Your Image of Houston Texas is Wrong, All Wrong!

My dad recently moved to Houston expecting scenes out of the movie  “Urban Cowboy.” He spent the first weeks making jokes talking in a Texas twang and saying he needs a cowboy hat. (Didn’t he notice that NO ONE wore them here?)

This blog is all about dispelling the myth of Houston as a dusty old western town. Houston is actually a very cosmopolitan, multicultural, diverse, hospitable city devoted to medicine, the space industry, technology, fine arts, music, sports, and good food and shopping. What I can’t understand is why all of the above is such a well-kept secret.

(This is excepting Rodeo season- in which we all embrace our inner Urban Cowboy and which I love, of course.)

In my ever fertile mind, I would like a first timer conversation preceding the visit to go something like this:

“Yee Haw, so glad y’all are coming! We’ll saddle up my horse, “Honda” and head out west to the part of the country we call the Galleria, where we’ll first stop and have some double-whipped mocha lattes at one of three Starbucks in a two block (home-on-the) range. Then we’ll roam the vast prairie of the Galleria itself, where we can window-shop fine leathersmith gear such as Fendi and Gucci bags and Ferragamo shoes, as well as the great Western duds from Neiman’s and Nordstrom’s. (Well they do sell belts, don’t they?)
Since exploring the wide-open spaces of the Galleria will be exhausting, we’ll hitch back up “Honda” and ride due north to unwind in a saloon called Uptown Sushi where we can enjoy neon martinis in the darkened atmosphere. Oh, and by the way, while sipping, you’ll notice standard attire of business suits, silk cami tops and stilettos, rather than cowboy boots, hats and buckles. Yes, unfortunately, the only chaps you will see on men, is perhaps a piece from the Ralph Lauren Chaps line.”

One visitor named Howard left the city a bit let down that nary a cowboy hat, boot, or thick-twanged J.R. Ewing was to be found here during his stay. He wondered where was the Texas he imagined? He wanted to know where Gilley’s was and I informed him it has been closed down for years.

Following brunch together at one of my favorite hot spots, The New York Coffee Shop,  this visitor grumbled, “We could be in Cherry Hill, New Jersey right now.” ( a suburban area near his hometown)

Being a transplant myself – not native born, but a happily naturalized Texan, (and lapsed Yankee) I remember my very first visit to my adopted city destroyed all of my preconceived stereotypes. And it seems I have been knocking down those same notions on the part of others ever since.

In my 20 plus years here, I have met exactly two men who regularly wear cowboy hats. Please note that neither are originally from Houston. So the chances any visitors have of meeting one of those cowboys during a short stay outside of Rodeo season, are practically nil.

Despite the movies supposedly based in Houston showing people with exaggerated Texas twangs, my two native Texan children have no drawl at all, like most Houston children. Though I enjoy the delightful accents of ALL KINDS that I regularly encounter, there is no more a definitive Houston accent. (Although come to think of it, I do indulge my visitors with a few “Y’all’s.”)

I have a problem with the movies and all their exaggerated stereotypes of what the Hollywood producers think Houstonians are. I have been regularly disappointed that they paint us all the same – with big ole drawl, and the implication of lower intelligence for the most part. No wonder people come here expecting “OK At the Old Corral.”

I voluntarily hosted teens from youth groups four different times; three times from Great Britain, and once from Australia. The four Australians I hosted eventually pointed out that there are probably more cowboys in their area of Australia than in Houston.(Keith Urban anyone?) And first on their list of places to visit in Houston was Hooters anyway. (Note to those wondering why I would actually volunteer to host groups of four teens at once: Having to feed, entertain, and carpool them was lots of extra work, but fun and rewarding. Plus, how else would I have learned the words “snog” and “pull” as Brit slang for “kiss?”)

All of these youths chose to come to Texas with great excitement thinking it was a place somewhat between the Old West and Southfork. Of course we consoled them with visits to the Water Wall, Kemah, NASA, SeaWorld and things like Astros baseball and Toyota Center tours, so they didn’t leave too disappointed.

I also hosted an exchange student from France one summer. Other than handling her general disappointment that Houston wasn’t the dusty western town she envisioned, I had to dispel some other myths for my lovely French Anne-Katia. She came thinking all American girls and women were fat from eating enormous hamburgers all the time and specifically thought that only one piece bathing suits were worn over here. One of the first places we took her was to the waterfront in Keemah, where she saw boat after boat come in with bikini-clad women sunning themselves on them. Much later in her trip, we broke down and took her to Fuddruckers, where she posed with a placard showing a big fat hamburger, while standing next to some very skinny American teens.

What is truly Texas about Houston though, is the warmth and hospitality of the people here. Of the hundreds of people features I have written on transplants to Houston, most of them fell in love with the city first and foremost due to the friendliness of the people. This is also true for both me and my husband. Texan’s hearts are as big as the land here.

And that is no myth.

6 comments

  • Naomi went to Georgetown U. in D. C. and was asked by her roommate from Zimbabwe if she had a horse and did she ride said horse to H. S. It was only then that she cultivated a southern drawl for all those preppies who graduated Phillips Andover, etc.

  • Joan Saltzburg

    Arlene
    Always great to read your blogs. They are so right on and funny. I totally enjoy them. Mazel tov on your beautiful daughters engagement. When is their wedding.? My daughter Katie is also getting married this November. You guys will be getting an invitation and hopefully you will be able to plan a trip north. I want to hear all the fun stuff about the wedding i.e. Date, where , how many people stuff like that.
    Please give my love to Gary and looking forward to hearing from you
    Hopefully we can see you this summer
    All my love
    Joan

  • Wish I could agree – glad to be outta the South although I do miss many things about Houston.

  • I’ve never been to Texas but have to admit, I also thought all the men wore hats. Big hats. My idea of a Texas man comes from my nights of watching Dallas with Larry Hagman back in the day so it’s not totally my fault. I take it your Dad never got that hat?

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