Newcomer's Guide

The 10 Traits That Make Up the Houstonian Personality

We contain multitudes.

By Jeff Balke October 1, 2019

Welcome to Houston! You’re going to love it here. We promise.

First things first, though. As you may have noticed, our city isn’t all that much to look at, particularly when compared with the more scenic vistas of places like Denver and Seattle. It’s hot, humid, and, occasionally, hurricane-y. San Diego we ain’t.

But! We have a great food scene, a thriving arts culture, plenty of jobs, affordable housing, and all that comes with a fast-paced, urban city. More than that though, we have Houstonians. That’s right: When you get right down to it, what newcomers love most about Bayou City is the people. We’re pretty awesome.

This city really is an acquired taste. You may resist it—and us—at first. Then, after a while, you’ll find yourself opining to friends from other parts of the country about the restaurants and the great neighborhoods and—most of all—your friends, your neighbors, the woman who checks out your groceries, and the man who delivers your mail. And suddenly, without even noticing, you’ll be a Houstonian like the rest of us. You’ll realize that we’ve grown on you—sort of like mold after a tropical storm.

What are Houstonians like, then? Even in our radically infinite diversity, we have some startling similarities. Without further ado, here are 10 traits residents of this fine city share:

Image: Peter Ryan

1. We are generous. 

You may have heard about how, after Hurricane Harvey, everyday citizens set forth in their boats to rescue friends—human and animal—in need, or how we took in hundreds of thousands of our neighbors from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, or how our local charitable organizations have given the city some of its finest parks and artistic treasures. We tend not to wait on help from the outside around here.

2. We are eclectic.

Our diversity as a city is legendary. But the many ways said diversity has seeped into the cultural landscape? That can catch you off guard. Musicians find their rhythm in hip-hop, jazz, rock, Latin, punk, and classical grooves, sometimes all at once. Artists use canvases and freeway overpasses and giant slabs of concrete and beer cans as their mediums. We can visit a gun show, a quinceañera, a gay pride event, a mega-church service, and a performance-art show … all in the same day. Austin wishes it was as weird as us.

3. We are casual.

There are fashion plates all around, of course, but shorts and flip-flops are commonplace. More than anything, we like to relax. A nice margarita on a fan-cooled patio is a way of life here, for Houstonians in designer duds and Bermuda shorts alike. And, no, we don’t all wear cowboy hats and boots, unless it’s Go Texan Day, when everyone dresses in their best Western duds and spontaneously runs out of the city’s offices and schools to wave at trail riders. (By the way, no one, not even your boss or teacher, cares if you do this. In fact, they’ll probably run out with you.)

Image: Peter Ryan

4. We are congested.

Yes, the pollen is brutal in the spring, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Houston is a car city. We’re trying to reform, adding new public-transportation options and better hike-and-bike paths, but the reality is, if you live here, you drive. Combine that with the perpetual road construction, and you get traffic, and plenty of it. Houstonians endure some of the worst commute times in the country, so download some podcasts and get comfy.

5. We are tough as nails.

#HoustonStrong isn’t just a hashtag for our city popularized after a hurricane. It is who we are. This entire city was built on a mosquito-infested swamp and sold to unsuspecting investors by con artists. Yet we invented the artificial heart, put a man on the moon, and dug a ditch all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to downtown Houston, creating the biggest port in the country. We’ve beaten back recessions and stared down hurricanes. You won’t find a more resilient bunch, and we’re damn proud of that, too.

6. We are messy.

Again, it’s not lost on us that Houston isn’t going to win any beauty contests. We don’t have mountains, and our “rivers” are muddy-bottomed bayous. Our sprawl is legendary—over 600 square miles of it inside the city limits alone, dotted with strip malls connected by twisting freeways and roads whose names change without warning. It’s a hot mess, but it’s our hot mess.

Image: Peter Ryan

5. We are hungry.

For years now our city has been recognized in national publications for its unique food scene. We also have been deemed America’s fattest city more than once. We can live with the latter, we suppose, so long as it comes with the former. Few places in the world—let alone America—offer the kind of abundance and diversity of cuisines Houston does. Late-night Vietnamese, early-morning breakfast tacos, lunchtime shawarma, and weekend barbecue don’t even begin to scratch the surface.

Image: Peter Ryan

8. We are complicated.

Living in the most diverse city in America, that is also in the South, can be confusing for newbies. Houston itself is decidedly blue, while Harris County and surrounding suburbs are quite the contrary. We are home to Christian mega-churches and Hindu temples and Islamic mosques and Buddhist monasteries. We speak countless languages and are loaded with immigrants. Fortunately, most of us believe our differences only serve to make us stronger.

9. We are stormy.

There is a general misconception about Houston—mainly because we are a city in, you know, Texas—that our climate is more “tumbleweed-ridden desert” than “rainforest.” Yet we have a lot more in common with the latter. That makes for lush green space, mild winters, dewy skin, and rain … lots of rain. Now, an event like Hurricane Harvey was an anomaly, but of course the threat of tropical weather is a reality of life on the Gulf Coast. Get a good weather app, and you’ll be fine.

Image: Peter Ryan

10. Most of all, we are friendly.

If you happen to be standing in line in a grocery store and a woman randomly begins talking, there is a very good chance she is not on the phone, but rather chatting with you. This is normal. Don’t be frightened. We wave at our neighbors, nod at total strangers, and smile and talk about the weather in waiting rooms. We’re just like that. So, to all the newcomers out there, it’s pointless to resist. You’re in Houston now, and you’re already part of the family.

Filed under
Show Comments