Now an identity statement that embodies the Lone Star State (and Texans generally), most visitors don’t know that the slogan was first used in an ad campaign to reduce littering on Texas highways in 1985. Created by Austin-based firm GSD&M, the campaign began as a series of bumper stickers, making its first television premiere in a performance by Stevie Ray Vaughan at the 50th Annual Cotton Bowl Classic on January 1, 1986. If someone says “Don’t Mess With Texas,” they could mean don’t pick a fight you can’t finish—or they could just be warning you not to litter.
In Texas, you are likely to be greeted in the car or on the street by total strangers; this is just the Texan way. It is polite to acknowledge and return the greeting with a simple “hello” or even just a smile and nod of the head. In the car, if someone makes space for you during a lane change, you should show your gratitude with a wave of your hand in the rearview mirror.
In Texas, the word “Coke” refers to almost any carbonated beverage with a high sugar content, not just Coca-Cola® products. More than likely, if a Texan says they want a “Coke,” they actually want a Dr Pepper®. Formulated by Charles Alderton in Waco, Texas, the soft drink was first served in 1885, preceding the introduction of Coca-Cola® by one year—which proud Texans will be the first to tell you.
If you know nothing else about Texans, you know them for their state pride, which primarily stems from the territory’s unique history as an independent republic from 1836 to 1845, when the U.S. annexed it as the 28th state. “Remember the Alamo” is the battle cry that eventually secured independence from Mexico, commemorating the heroic sacrifice of a small group of outnumbered Texans at the Battle of the Alamo. Texans still celebrate Texas Independence Day on March 2nd every year and the Battle of the Alamo on March 6th.
Founded in downtown Austin in 1997, the Alamo Drafthouse operates 16 locations around Texas, including 10 more across the country. In addition to seat-side service, Alamo Drafthouse is famous for enforcing a strict no-talking, no-texting, and no-late arrivals policy while in the theater. The company made national headlines in 2011 when its pre-feature PSA included the rants of an angry customer who the theater ejected for texting. More recently, Alamo made headlines for offering a gift card to a man suing his date for texting during a movie at another cinema.
Tex-Mex cuisine is a fusion of American and Mexican cuisine, featuring fajitas, nachos, burritos, and breakfast tacos. Try a basic egg, bacon, and cheese on a tortilla, or be adventurous at places such as Taco Deli, where favorites include the “Otto” (refried black beans, bacon, avocado, and cheese) and the “Vaquero” (scrambled egg, grilled corn, roasted peppers, and cheese). Be sure to top your taco with one or more of their mouthwatering, house-made salsas—now available at Whole Foods!
Savvy tourists will bring their breakfast tacos with them to stand in line for lunch at Franklin Barbecue. Rain or shine, six days a week, hundreds gather in the early morning at this East Austin establishment to wait three to five hours for some of the country’s most famous barbecue. Bring a folding chair, friends, and your appetite: the camaraderie of the line is as much a part of the cult experience as the brisket. The restaurant’s hours are 11 a.m. to sold out, so get there early to secure your spot in line. So far, only President Obama has been the exception to the line’s no-cutting rule—much to the chagrin of Kanye West.
Gruene Hall, built in 1878 by Henry (Heinrich) D. Gruene in the Gruene Historic District of what is now New Braunfels, is the oldest dance hall in Texas. The hall’s original layout remains the same—about 6,000 square feet (557.4 square meters) with a tin roof and side flaps for open-air dancing, a bar in front, a small stage, and a huge outdoor garden. Today, the hall still attracts country music legends, such as Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson, as well as up-and-coming acts. Tourists can two-step like locals with live music every day of the week, and if someone asks you to dance, don’t refuse!
Due to the fusion of Spanish and American cultures ever since the state first came to be, many regional names are not what they seem. Manchaca, for example, is pronounced, “Man-shack,” while Bexar County is pronounced like the word “bear.” If you’re unsure, just wait for a Texan to pronounce a place’s name—listen and repeat.
Regional names aren’t the only words Texans say differently. The two most common colloquialisms are “y’all” (you plural) and, perhaps less known, “fixin’ to”—which denotes that someone is getting ready to do something or go somewhere. For example, “Are y’all fixin’ to go to Texas?” No one knows for sure where this simple future tense first developed, and though it is less widely adopted than “y’all,” tourists will certainly hear it on more than one occasion. And loved ones beware: visitors have been known to bring the convenient contraction “y’all” back to their home state or country.
While many songs have captured the essence of the Lone Star State, one of its most famous ballads is “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” The song, written in 1941, has been recorded by Texas musicians from Gene Autry to George Strait and is still played by the Texas Longhorn band during each football game at the Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium. The song’s first line declares that “the stars at night are big and bright / Deep in the heart of Texas.” Be sure to head out to the Hill Country or one of the state’s many national and state parks—you’ll see for yourself that the song is true.