Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Texas Talk

I am a Yankee.

From my first visit to Texas, I have been struck by how differently people communicate here.

“Texas Talk” is flowery, an elaborate exchanging of compliments. It is indirect. Because people don’t say what they mean, they can end up in situations none of them want. This actually has a name: the Abilene paradox.

People are compelled to chat here. When I am walking my dog, people have stopped their cars to say, “That sure is a purty dog.”

Texans are driven to connect. They will ask you questions until they can say something like “Oh! Your husband went to the same elementary school as my cousin.” This makes them happy.

Of course, New Yorkers are famous for their way of speaking – or rather, not speaking. Duane Reade cashiers, in particular, can process an entire transaction without speaking to, or even looking at, you.

I watched a recent Texas transplant in an Upper West Side coffee shop: she was asking each of her children what they wanted and was attempting to charm the guy behind the counter. You could almost see the steam coming out his ears. The line was backing up behind her. But this same guy had my order ready every morning as my son and I walked in. And once, when my husband, a more experienced Texan transplant, quickly said he liked the music playing, there was a CD of that music on my tray the next morning.

It’s not that New Yorkers won’t help. Ask for directions on the street and you will soon have a cluster around you, arguing over what the best route is, confusing you entirely.

In a densely populated environment, not always talking is the polite thing, while in a spread-out one, connecting is.

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