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Do You Speak Texan?

March 10, 2011
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This morning I had one of those Aha! moments about how long I have been here and how much I have adapted to this Texan small talky friendliness… In the stairways on my way to work, I ran into somebody who works on the same floor. I don’t know this person’s name or function. He said “How’s it Going?“, I said “Good. Thanks! How about you?“, and he said “Great!“. All this happened while we were both walking into opposite directions, so the last words were spoken when we were almost on different floors. I have this type of “conversation” about 30 times a day. This morning though it hit me again how weird it actually is…

Let me back up for a second. When I first moved here (in 2002) as an exchange student, I lived in an off-campus dorm. Lots of new people, jet lag, I don’t know what else I can blame it on… I would run into people in the hallways, they would say “Hey! How’s it going?“. I would stop walking and say “Great! Thanks! How about you?” (or on bad days “Oh, ok, I guess. Could be better. And you?“). The person I thought I was having a conversation with would at that point be many steps away from me and I would be left standing wondering what the hell had just happened. How could somebody be nice and ask me stuff and simultaneously be so rude and not even wait for my answer?!

The answer of course is simple. Just because you understand the words, doesn’t mean you understand the meaning! In Germany, if you walk by people you don’t know, you usually don’t say anything. Maybe you nod. Maybe you smile. Maybe you even say a brief “Hello.” if you’ve seen them many times. You would usually only ask people how they’re doing if you know them and care for the answer. So, when people in my first few days here would greet me, I thought I might have run into them before and they were being nice – blame it on the jet lag!

This morning I thought how funny it is that I’ve started behaving like a Texan in my greetings and good-byes. I do it every day. And it’s normal. I guess they think it’s rude not to say anything, so everybody does it. And I actually have to admit that it does kind of create a nice atmosphere even if it doesn’t mean anything. However, you have to know that it doesn’t mean anything first! So, my non-Texan friends, here’s a little glossary about greetings and good-byes in the Lone Star State:

  • When a Texan says “Hey! How are you doing?” or “How’s it Going?“, it means “Hello!
  • The expected answer is always “Good! How about you?” or if you want vary a little “Great! And you?“. Nobody cares if you’re not doing well. It is just a greeting that basically means “Hello.” No more, no less. And keep walking. Nobody expects you to stop and actually chat.

Another funny one? How about “What do you know?“. That one basically means “What’s new?” A good answer seems to be “Not much! You?“. You are not expected to stutter and say “A lot??“.

So, what do people here say when they want to know how you’re doing? Well, it’s a whole different situation. You pretty much have to stand or sit somewhere together and talk. Then somebody might ask “So, how have you been?” or “What have you been up to?“ But even then you sort of have to be at least ok friends to answer with anything but positive stuff.

You think good-byes are simpler? No! Let me admit to you that many times in my first few months here people would say at the end of a conversation “See you later!“. And I would be like “Later? Where?” and simultaneously asking myself what I missed and where I was supposed to be later. Another one? “I’ll give you call” doesn’t really mean anybody wants to call you (unless it means exactly that – different situation though). I remember actually explaining to people that I didn’t have a phone at that point and that they could write me an email instead (Facebook was not in then). I’m cringing right now, just to let you know. By the way, along the same lines, an enthusiastic “We need to hang out more!!!” by a fellow drunk girl exclaimed at a bar doesn’t necessarily mean that. All of the above usually mean “Good bye“. They only ever mean more if you already are friends.

How do you what means what? You learn by doing and make a fool of yourself plenty of times in the process.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I can think of for now. Know any other greetings & good-bye’s that could easily be misunderstood by a new expat in texas? Share them in the comments and save them from being that awkward girl that must have seemed way weird to most people 😉

Want more on German directness in Texas? Check out this post. Want more Texas expressions and slang? Check out this post!

via Wikimedia Commons

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  • Shanna says:

    Oh Sabrina,

    You give everything new meaning. Things I just don’t think about, but accept as second nature.

    • Sabrina says:

      Haha 🙂 I’m telling you! I had to learn that stuff!

    • Matt says:

      Just wanted to say thanks and that I really enjoy reading your stories. Many of them answer questions I have had and others are just so funny they make the day better, like this one. Not that I mean to laugh at your embarassment but the truth of it it is what makes it funny. I got to your site accidently this morning, bieng home from work sick, and do not really use these post/chat blog whatever thingies but I have bookmarked yours and plan to read it often. Thanks for writing it 🙂

      • Sabrina says:

        Thanks for the kind words. Nice to know somebody is reading “out there” 🙂 Hope you feel better soon!

  • Ana says:

    Nice! I used to feel like that at the beginning; I thought everyone was either rude or phoney. Now I say “good, thanks” and move on. I’d rather it were like in Germany, though. being smiley and happy ALL the time is rather tiring, don’t you think?
    Ana recently posted..Matador U Assignment 5- Bio Finding your story

    • Sabrina says:

      I agree it can really be tiring. But really, it only lasts 30 seconds anyways 😉 In Germany many people think all Americans are superficial to no end. And at first I thought it was totally confirmed with all of this smiley-how’s-it-going business. I think it’s gotten easier with the years here for me since I feel like I can now better tell when it’s just meant to make a nice general atmosphere and when people actually care. Not easy though! I still have days when I just don’t know… I think the phoney-ness is worse with many college girls…. Terrible! I had the hardest time making female friends which is weird because I always had many in any other country.

  • Carla says:

    So true! Loved every bit. And as always, I’ve had the counter-shock… as a Texan in Europe I first thought everybody had a stick up their @$$ here 😀 But now I’ve gotten to enjoy the distance and “coldness”, so much that the Texas “niceness” is rather shocking and sometimes even feels a bit fake.

    • Sabrina says:

      Believe me! I now understand why Americans think all Germans (or Europeans I guess) are so rude. They really aren’t. It’s just the cultural norm not to be smiley all the time and talk mainly to your friends. But as I said, I’ve kind of gotten to like the friendliness here – even though it doesn’t mean you’re friends. Someone once summarized it as “it means something once you know it doesn’t mean anything”. And that actually made sense to me 🙂

  • Laurel says:

    Sabrina, This made me laugh so much! So nice to hear about our customs from the German perspective. When my German fiance used to ask how I was, I would respond “Good” and he would be very confused. I later found out that he really wanted to know how I was doing, and didn’t just want a one word answer. Even though I know this, it always makes me chuckle when I ask him how he’s doing and he goes into a 5 minute explanation of his health, instead of just offering the 1 word answer I’m accustomed too.
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    • Sabrina says:

      Haha! I can totally see this! Oh, the joys of being with someone from a different culture. Some things are harder, but many are just funnier 🙂 Once in a while I’ll answer “could be better” to a Walmart cashier just for the fun of it and they actually sort of stop what they are doing and look at me very weird.

  • These same pleasantries seem to be exchanged in CA as well. In Spain, actually, I would say it’s just the same if not even more so. Whenever you give someone kisses to say hello, they say “que tal?” or “como estas”, or if you pass someone in the hallway, it’s “que hay?” (what’s up, more or less). The funny part is that in the US when you casually ask someone in the office “how are you?”, you always expect a simple “fine.” What has caught me off guard in Spain, is that sometimes you will throw in the casual “que tal” and the response will be “well, not so good, bla bla bla.” This blindsides me – I don’t know how to respond! I feel so rude. I’m still learning that “como estas” in Spain, while often just a pleasantry in passing, sometimes really actually means “how are you.”

    • Sabrina says:

      Funny how the same thing means such different things in different cultures. I really had to learn here too when people actually expected an answer and when they expected a simple “good” 🙂

  • Jen says:

    Love your perspective! You know, this has always bugged me about Americans, and I am American. LOL. I honestly hate small chit chat and how everyone has to be so chirpy and no one really has an interest in how you are. I rather like the German model. Why do I have to say hello to everyone I encounter? Ha ha. Though it’s not like I’m unfriendly, and of course I’m a product of my environment and can’t help but asking Germans sometimes “How are you?” It just comes out. In my new (German) workplace, when we meet people on the stairs, we say a friendly “Hallo.” And that’s it. What more needs to be said. 😉

    • Sabrina says:

      “Hallo” works for me 🙂 I guess you just sort of have to go with what’s common where you live and make it your own…

  • Suzy says:

    It’s so funny how this is something I never thought was strange or even think about being an American, but you’re right. It is somewhat strange to ask people how they are, but you don’t really have the time to listen.
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    • Sabrina says:

      It’s not that bad once you know what it means 🙂 But it threw me off at the beginning. That’s for sure!

    • Matt says:

      I agree totally! Nevr thought about it before but its the same in Canada. People ask, me included, but don’t really want to know…man we are weird LOL

  • Going Kraut says:

    It is good to see that it happens in both directions. It is really weird to think about how us Americans say so many things as a way to say hi or bye. I still have to concentrate a little bit when passing colleagues in the hallway. Usually the first time you see someone in the day you say hello, hi or eventually Mahlzeit, which I think is kind of weird to great people with the fact that it is time to eat, and any time after that you smile or nod. I still think I ask people how they are doing too much but I am doing my best.
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    • Sabrina says:

      No worries. Chances are you’ll get used to it in a few years. At least that’s what happened to me 😉 Now I go back to Germany and it takes me a few days to “only” nod – and they don’t cut me any slack for overdoing the friendliness since I am actually German and should know better 🙂

  • Anonymous says:

    As a Texan myself, I have to tell you that the greetings we say do mean something! We’re not going to be so friendly without a reason! We are genuinely interested in your day!

    • Sabrina says:

      Maybe some 🙂 I really stumped some people by responding. But I have to say… I really have come to appreciate the Texan niceties – even if they’re not always really meant literally.

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