As a loyal St. Louis native, I enjoy bragging about the friendliness of my fellow Missourians. I take pride in smiling to strangers as I walk down the street and in receiving big smiles back. I love waving to passersby and hearing hellos and greetings in return.
I am certainly not alone in this feeling, as Midwesterners are known for our unmatched outgoing demeanor, lovingly referred to as “Midwest Nice.” I’ve experienced this phenomenon in Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. Same regional culture, different states.
I grew up so immersed in this personality type, in fact, that it became hard to believe that people acted any differently in other areas. It wasn’t until I visited the east and west coasts that I began to notice the regional differences. I once had a woman in Boston run right into me and then yell at me for standing in her way. The fancy businessmen in Silicon Valley looked straight past me as I tried to smile in their direction during my visit to California and don’t even get me started on New York City.
So, I felt nervous coming to Texas for the first time because I’m not very familiar with the South. I had of course heard of the famous “Southern Hospitality,” but was skeptical and wanted to see it for myself.
Sure enough, I witnessed the warmth as soon as I stepped off of the plane for interview weekend this past February. In Lubbock, the weather was 65 degrees and sunny, a welcome change from the icy cold I had been suffering in the Midwest. As I hopelessly attempted to shove my now unnecessary winter coat into the small carry-on, a man in cowboy boots sitting next to me spoke up.
“Excuse me, ma’am, do you need any help with that?” he earnestly offered. Just as I was about to accept his assistance, the zipper finally pulled close and I thanked him anyways. I left the airport with a great first impression of the city.
My first few weeks at Texas Tech have proved consistent with that initial encounter. I have no sense of direction and am perpetually lost in this enormous campus, but have successfully found everywhere I need to go thanks to the guidance of friendly Texans.
When I ask how to find certain buildings, I’ve had multiple people actually walk with me to my desired location. My roommate and her father took me out to dinner my first week here when I didn’t know anyone yet. Staff members at the recreation center, on campus dining locations and my apartment building patiently answered all of my questions and then directed me to even more helpful resources.
Not to mention, the hospitality is contagious. At the gym last week, I had just put my stuff away and was in the zone for my workout when a guy started to approach looking like he was going to ask me something.
My instinct was to politely smile and walk past him towards the machines, but then I remembered the generosity I had received in the past week. So instead, I popped out one headphone and asked if he needed anything.
It turned out that he had never used the lockers before and wasn’t sure how they worked. I demonstrated for him the process of selecting your lock combination, flipping the switch, scrambling the numbers, and then doing it in reverse to unlock.
He thanked me and I nodded, satisfied with my altruistic act for the afternoon. I strolled over to the drinking fountain to fill up my water bottle, blaring Missy Elliott back to full volume in my ears again, feeling my warm-up vibes.
As I headed to the elliptical, back in the direction of the lockers, the poor guy was still struggling with the lock. He shot me a sheepish look and shrugged. Again, I was tempted to simply shrug back and walk past, not wanting to disrupt my momentum a second time.
But instead, I reminded myself of the kindness I had accepted earlier and I embraced the southern hospitality mindset. I took a deep breath, turned down my music and helped him through each step. When he could finally do it on his own, he looked so grateful and it felt really rewarding to have been able to contribute to this culture of generosity.
So thank you, Texans, for showing me that southern hospitality is much more than just a myth. Although I’ll always be loyal to my Midwestern roots, those of us that are new here could stand to learn a thing or two from you.