Photo by Brandon Lord
From the rolling hill country ablaze with wildflowers, to the dazzling capital city skyline, to the historic sites of Washington on the Brazos, the Lone Star State boasts numerous natural wonders and cultural gems. Not only a popular destination for sightseeing, Texas also welcomes millions of business travelers every year. The Texas economy is the second-largest in the U.S., with a GDP of 1.6 trillion USD and over 10% of the 1,000 largest U.S. companies located in major cities. The booming oil industry and widescale manufacturing means big business for companies both nationally and internationally. However, adjusting to Texan culture can be tricky. For some non-natives, our brand of Southern Hospitality and Texas-sized state pride may seem unfamiliar or overwhelming. These five insights will help you feel right at home.
- Cultural Patchwork: It’s important to remember that each city and region boasts its own unique culture and traditions. For example, the capital city of Austin is considered the most liberal and free-spirited haven, while Houston is famous for its sprawling metropolis and trade-driven economy. Smaller towns such as Bastrop and Killeen are generally slower paced and more conservative, with picturesque main streets hosting family-owned shops and diners for tourists and travelers. Becoming familiar with each region’s atmosphere is important and you will want to avoid making assumptions based on stereotypes. Instead, inquire and learn from the locals with an open mind.
- Southern Hospitality: From holding the door for elders, to friendly “hello’s” on the street, Texans mind their manners! Traditional forms of etiquette such as opening the door for ladies, offering cool refreshments to visiting guests, and using “sir” and “ma’am” as familiar forms of address, are still widely used. Whether you’re welcomed with a warm handshake and fresh iced tea, or extended an invitation to join the family for dinner, these courtesies are part of Texas culture. Show your appreciation with a smile and sincere “thank you.”
- Cool, Classy, and Comfortable: Southern chic isn’t just hats and boots! Texas fashion is unique; business professionals may arrive to meetings in cowboy boots or well-tailored blue jeans. Local fashion can also vary greatly between cities; Dallas is known for its high-end aesthetic, while Austin is famous for funky patterns and styles. Keep in mind the three C’s of Texan attire: cool, classy and comfortable.
- Calm, Collected Conversation: Texas is home to a vast range of political and social views, so it’s best to keep the conversation away from controversial topics like politics and religion. Mentioning controversies concerning the 2nd Amendment, current or former presidents, and/or secession will cause awkwardness for you. Instead, opt for neutral topics such as sports (Texas is home to many beloved college football teams!), the weather, or famous state sites.
- Lone Star Pride: From Austin to Abilene and Dallas to El Paso, Texans are proud of their state! We take our home state seriously, and cultural traditions such as barbecue, rodeo, music, and flying the state flag are beloved parts of Texan identity. While polite questions are welcome, cultural critiques will be met with a cold shoulder. Keep comments curious and friendly, and ask about novel traditions and cultural norms.
If your next trip has you sightseeing in downtown Austin or conducting business deals in Dallas, keep these tips in mind for a successful Texas stay. Wherever your travels take you, welcome to Texas and y’all come back soon!
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.