We went to Las Vegas last month and I thought I’d died and gone to cowboy heaven. We happened to be there during the National Finals Rodeo week and I had never seen so many big hats, fringe, leather and embroidered shirts. People were really dressed up! As someone who lived in Oklahoma for a few years and visited Texas on occasion, it brought back memories.

The fashion extreme that I noticed right away (and don’t see in other parts of the US during our frequent travel) was excessive, long leather fringe on women’s jackets and especially purses. My goodness, some of the fringe was more than 2 feet long.

Posted by
126 posts

I live in Texas, at the very tip of the state (Brownsville).

Language, I don't know exactly which cities you'll be, but be prepare to hear many languages. I mean we all (almost all) speak English but you'll hear a lot of Spanish too; because I live in a border city (with Mexico) I speak mostly Spanish, but being fluent in both languages, I switch to either depending of the situation. Don't worry about it. I think people will like your accent.

Guns, I've only seen cops wearing their guns, the majority of people that carrying a gun, conceal it. You don't even notice if someone is carrying a gun or not.

Tipping, in restaurants is 10-20% depending on the service, and we usually leave the money on the table or add it to the ticket if paying with credit card. I've never seen people doing the secret handshake. I would tip at restaurants, hotels, the attendant at the car wash or the guy at valet parking. If I remember more I'll come back and tell you, but I think that's it.

About the hats, not everybody wears them, boots are more common. My dad, for example, is a boots guy, and he has hats, but wears them only on special occasions.

Last but not least, I echo the suggestion of going to Hill Country, Fredericksburg has some nice cabins and the downtown has a very nice German feel to it. Wineries here in Texas are very good too, and I've been to a few around that area. In the spring you can see the famous bluebonnet blooming everywhere.

I hope I was of help, and have a great trip.

Posted by
94 posts

Thank you all for the interesting thoughts and suggestions!

Posted by
308 posts

I lived in Austin for 8 years and was always fascinated by how seriously the locals take the food and music culture. I would highly recommend combining a visit to Austin with San Antonio and the Hill Country. A visit to the State Capitol and Bullock history museum is worthwhile. It is intriguing to think of how many national flags have flown over Texas.

Coming from South Dakota, where we are generally reserved until we get to know someone, I had to get used to how warm and friendly Texans are!

Posted by
13559 posts

I grew up about half my life in the Texas Hill country and live nearby to this day. 75% of the older gentleman still wear their hats, the younger will be in either cowboy hats or gimmie caps, but head cover is pretty much the norm. Boots are also pretty much the norm in the country as are massive pickup trucks. In the winter, during whitetail season you would be hard pressed not to see guns as the hill country is hunting ground zero. As you drive along I am certain you will spot a gun shop or two, and if you turn on the AM radio the odds are fair you will find a radio show debating the best gun for home defence or the largest gun your grandmother can safely handle. Of course, this is a region with a homicide rate lower than most places in Europe. You can safely walk home from the bar at 2am.

I know a few places within an hour of San Antonio where you would be the only one with out boots and a hat (or it's in the truck). But I also know from experience that these folks would talk your ear off and make you feel like family.

Tips? Dont fret it. The waitress will understand no matter what you leave. Been plenty of times in my life that I just didn't have it. Its appreciated when you do tip, but you are not thought bad of if you dont .... generally speaking. But if you get confused, just tell the service person and they will help.

If you do get this way you need to see a county rodeo and visit one of the German or Czech or Alsacisn towns. A hundred and 50 years later I know a place where there are still a few old timers that call me "English" because I am not Alsacian, but that is a rapidly dying thing.

I spent the other half of my life in Houston, and beyond the hospitality, nothing I just said applies there.

Oh, and if you want to impress the locals, when driving a country road and you see a car approaching from the other direction, with both hands near the top of the steering wheel, lift the index finger on your right hand high enough to be seen, and see how many return the "howdy"

Posted by
902 posts

Kiwi- love your question. I had a good chuckle. I have lived in Oklahoma all my life. Have actually had someone ask if we live in teepees here in Oklahoma.

Posted by
1812 posts

Native of Oklahoma with the last 30 years here in West Texas, so I thoroughly enjoyed reading your question and all the answers! And seeing who has Texas roots. :) Agnes is right - big is key. Boots are real, guns are there, pickups are a thing, and the grocery store cashier talks to you like she’s known you all your life. And with four distinct geographical regions, there is a lot of diversity.

Posted by
94 posts

Well, I definitely didn't know that cowboy boots were an actual thing (I assumed just TV Texas - not real Texas)...so now I will be on the look out!

Posted by
6872 posts

I definitely didn't know that cowboy boots were an actual thing.

Oh yes. They sure are. You have to go to one of the dancehalls (there's a neat one in Gruene in the Hill Country) - everyone will be wearing them. Did I also mention the rodeos? And the livestock shows.

Another "thing" is the weird "Don't Mess with Texas" trademark everywhere. It's not what it seems although it sounds like it (it's actually an anti-littering campaign).

Posted by
3685 posts

Another native Texan joining in here. I was born and grew up in San Antonio and lived in Austin and Fort Worth before I moved out of state at 29. Over the years I've regularly visited and continue to visit my many friends and relatives there, mostly in San Antonio, Austin, the Hill Country, the Houston area and Galveston.

My first job out of college was at the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio. I highly recommend that you visit it for an understanding of the state's multi-cultural past and present. Of course, the Alamo is also in downtown San Antonio. You might also find this free Texas Almanac of interest, but it is very big, just like everything in Texas!

If you're in Austin on Friday and are into guitars, visit the Collings guitar shop.

Public transportation is minimal so renting a car will be mandatory. Try to use it to see some fields of bluebonnets which should be blooming while you are there.

The most fascinating part of Big Bend National Park (currently closed due to the shutdown) to me is seeing Santa Elena Canyon. The Rio Grande runs through it. Mexico is on the left and the US is on the right in this picture.

I'm not sure if it's possible these days, but a fun thing to do on the way there and near Del Rio is to go to Amistad Dam and take pictures with one foot in Mexico and one in the US.

Based on my experience, you'll hear swearing, see no visible guns, tip like anywhere in the US, see more cowboy hats outside the big cities (Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin in that order), and see boots anywhere, maybe on your own feet before you leave. You will hear lots of accents in Texas. Texans will love yours.

Posted by
5493 posts

I am a native Texan and you will find the people there to be some of the friendly you will find in the USA. Also, there is more of a culture of civility and helpfulness than you would find in places like New York and Boston.

There are regional accents in the USA and Texans may have something of a drawl, but nothing like what I found when I visited Scotland.

If you like Mexican food, it is fantastic in Texas. You may find some Texas hats, especially in more rural area. If you ever had to work out in the sun on a farm in the Summer, you could not survive without such a hat.

Posted by
725 posts

If you want to find the best restaurant in a small town in West Texas, look for the place with the most pickup trucks! Never fails!

Posted by
2914 posts

Kiwi,

I understand your question. Texas seems like a different country to me, and I do my best to avoid it. However, it likely won't affect your visit. And it will likely be an interesting culture for you to visit.

It's my impression their guns are concealed in their bags, out of site, which I find more frightening (that's likely to get me in trouble, but I'm headed to the doctor's office so I'm a bit crabby. LOL)

Regarding the accent, if you watch BBC series played in America, the accent they always have the American actors play seems like Texas to me, urban. (That really irritates me because the US has so many different languages and beliefs.) Every single American accent that I hear in these shows is the same. Off the top of my head: Foyles War. Oh, Love Actually, but that was mimicking George W. Bush who was a bit Texan so that one might not count.

The 'in the palm handshake tip' is not generally used. I have a few times, but it is to quietly reward or to assure you get the service you are requesting. Usually used in up scale locations. It is not ever necessary to use it so don't worry about it.

Posted by
3491 posts

I am wondering if I’m supposed to do that weird handshake thing with the notes in your hand?

No, that's New Jersey when you deal with the Mafia. :-) Or at the very expensive restaurants when you want to get the maître d' to get you a table skipping the line of others waiting (don't think that really works anyway).

For tour guides and other similar people you want to tip, just give them the money quietly at the end of the activity. No need to make any fuss at all, a simple heart felt thanks when handing the cash is all that is necessary. And, depending on the activity, don't be surprised if they refuse to accept it. If you paid enough for the activity, the tip was included.

Posted by
797 posts

I'm not from Texas, but I've spent some time there (down around El Paso, mostly) and I grew up in the Southwest. Boots are standard pretty much anywhere in the States adjoining Mexico. If you get a good pair you'll know why, but start out with a walking heel unless you plan to ride. I've pretty much put mine away though as they are not optimum with the rainfall in my current abode. I still wear the Stetson, it's great in rain. Swearing seems to be more of an issue with folks under 30, and guns are not what the media makes out.

Enjoy your trip, Texas has lot's to see.

Posted by
13521 posts

Enjoyed the read!

...when driving a country road and you see a car approaching from the
other direction, with both hands near the top of the steering wheel,
lift the index finger on your right hand high enough to be seen, and
see how many return the "howdy"

LOL! That's not just a Texas thing! It's also the standard "how-do" in my part of the rural Midwest/Upper Midwest.

Posted by
2399 posts

Kiwi - Where exactly in Texas will you be visiting? El Paso, Amarillo, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Galveston, East Texas, the Rio Grande Valley, Dallas - these are all very different places.

If you would let us know your destination(s), we could give you better suggestions.

Posted by
1222 posts

Oh Kiwi, your are naughty. I was in Houston in 1986 for a few days and here are my observations. Admittedly, things may have changed somewhat since.

"language (no swearing?)" - less than a Millwall supporter on an average day, for sure, but about the same as an All Blacks fan whose team has just lost in the last few seconds to the Wallabies.

"guns (will people actually wear them?)" - only the real men.

"tipping (how much, when and just how?)" - I tipped very little when required, that's when the swearing usually came into play.

"10-gallon hats (are these really a thing?)?" - of course, but a 12 gallon hat is favoured by people in the know. That or a baseball cap. My dear old neighbour here in Ontario, John Ross, originally hailed from Dallas. In bed he would wear nothing but his 12 gallon hat and a pair of size fourteen rattlesnake boots. His wife always had a smile on her face, mind, so who am I to pass judgement?

"I'm expecting that my accent will lead to some misunderstandings. :)" - you should hear their accents.

The secret handshake is something which exists around the world, not just in Texas. I know this because I saw it on the Simpsons.

"Have actually had someone ask if we live in teepees here in Oklahoma." - Kim, are you saying it's not true?

Posted by
173 posts

As a person that spent the first 31 years of my life in North(Dallas) and Central(Austin) Texas, this was one of the best reads on the forum. Good job everyone!

Just remember that the cowboy culture does extend from Texas(Ft. Worth) up into Missouri(Kansas City) where I now live and Canada(Calgary). All great places to see stock shows and rodeos.

Edit: I thinks that Kiwis and Aussies probably have more in common with people in Texas and the Mid-West. I think maybe New Yorkers and people in New England might relate more to people in London...just IMO.

Posted by
2399 posts

I have lived in Austin, TX for all of my adult life. Once I was working in San Francisco with a group of very talented, Harvard and Princeton-educated attorneys. When I was getting ready to fly back to Austin for a couple of weeks, one of them said I needed to leave all of my papers with a colleague, in case "I got bit by a rattlesnake" when I was in Austin. After the obligatory guffaw, I pointed out that I was far more likely to get hit by a Suburban in the mall parking lot than to even see a rattlesnake in Austin.

Posted by
27752 posts

You may not have many rattlers in Austin but a few miles north when my parents lived in Killeen (Ft Hood) and then with the retired brass in Salado my father was regularly killing the ones that came close to the houses. He had a special spade kept just for the purpose just outside the kitchen. There used to be regular rattler hunting weekends in Copperas Cove and Temple.

You are lucky in Austin.

Posted by
13559 posts

We have them in the yard from time to time. But the scorpions are worse.

Posted by
224 posts

No sure where you are going in Texas. I’ve lived here most of my life minus two years in DC.
Swearing - is your question do we swear, of course on the necessary occasions we do, especially at happy hour after a few drinks, but I think I’ve heard more swearing in the UK.
Guns - Yes people in Texas do carry guns, no you probably won’t see them on anyone other than law enforcement. Most people who carry have a concealed handgun license (CHL) note it’s a concealed license. I work a block away from the Capitol, the only time I’ve ever seen people carrying guns openly was back when they were doing demonstrations to support open carry legislation. It passed but I’ve never seen anyone open carry outside of that day.
Tipping, yes, I even tip my dog groomer 20%.
10 Gallon hat, that’s not a thing.
Accent, I think you’ll be fine.
We’re very friendly people, look others in the eye, smile a lot. I’ve worked a block from the Capitol for almost 20 years, I think almost every time I walk down the street for lunch I help someone with directions or help them work the parking meters.

My only caution is don’t get run over by a scooter those things are all over Texas and people ride them on the sidewalks. Austin just got sit down scooters that go 30 mph.

Advice eat BBQ and Mexican food as soon as you can so people don’t constantly ask you if you have eaten them yet, they will, now that is a thing!
Have fun, what a exciting trip. We have amazing museums and it’s just a beautiful State no matter where you visit!!
You might even see a Texan in a beret!

Posted by
85 posts

It should be about the same as visiting the rest of the US, other than the accent, you'll get along just fine after getting used to it.

I don't understand all the gun hysteria. The odds of even seeing one are near zero unless you visit a shooting range or a high crime area.

Posted by
173 posts

if you are in Texas and don't have BBQ and Tex-Mex...you are leaving Italy without having Pizza and Seafood with pasta:)