Traveling While Texan

Speaker's Corner: Sophia Dembling hears a lot about her home state while she's on the road, particularly from other travelers intent on steering clear of the land of George W. Bush, Jasper and big hair. Her response: Get over it.

02.05.08 | 12:53 PM ET

Photo Big Bend National Park, Texas: iStockphoto

“I‘ve never wanted to go to Texas,” said the well-traveled Canadian in the Cuba T-shirt I met recently in Mexico. “I just think of it as Bush country and over-made up women with big hair.”

I managed a tight smile and said, “There are all kinds of people in Texas.”

Me, for example. When they meet me, people immediately guess my New York roots, but I chose Texas as my home. I’ve made a good life here and consider myself as much Texan as Texans will concede to a Yankee who has been here only 26 years. (Some say it takes five generations to be a real Texan.)

But traveling while Texan is trying. For the portion of the world’s population that believes Republicans, and George W. Bush in particular, are the root of all that is wrong with the world, I am frequently required to answer for the transgressions of my home state.

I am weary of defending Texas to people clinging piously to stereotypes.

My stock response to anti-Texas sentiment is: “We have everything you have in (New York, California, Switzerland, Canada…) but we just might have fewer of them.”

Case in point: I once saw a transvestite lunching in a waterfront restaurant in Corpus Christi.

I am exasperated when people who travel happily to Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia and other nations with suspect human rights and political attitudes and behaviors say they don’t want to go to Texas because our electoral college falls to the right and many of the women have grooming issues. (Is there such thing as over-groomed? Anyway, don’t kid yourself. These women are made of well-polished tempered steel.)

Yes, death penalty. Yes, George W. Bush. Yes, Jasper. But also Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, Barbara Jordan, Kinky Friedman. Even LBJ. Texans don’t all suck, my left-wing Texaphobic friends.

And Texas—with coast and hills, prairie and desert, courthouse squares and skyscrapers, canyons and even, believe it or not, a couple of mountains—is diverse and wonderful. Big Bend National Park is among my favorite places in the world. I defy you to hold on to any notion that Texas lacks soul while standing at The Window, in the Chisos Mountains, looking out at the great expanse of Chihuahua desert.

God’s country, eh? And a variety of Gods, despite the dominance of the Southern Baptists and Catholics. When I was preparing to move down to Texas on what could only be called a whim, my mother pulled me aside and said, “You know, you won’t meet any Jewish people down there.”


While Jews are in short supply in small towns, Texas’ major cities have large and vibrant Jewish populations. And around the turn of the last century, thousands of Jewish immigrants entered the United States through Galveston. If you meet a Jew in the Midwest, chances are good his or her forebears entered the United States through Galveston, Texas.

Granted, I have been a few of my friends’ first Jew, which required gently explaining to a couple why the expression “Jewed him down” is not appropriate. Most of them never really thought about it. They say, “It doesn’t really mean anything.” They understand when I explain, though, and when they do, I have done my small part for cross-cultural understanding.

If I hadn’t braved the perils of Texas 26 years ago, they might never have been enlightened. What have you done for the world lately?

Isn’t travel supposed to open our minds? Teach us to understand different ways? Shatter stereotypes? I can think of a lot of people who need a good mind-opening by visiting Texas.

Some Texas natives reading this are planning my garroting. Texans are inordinately proud of Texas and are deeply offended by any suggestion that it might need defending—especially to damn Yankees. In fact, that’s why I chose Texas when I decided to try living away from New York City. Texans are as passionate about Texas as New Yorkers are about New York and that’s good. Actually, I also like to say that Texans and New Yorkers are the same—they are certain they live in the center of the universe and pity the poor fools who live elsewhere.

I didn’t intend to stay in Texas as long as I did, but it’s funny how you set roots without even trying. I won’t pretend I’m not homesick for New York and I’m certainly aware of all the ways that I will never entirely fit into my adopted home.

Nevertheless, if we meet somewhere in the world, over a margarita or ouzo or a bowl of noodles, don’t expect me to join your gleeful Texas bashing. I don’t want to hear about it because you don’t know Texas. And before you start in on me, remember that we all carry concealed weapons.

Sophia Dembling

Dallas-based writer Sophia Dembling is co-author of the Flyover America blog and author of "The Yankee Chick's Survival Guide to Texas." She would love to hear your tales of America, so drop her an email.

62 Comments for Traveling While Texan

Joanna Kakissis 02.05.08 | 2:30 PM ET

I love this essay!

Esmaa Self 02.05.08 | 7:36 PM ET

Yeee haw! You go, girl!

Esmaa, a Chicago Northshore native, who came to Colorado by way of a northern California Indian reservation and who is frequently asked to answer for Los Angeles

TambourineMan 02.05.08 | 11:02 PM ET

“Get over it.” Exactly. Bush is the LAST thing I think about when I think about Texas.

Sophia, I just put on a Blind Lemon Jefferson record in honor of your essay. T-Bone Walker is up next.

TambourineMan 02.05.08 | 11:13 PM ET

Esmaa wrote: “who is frequently asked to answer for Los Angeles”

No need to answer. It’s obvious, these people secretly worship Hollywood.

Nonogenarian 02.06.08 | 12:54 AM ET

Delightful piece. New York snottiness tempered by Texas tact. Keep writing until you get enough delightful pieces for a book that might be titled: “Sophia Dembling Collected Essays 1982—” Your publisher will fill in the last date, and you will probably think up a snappier title than that.

Carson 02.06.08 | 1:29 AM ET

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! I am a native Texan (Daughter of the Republic of Texas), but moved to CA around 12 years ago. I love this place, but Texas is so unique and so much of my heritage that I do miss it. Last night I was with a group of travel writers and when I mentioned I was from Dallas, Dallas got bashed. I agree “Get over it!” You probably don’t know anything about Texas!

Eva Holland 02.06.08 | 8:57 AM ET

Thanks, I enjoyed this!

Never been to Texas, but I’m always amazed by how many people take “I’m from ___” as an invitation to say something negative. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) to hear how many Brits and Europeans have responded to “I’m from Canada” with “I’ve never had any interest in visiting Canada… seems really dull” or “You guys don’t really have any culture, do you?”

Chas 02.06.08 | 9:19 AM ET

Been to Texas lots of times but I’m always bummed by the lack of public open space. One exception of course is Austin which has plenty, thanks to its dedicated conservation-minded citizens. Another is Guadalupe Mtns. Rest of Texass really sucks. Also, why do some many Texans insist on driving the speed limit or less in the fast lane?

Jack from 02.06.08 | 10:37 AM ET

Great piece. It’s not only Texans getting this, I mean the “I blame Bush on you” attitude. My wife’s from New York and have ended up in some heated debates about U.S. politics just because of that fact.

You’ve finally did convince me that visiting Texas might be a good idea :)

Kay Fulgham 02.06.08 | 1:33 PM ET

Some friends and I were on a tour of southern England.  I found out on the last day that the women from Minnesota would not talk with us because we were from Texas because they assumed we were George Bush supporters.  They were very friendly when they found out that we definitely are not.

Carl Basham Jr 02.06.08 | 3:00 PM ET

I did not realize how much we Texans brag about our state until I moved to Taos, New Mexico. The local Taosenos never had to ask where the touristas were from since the Texicans always proclaimed “We’re from Texas! And in Texas we serve Pico de Gallo in bowls!”

Carl Basham Jr 02.06.08 | 3:12 PM ET

When I moved from South Carolina to Texas in the Summer of 1978 a local kid asked me where I was from. My host told the kid “Never ask a man where he is from. If he’s from Texas he will tell you. If he’s not, you don’t want to embarrass him.”

Carl Basham Jr 02.06.08 | 3:16 PM ET

As I attempted to drive my car across the Canadian border the Canadian border guard asked if I had any firearms in my possession. When I declared that I did not he said “I thought all you Texans had guns!”

Jen 02.07.08 | 2:56 PM ET

I was actually really surprised a few weeks ago, I did a story on Lesbian Family Travel and found out that Fort Worth, Texas, is one of the best places in the states to go to.  It’s something that I would NEVER have expected, and definitely opened my eyes to how biased my view of Texas had been.

Eva Henry 02.08.08 | 3:13 PM ET

I am a Native Texan, from Bryan-College Station home of those Fightin’ Texas Aggies, living in the beautiful state of Idaho.  I miss Texas so much that I get together with a group of women we call GRITS.  Girls Raised In The South.  We are from all over the place. There is nothing better than to get together with your friends that talk like you and cook like you.  We also have manners, know how to set the table properly and writeThank You notes. I think some of those “other states” could take some lessons in Suthin’ hospitality.  That’s why they say “Texas is a whole nother country”.
AMEN….Gig ‘em Aggies !!!

SuperKristen 02.08.08 | 10:32 PM ET

Very well said. I got a lot of that when I was planning on moving here… and I haven’t been back “home” once since moving!

Sheila at Family Travel 02.08.08 | 10:59 PM ET

In my experience (living in Japan, Bahrain, the Netherlands and all over the U.S.) those with the most negative views of Texas have often never even been here.

No, a layover at DFW or a scoot across the Panhandle on I-40 does not count.

Don’t be provincial.  Know your stuff before you offer an opinion. It’s a really big state; some places meet the stereotype, and a lot of other places do not.

Great essay, Sophia.

Jim R. 02.09.08 | 2:16 PM ET

Great essay! I have been the recipient of many Texan stereotypes over the years, almost none of which fit. Texas IS full of all kinds of people, including liberal democrats! There are things I don’t like about Texas, like the endless, monotonous coastal prairies, but I couldn’t live anywhere else. Like Steinbeck said, “Texas Is A State Of Mind”. Now if I can just stop assuming that all French are surrender monkeys…

Annie 02.09.08 | 2:50 PM ET

I think my favorite thing I’ve heard abroad (mostly from other Americans) was, “Oh, but you don’t SOUND like you’re from Texas!!” I guess I know what they meant…?

I have to say, I was never much of a Texan until I left Texas, and then I didn’t go a day without talking about how great it is or making sure to say that I was “fixin’ to do something.” Oddly enough, I think I got in some good PR for us.

Claire Walter 02.09.08 | 3:50 PM ET

Wonderful insights.

Claire @

Andrea 02.09.08 | 7:15 PM ET

I have lived in Texas (Houston and Austin, Nebraska and in the Seattle area. When I was away I missed it here so much. No place is perfect. Of course Texas has a lot of Republicans and the big cities like houston and dallas are not always very nature friendly. But Texas has everything. Driving through Brenham on a gorgeous spring afternoon, and seeing all the bluebonnets-nothing beats it! I wish I could freeze those moments and breathe them in forever. I love traveling and want to do more of it. My boyfriend and I have discussed moving elsewhere, and I know it would break my heart. I am as native as a Texan can get. Parts of my family have been here since before it was a state. So anyone who says Texas sucks-obviously doesnt know it the way I do.

Suzanne Backe 02.10.08 | 1:14 AM ET

Hey I have a sister, brother-in-law, neices and nephews and their families living in Plano, Frisco & Allen Texas.  Don’t bash what you don’t know or understand.

Ben B. 02.10.08 | 2:13 PM ET

Amen and amen. As a native Texan (and, as an American), I’ve been repeatedly surprised by the ugly conduct of some European fellow travelers who wanted to insist that Americans (and, worse, Texans) were the ugly ones. The irony of these exchanges seemed to escape them.

Great piece.

Chris C. 02.11.08 | 12:41 AM ET

As a Texan who does a bit of travelling the only place I have been where someone has been ecstatic to meet a Texan is in Munich, Germany, where they are about as Texas crazy that one can get outside of the Lone Star State, and it’s refreshing. Being a Texan makes you prideful being an Aggie makes you even more prideful and its rightfully placed. Thanks and Gig Em’ God Bless Texas

Paul G. 02.11.08 | 9:27 AM ET

Nice article.  However, Texans had an image problem long before George Bush.  Everything from the bumper stickers “Don’t Mess with Texas”,the slogan “Everything is bigger in Texas” and the occassional talk of succession conveys the perception that Texans are arrogant.  This may be where the stereotype comes from (i.e. self-inflicted).

R. H. 02.11.08 | 11:15 AM ET

Yes, we have lots of conservative repulbicans in Texas, but we have lots of everybody to be honest. Is that a sin now-a-days?  What’s wrong with you people? I thought you liberals were supposed to be open minded! I guess that doesn’t apply to people who disagree with you.

Claire Walter 02.11.08 | 11:20 AM ET

It seems human nature to take potshot at bigger places, whether it’s Texas, New York City or California. A bumper sticker in Colorado, which has its share of urban/suburban/exurban sprawl now, reads: “Don’t Californicate Colorado.”

Corissa 02.11.08 | 12:45 PM ET

Being a native NorthDakotain, I can sympathize with the feelings of getting your home state bashed. When I would say that I am from ND people would give me this look as if to say “I am so sory”. I got that same sentiment when I said I was moving to El Paso.  I am ex-military and have lived in Georgia and Europe and now I am proud to say that my home is in Texas.

Richard 02.11.08 | 2:11 PM ET

Having lived in Texas over 20 years (Plano, Coppell), there is truth in the stereotype. Backwards (check out the anti-evolution museum near Glen Rose TX), racist and crassly commercial, and lacking natural beauty, the flat nothingness of Texas pales in comparison to Arizona, or Colorado. Texas is a great place to be from - the only saving grace is that you can get to the great cities of the world (Paris, Tokyo, London) from DFW airport. What passes for “culture” in TX is faux-French McMansions, steer antler chandeliers (Three Forks), and obnoxious conspicuous consumption. The City that Killed Kennedy, LBJ’s war, and JR Ewing - not to mention the former failed oilman now escalating the national debt by his invasion of Iraq.

Andrea 02.12.08 | 2:37 AM ET

To respond to an earlier comment, “Dont Mess with Texas” is not Texans trying to sound tough or better than thou. It was a slogan that everyone here knows, was created to help keep our state clean and free from highway litter. And it has worked. I am 26 years old and was raised on that phrase-I’ve had it on my key chain for about 13 years-moving through different states with it. I still get mad when I see people littering from their car (in every state. This anti-littering campaign is in blood now because of that ad. As for the term “everything is bigger in Texas” it’s true. I have never seen mosquitos, trucks, hair, rodents (nutria) or cattle as big as they are here in Texas and I’m okay with that.The first time my parents tried to have a barbecue in Seattle, to their dismay they could not find a 15 lb brisket-they had no idea this was purely Texan. It’s not arrogance, it’s true. I will always defend Texas and Texans (except “W”).

Tom A 02.12.08 | 10:09 AM ET

“Texans are inordinately proud of Texas and are deeply offended by any suggestion that it might need defending”.  I beg to differ, it’s a constant passtime of any and all Texans.  When they’re not bragging about it, they’re defending it against any criticism they can perceive, including perfectly valid ones.  Sophia, it’s you that needs to get over the world’s opinion of your adoptive state, not the other way around.

(Yeah, I lived there, and I’ve never missed it, there’s really not all that much to brag about.)

John M. Edwards 02.12.08 | 9:06 PM ET

Hi Sophia:

You sound like good company. With a Texas drawl, I’d say your writing is downright “purty.”

Louise Belfrage 02.13.08 | 1:37 PM ET

Thank you - great piece on how it feels to be Texan abroad, and American outside the US.

DN 02.14.08 | 1:12 PM ET

Great article on Texas and true from all the states of the US.  People all over love to bash the US. Envy.  I have traveled all over the world and am now concentrating on the US.  I am looking forward to a visit to southern Texas in April.

Jess 02.14.08 | 2:26 PM ET

So which airline do you call when you get that hankering for your favorite deli fix?

Claire Walter 02.14.08 | 2:31 PM ET

It’s time to stop envying the US. The dollar is in the toilet. We have lost our cedibility as a moral force on the world stage. Hopefully, things will shift next November.

Cam 02.14.08 | 4:02 PM ET

Right on, Sophia. I actually wrote a similar piece over at The WindowSeat recently (though I am in the reverse position: a born-and-bred Texan living in New York):  I’d venture to say that Texas is the MOST misunderstood state in the union.

Pam Nichols 02.15.08 | 7:03 PM ET

As a native Texan who would NEVER live anywhere else, don’t let the door hit you on the ass as your leave our wonderful state.  Yes, we think it’s better here—cause it is!  Most don’t know the entire story of Jasper, Texas politics, the oil business, etc. because the liberal media only tells their side of the story (usually the left side) and not the full story.  There’s more to the story.  I’ve travelled alot as well and most people just want to know more about Texas.  And yes, some of us still support President Bush.

Pam Nichols 02.15.08 | 8:11 PM ET

An addendum to my previous message:  I live in a suburb of Fort Worth.  Most folks in Texas do unlike people on the east coast or up north.  About a mile from my house is the Fort Worth Nature and Refuge Center. It consists of 3600 acers.  That’s not open space enought for you?  Texas is so huge, we have lots and lots of open space.  Don’t need alot in urban areas.

caroline 02.15.08 | 11:19 PM ET

The” Bushes” George senior and junior are also “damn” Yankee’s. Mostly a little known fact from New Haven, Connecticut,home of Yale Univ. no less. Of course we are more than happy to let Texas claim them as their own it spares us the embarassment! Unfortunate but true. I"m looking forward to finally visiting Washington D.C. when “W” returns to Crawford,TX. He’ll be an ex-president and I’ll be happy to visit Texas too!

Pam Nichols 02.16.08 | 5:19 PM ET

Is this forum just for Yankees?  It seems every likes to slam Texas but they sure don’t mind moving down here.
We sure see a lot of out of state vehicle tags with moving trucks attached here.

Donna 02.17.08 | 4:05 AM ET

I love Texas, and I love NYC where I’ve lived the past 20 years.
I love Republicans, and Democrats. I don’t hate George Bush or like general Bush bashing and I voted for Bill Clinton.
Someone needs to say this.

Peter Daams 02.18.08 | 8:31 AM ET

Great article. I totally agree that people need to look beyond country/state stereotypes and not rule out a place just because they disagree with the local population’s view on the world. There are so many places that would be off-limits if that was the criteria.

Peter Daams 02.18.08 | 8:34 AM ET

Incidentally, this article would have benefited from a few more examples of what attractions Texas DOES exactly have to offer.. I seem to only have read one specifically mentioned in the article - Big Bend National Park.

Sophie 02.21.08 | 12:22 PM ET

Thanks for all the comments—I’ve been traveling with limited email access so have not been able to comment back until now.
What does Texas have?
Space. Sky. Hallucinogenic sunsets Thrilling thunderstorms (I call them nature’s libido). Mountains, beach, prairie, desert, cities, towns. Courthouse squares. Wildflowers. (Thank you Lady Bird.) Birds. A sense of humor. Style. Music. Cojones.
Feel free to chime in, anyone and everyone.

NeoKalypso 02.21.08 | 3:01 PM ET

I’m guilty!  I have stereotyped Texans… a lot. :(

Carson 02.21.08 | 4:06 PM ET

Sophie, thanks for mentioning the thunderstorms. When I moved to California, I knew I would miss them- the Sturm und Drang of them, the crackling lighting that illuminates a night sky, the thunder that seems to forbode the end of the world, and the living vortex of wind and rain.

suzer 02.27.08 | 9:47 PM ET

I’m afraid Texans don’t get to hold majority on the “Get Over Its”.  It’s just as bad travelling abroad, being from any other US state.

Lindsay 03.06.08 | 7:09 AM ET

Interesting article. It’s funny b/c I was just in New Zealand and apparently a few fairly rude Texans were in the winery we stopped at the day before. I’m from NYC and had to defend myself just for being an American because of the rude people from Texas, LOL! So actually, their behavior affects all of us, as Americans are perceived abroad as arrogant, George Bush lovin freaks. Sigh. Of course every state has stereotypes and one has to realize that they’re massive generalizations but they do come from somewhere…I’m originally from NJ and I can laugh at the “Jersey Girl” stereotypes. Does that mean that I’m necessarily one? No. But do they exist (in abundance) there? Of course! Just like loud, swaggering, conservative idiots exist in Texas! It doesn’t mean that every person you meet is like that…but, ya know…the Dixies Chicks didn’t have their cd’s destroyed by people up North…

Claire Walter 03.06.08 | 10:28 AM ET

Perceptions/stereotypes are nothing new or not unique to how people generalize about Americans, Texans or New Yorkers. In Stereotypeville, Germans and Swiss are perceived of as as rigid and humorless. French people are perceived of as being culture and food slobs with body odor. Mexicans are perceived of as indolent. Japanese are thought of as have a group mentality. Etc., etc.

Alas, the stereotype of “the ugly American” inspired a bestselling book by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick that was published exactly half-a-century ago.

Claire @

Claire Walter 03.06.08 | 10:30 AM ET

Oops, I meant French are thought of as culture and food SNOBS! Not a Freudeian snip (or slip), I don’t believe, but pre-morning coffee typing.

Pam Nichols 03.06.08 | 11:26 AM ET

Some of us conservative “idiots” here in Texas are backers of Bush, did destroy Dixie Chicks CDs because we are proud of our country and our state.  I’ve traveled the 48 lower states and have found loud rude people everywhere but down South we tend to have more manners and be more polite.  So, yes, we feel we have things to be proud of.  Plus, why are so many Northerners moving down here and ruining our state?  If you don’t like us or our state—-STAY AWAY!

Pam Nichols 03.06.08 | 11:31 AM ET

Also, people down South haven’t forgotten The War Between the States and how Northerners treated folks down here.  As one whose family ties were abused and stolen from by Yankees, we don’t much care for them. We have long memories.

Cam 03.06.08 | 11:42 AM ET

Well, my fellow Texans in this thread sure are doing a great job of dispelling the stereotypes! Sigh…

Pam Nichols 03.06.08 | 12:47 PM ET

And this is a problem because…...?

Sophie 03.06.08 | 5:55 PM ET

I hate it when Mom and Dad fight… So if I’m half Yankee and half Texan, does that make me the rudest human being on the planet?

Roger Ward 04.05.08 | 4:11 PM ET

Good article, but almost every state can defenc itself in the same way.  There are just too many true stories that come from Texas that need defending compared to most other states.

I was born in Alpine, near the Big Bend National Park and lived a long time in Texas.  I love living in Washington State now.  You’re right that Texas has a little bit of everything, even a tree and a mountain or two, and a few progressive people who do not still defend slavery and the civil war.  I just like not having to travel as far to find them.  There is a lot about Texas to like, but Texas has lost the populism that made it a great state.  I’m afraid that Ann Richards and Barbara Jordan, two moderates right in the middle of the political spectrum during their time, would never get elected in the current political climate in Texas.  Everywhere I go in Texas, they refer to Ann and Barbara as “liberals”.  Ha!  They were populists, looking out for the little guy, not for the big corporations or the latest get rich scheme by church leaders and politicians.

packrat 04.12.08 | 9:28 PM ET

I see some of the posters are fulfilling the stereotypes of Texas,
as in thinking Dallas suburbs are all there is of Texas. Totally flat , must have not been to the Guadalupe Mountains. The state that killed Kennedy? What is your attitude toward California (killed Bobby K), Tennessee (Killed MLK), etc? 

Crime rate in Texas lower than DC.

Carson 04.14.08 | 5:20 PM ET

This is my second post because my home state just got slammed AGAIN. I live in CA now and was recently with a group of people when I mentioned I was from Dallas and a woman said,“How horrible!!” I wish I had said, “Have you spent much time there?” I bet she hasn’t, which she would have to admit. Then I could tell her the good things about Dallas in a non-defensive way.

Irene S. Levine 08.01.08 | 10:23 PM ET

What a wonderful essay from a wonderful writer!

Grizzly Bear Mom 08.04.08 | 7:48 PM ET

Try being from New Jersey! I’m gonig to use the “have you spent much time there?” next time someone makes a crack.  I don’t look Italian enough to refer to my friends in the mob…

Texas Greek 10.09.08 | 4:36 PM ET

Welcome to all who come to Texas!  We are a good people, friendly and confident.  My family has been in the Texas landscape for 30 years as a Greek family, and we have loved it.  We love Texas, and we are proud Texans.

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