Newcomer's Guide

Welcome to Houston, the Big, Overwhelming, Most Diverse City in America

You’re going to love it here. But there are some things we need to talk about.

By Jeff Balke August 30, 2018

Welcome to the Bayou City, y’all—yes, we do say y’all here. More on that in a sec. First, let’s have a chat. Listen, we don’t want to worry you or anything, but this town is a little like that joke about two blind men trying to figure out what an elephant is: It’s big, and a bit overwhelming. That happens when you choose to live in the fourth-largest, most diverse city in America.

The good news for you is, Houston is wonderful, and Houstonians are incredibly nice—like, almost invasively so. You’ll see as you start to figure this place out. In the meantime, here’s a few handy things to learn about life in Houston as you settle in. Oh, and in case nobody’s mentioned it yet: Avoid the West Loop for the next, let’s say, decade. Just trust us on that one. 

Learn the language.

We say y’all. We are in the South, after all. We even occasionally say howdy, but we also say órale and sup and any number of other phrases that reflect the delightful cross-cultural mishmash that is Houston. Couple more things: The road next to the freeway is called a feeder. We know, it’s weird. And every soda is a Coke. You might hear a person order a Coke and the waiter asking, “What kind?” That’s totally normal, y’all, because that dude may want a Sprite. Confused? You’ll get the hang of it.

Don’t freak out if a stranger talks to you.

Remember, people here are nice. You may be thinking, So, they’ll help me with directions, or give me brownies to welcome me to the neighborhood. Sure, but we’ll also start up a completely random conversation with you at the grocery store, whether about the weather or a funny story we heard. No, we aren’t talking on a phone through a microscopic Bluetooth device, and we aren’t (entirely) crazy. We just like to chat with strangers. It will become less disorienting over time.

You will drive everywhere.

There are places to walk and ride your bike. Those places are called parks. Otherwise, you’ll be driving. Going to work? Drive. Quick trip to the store five blocks from your house? Drive. Going out drinking? Uber. You get the idea. Public transportation is, sadly, rather limited here. The Park & Ride might serve you well if you live outside the city; the bus service is adequate, if not spectacular; the light rail system, while filled with people every day, is limited in scope and an accident waiting to happen—if you don’t know how to share a road with a train, stay away. And really, just accept your new vehicular life, and triple-check that the air-conditioning in your car always works. No, seriously. 

Not hell; Houston.

Relax into your new traffic experience.

Traffic in Houston is really, really, really bad—bad-to-the-power-of-ten bad. It exists everywhere and at all times. You think we’re kidding? Try hopping on the aforementioned West Loop at midnight on Saturday. What are those red lights? Break lights. Yes, there are back roads, but those, too, will be filled with cars because everyone already knows your secret shortcut, newbie. Instead of stressing, think of traffic as “me time.” Get an audio book. Listen to a podcast. Sit in sweet, sweet silence and do some deep breathing. You’re going to be here awhile. 

Self-deprecation is your new default.

Our sports teams have been really good lately, especially the one that won the World Series. Maybe you’ve heard of them? Anyway, we’re pretty sure we’re never winning again. We dug a huge ditch and turned it into the country’s second-largest port. We know, we know, it’s ugly as sin. We are covered in lush vegetation and also bland strip malls filled with chain stores. Winter is mild and often beautiful, but summer is a hot, sticky, hurricane-riddled mess. See? Even Mother Nature knows how to keep Houstonians from having an overinflated sense of self-worth. Huge egos should be checked at the city limits.

If you get sick, you’re in good hands.

Everybody needs a doctor from time to time. If you do, you’re in luck, because Houston is home to the Texas Medical Center, the finest jumble of hospitals, doctors, and research institutes in the world. They fix broken bones, cure cancer, and staple stomachs, which is a practical necessity considering all the food you’re going to be eating. 

Humidity is your friend.

Living near the ocean is fantastic, but our location on the coast does come with a bit of weather you should probably know about. Most people who’ve never visited Houston think it’s a desert, like an Old West town. In fact, we are lush, almost tropical, closer to Miami than to Vegas. It rains a lot here; it’s sunny a lot, too, sometimes while it’s raining. It’s also extremely humid, but on the bright side, your skin will look incredible as long as you wear sunscreen. Oh, and also: Hurricane season starts June 1. Get flood insurance; stock up on water, batteries, and beer; and try not to think about it too much. 

Newstonian, meet the banh mi at Les Givral's Kahve on Washington Avenue. You're welcome.

You, um, might gain a little weight.

Speaking of, the food here is as deliciously diverse as the people. Tex-Mex, barbecue, burgers, and Vietnamese—yes, Vietnamese—are the staples, but if you’re longing for dosas or pasta or kimchi or injera, we’ve got you covered, so loosen your belt and dig right in. Trying to stick to that Whole30 diet? It’s not impossible. There’s also plenty of healthy and even vegan options, plus tons of fresh seafood, thanks to our proximity to the Gulf of Mexico.

You will get a job and, if you look in the right place, affordable housing.

Even during the recession, Houston hummed along ahead of most of the rest of the country’s economy. Hurricane Harvey flooded us, but we bounced back, and quickly. We’re resilient like that. We also have lots of great places to live for really good prices—except inside the Loop, so unless you make the big bucks, forget that nonsense.

You’re likely to meet people from all over the world in your own neighborhood.

We said it was diverse. We weren’t kidding. Across the street from your house might be a family from Pakistan; next door to them, a lesbian couple with their adopted mixed-race son. The people across the back fence could be from Nigeria; everyone else, from somewhere in Latin America. They will work in health care and science and, obviously, energy. They will wave at you when you walk your rescue dog around the neighborhood, and will be as quick to acknowledge your soccer jersey as your Selena concert shirt. But, it must be said, there will be someone else, too, and that person is going to sign in to Nextdoor and complain about a suspicious kid in a hoodie. Some things are inescapable, sigh…

Get to know the murals east of downtown.

We are in Texas but not exactly of Texas.

There is a gun show in our area nearly every weekend of the year. We host the country’s largest rodeo, completely un-ironically, and we do wear boots. But Houston’s also home to some of the finest museums in the world, along with more downtown theater seats per capita than any city not called New York. Kenny Rogers is from here, but so is Beyoncé. Texas remains red, but Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both carried Houston in their respective elections. You see where we are going with this, right? Houston ain’t exactly Texas. But, word to the wise, don’t insult the Lone Star State either. It’s complicated, but it’s ours. Texas forever. 

After a while, you’ll constantly tell people not from here, “No, Houston really is awesome.”

Once you’ve finally acclimated to life here, you’ll find yourself adamantly defending the city to people who don’t understand it. You’ll rave about the friendly people and the great jobs. You’ll gush about the culture and the food. They’ll tell you it’s too hot, flat, and lacking in picturesque vistas. It’s at that moment you will realize that you should just go ahead and agree with them. It’s ugly, you’ll say. Nothing but strip malls and brutal humidity. And the traffic, ugh, don’t even get you started. You’ll find you don’t want to brag, and you do want to tell the truth. But you’ll also kinda want to keep Houston to yourself. Here’s the secret: We all do. Way to go, new Houstonian, and welcome home.

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