WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING TEXAS
What you need to know before visiting Texas
The Lone Star State
Texas wasn't exactly number one on my bucket list of places I wanted to visit during my life. However, with my boyfriend doing his Ph.D. at Texas A&M and spending a solid 5 years there, of course, I went to visit. Had you asked me before I went what I expected, I would've told you that my expectations were really low. The impression I had had of Texas before visiting was mostly shaped by Movies and the Media - and let's be honest, Texas doesn't exactly get a lot of flattering coverage. What I expected was guns, cowboys, racism, country music and a highly religious population. To all Texans: I apologize. I needed that reality check. So let's look at each of these and some other things I wish I had known before visiting. Keep in mind - all of these are based on my experiences visiting a small part of Texas. So if your experiences are different, please share!
I won't go ahead and say Racism doesn't exist, because it obviously does and is a huge problem. However, today I want to talk about a different experience. In Texas, I've met some of the friendliest people I've met in my entire life. I've been invited into people's houses and hearts, no questions asked. The little town where my boyfriend studies is one of the most diverse places I've seen (and according to the people here it's still nothing compared to Houston and Austin!) and it's a place where literally everybody is welcome. Old or Young. Egyptian, Malaysian, Peruvian, Austrian or American. Thin or Fat, Weak or Strong, Religious or not, POC or White. I'm not saying that all of Texas is like that, however, this was my experience and it had me in awe. People are incredibly friendly and everyone is willing to help each other out, show you the way or take you to the best places to eat. Again - I'm not saying it doesn't exist, but personally, I didn't witness a single account of direct racism.
Lots and lots of Guns
Apparently, around 44% of Texans own guns - and I've met a bunch of them who don't own them but still know how to shoot. Texas is the first place where I was (repeatedly) invited to go to a shooting range (It's actually fun!). The Texans I met do feel very strongly about their right to carry and own a gun and are convinced that it's their right to defend their houses and homes with it. So this one actually was as expected. However, Texas is also one of those states with a relatively low gun death rate compared to other states and I've had some very interesting discussions with Texas on why they feel so strongly about this. While I'm still in favor of strict gun control and wouldn't want one in my own home, I did learn and get to finally understand a whole lot more.
Texas is part of the so-called "Bible Belt" in the US - and from what I've witnessed, not without reason. There's a church around every second corner, Advertisements for Bible Study Groups and Masses everywhere and every now and then you'll see people sharing Jesus' message on the street, singing and yelling through a megaphone and handing out flyers. All of which are things that, being from Europe I am very much NOT used to. Religion and Church are very omnipresent, at least where I was. Coming from a country where most people are merely "officially" religious, I couldn't help but notice and it fascinated me. Then again - nobody would ever "flaunt" their religiousness or try to convert me - even at church gatherings, I was welcomed, no questions asked.
Country music and Cowboys?
Definitely, my favorite Stereotype about Texans is that they're all Cowboys, there's Country music everywhere and everybody knows how to take care of cattle. I don't really know about the latter, but it is true that there's Country music everywhere! In the tiny town that my boyfriend lives in there's easily 10-15 clubs only playing it and then it's played in every restaurant, and don't be surprised (which I was) if you also hear it in busses or on the street. The Cowboy - Thing is from my experience slightly overstated, but Cowboy boots, while in Europe max part of Carnival's Costumes, in Texas they're everyday & going out wear!
Air Conditioning. Air Conditioning everywhere!
I've heard that this is like that all over the US, but it's definitely true for Texas - every building, every restaurant, every library, every shop will be cooled down to a freakin' what feels like 10 degrees! I'm not kidding you, at 25°C outside, I was sitting inside with my jacket, a scarf, and a hat and after a few hours I still got cold! And then there's the Texans just casually sitting there in their shorts and t-shirts. If you know how to do this, pleeease teach me your secrets!
What's up with all the straws, Texas?
Seriously, Texas. This is probably the one thing that seriously bugged me - you get a straw everywhere and for every (non-alcoholic) drink. Asking a Texan about it, apparently, it's because glasses are not washed properly and apparently in the past, somebody got sick because he was drinking from a glass that somebody else who was sick had been drinking from and it wasn't cleaned well enough - which boggles my mind even more. Whyyyy, Texas?
Two things here that struck me as slightly weird. One: Birkenstock. In Austria, they are considered only-to-be-worn-inside-the-house-slippers. Nobody would ever wear them as anything other than that. In Texas, everyone wears them. Everywhere. Hell, I even saw people wear them in Clubs!
And two: Oversize T-shirts and invisible Shorts? So, lots of girls wear an oversized T-Shirt that covers their ass, and then seemingly nothing else. I was told that they do wear shorts underneath - I don't actually know whether that's true to be honest. Seeing that, again and again, the question in my head was just "Whyyyy?" So if you've done that, please explain it to me!
I've mentioned it before, but this needs to be emphasized: Every single person is SO NICE! Seriously. All. The. Time. As a European, particularly coming from a culture that's known to be grumpy, this was slightly freaky. Until I got used to it! OMG, I love it! Imagine this-you're passing by a group having a barbecue and they'll invite you to join! Just like that! No strings attached! They'll treat you like family or like you've been friends for years and honestly, I love it.
I'm not talking about body parts here because I honestly don't know that, but everything else. This starts with the state itself. Learn from my mistakes and don't intend driving through the entire state in one day. Just don't. It's HUGE. Like you could probably drive North to South in Europe the time it takes you to drive through Texas. I'm probably exaggerating, but you get the picture. Then there's also portions of food (I've never actually finished a Texan steak in one sitting), Cars (our "normal-sized" rental car looked like a baby between the Texan Trucks), Supermarkets (they're probably 10 times the size of an above average sized European supermarket). I could go on.
Overall, I'm just really, really happy that life put Texas in my way - it's truly a fascinating place that challenged some of my stereotypes and assumptions more than I had ever expected. I've truly fallen in love with this state, Cowboys, Air Conditioning, and all. I highly recommend you put Texas on your Bucket List - and if all the above isn't enough, there's an Alpaca Farm you can visit where you can feed and play with Alpacas! How awesome is that? ;)
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