Guide on Local Customs:
Houstonians are very friendly and forthcoming people and it shows in their habits.
They will greet you with a friendly “Hello, how are you doing?” to which you only have to reply “Good, and you?” or simply nod. Americans usually do not elaborate on how they are really feeling unless they are friends or good acquaintances.
Handshakes are the general form of greeting in business environments or any type of formal introduction.
As an expatriate, you will immediately notice the ropes at post offices, the airport, sport event entrances or other places where lines are expected. If there are no ropes to guide the crowd, people will stand in line by habit. It is frowned upon to push, move ahead in line or ask to move ahead without a good, valid reason; good reasons being a screaming child or having only two items in your hand at the grocery store while the person ahead of you has a full cart. Generally, place yourself as the next person in line and practice patience. Lines are very common.
Four-way stop signs may provide a challenge when several cars pull up at the same time. In general, someone will wave to the person who arrived closest to them to let them go ahead or give some type of hand signal to communicate who should move first.
Whenever there is a line of traffic that you must merge into, try to stay as far back as you can and don’t run up to the front and squeeze in there. Anytime someone is let in, Houstonians wave with the right hand towards the driver behind to show thanks.
When travelling outside of Houston, especially when heading out towards the country and driving on county roads, drivers have the habit of greeting each other by lifting the hand or the index finger.
Texas allows driving on the shoulder when slower traffic is on the main road and the driver is turning right, when accelerating to gain speed or to let faster traffic pass and Houstonians generally follow these rules by habit unless there is a specific sign indicating ‘Do not drive on shoulder’.
Houstonians made a habit of nicknaming all of their freeways. For more information, see City Structure under the Accommodation section.
Anything located inside Loop 610 is referred to as “Inside the Loop” or within the “Inner Loop”. Living inside the Loop is often viewed as being the cool thing to do in Houston as the area is metropolitan and everything is close-by, such as theatres, sports arenas, restaurants, shopping and mostly and bars/nightlife. Living inside the Loop is very popular with the younger or the in-crowd.
During Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo season (generally February/March), you will notice an increase in activities surrounding the western lifestyle. Many people wear cowboy hats and boots even inside corporate offices or place longhorns on the front of their trucks.
Halloween is celebrated on October 31 and Houston offers many activities. There will be Halloween parties at restaurants, bars and clubs or within neighborhoods. On Halloween evening, children in costumes will walk from door to door with a guardian to ‘trick-or-treat’ and it is recommended to turn your door light off if you are not at home or not willing to hand out candy. Traffic will also increase that evening as many parents drive their children around and due to the high number of children on the road, caution and careful driving is advised.
It may be warm at Christmas time and no snow on the ground, but it is definitely celebrated. Homes will be heavily decorated with lights and yard figures. People may also put a wreath on the front of their truck or car or let reindeer horns stick out off the windows on each side.
Many people are very protective of their homes and it is custom to own a firearm to protect life or property. Some people own a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) and may carry a loaded firearm with them in public. It is not an unusual sight and, although it may be a concern to expats when they first arrive to Houston, they get used to it and learn not to worry about it as the majority of Houstonians are responsible gun owners and take safety and defense classes and practice at shooting ranges.
Do’s and Dont’s
- Do tip generously, if appropriate and good service was received.
- Do move to the right lane when driving slower than other vehicles.
- Do return a friendly greeting with a “Hi” or “How are you?” when someone greets or nods to you.
- Do stand in line.
- Do say “Excuse me” when accidentally bumping into someone or when getting in the way of someone (reaching across to reach a shelf in the supermarket, etc.)
- Do drive to move with traffic, don’t drive much slower or much faster.
- Do pay attention when walking alone in a deserted area or poorly lit area or avoid it.
- Don’t drive in the HOV lane (High Occupancy Lane) unless you are car pooling and pay attention to the times and number of people required in your vehicle to enter the lane.
- Don’t jaywalk, do use crossings. Houstonians do not pay much attention to pedestrians or bicyclists and it is your responsibility to stay safe.
- Don’t split lanes or pull past traffic to the right, particularly on a motorcycle, it is illegal. It is allowed for bicyclists.
- Don’t leave your child or pet in the car during hot temperatures; even a few minutes may cause death.
- Do try to park in the shade whenever you can.
- Do wear a shirt and shoes to receive service inside businesses.
- Don’t smoke inside public places, including bars and restaurants inside the city limits (it is against city ordinance).
- Do water your lawn during the cooler hours in the later evening or at night.
- Texans are proud and patriotic; be subtle and delicate if you feel obligated to express any criticism of the state or, even the U.S., in general.
- Do stand up when hearing the national anthem played, remove any hat and remain silent until finished.
- Do make a habit to watch the weather forecast daily, Texas weather can change dramatically temperature-wise and heavy storms can begin unexpectedly within hours.
- Do smile, Texans are friendly.