Who says Texas etiquette doesn't exist? From matters culinary to matters urinary, it defines who we are like nothing else.
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To the 6.1 billion people on this planet who are not Texans, the very idea of Texas etiquette may seem like a contradiction. These culturally deprived souls, sometimes known as the rest of the world, go blithely through life believing implicitly in lady wrestlers, Catholic universities, and military intelligence, yet they scoff at the notion of Texas etiquette.
We Texans believe if it ain’t King James, it ain’t Bible. We believe in holding hands and saying grace before eating big, hairy steaks in chain restaurants. If the steak is the size of a sombrero, the meal is followed by the belching of the Lord’s Prayer, which is then followed by projectile vomiting. Extreme cases may result in what some Texans commonly refer to as “squirtin’ out of both ends.”
The only thing that really differentiates Texas from any other place in the world, however, is the proclivity of its people to urinate out of doors and to attach a certain amount of importance to this popular pastime. Urinating outside goes much further than merely meeting the criteria of what is socially acceptable; it is the way of our people. To walk out under the Texas stars and water your lizard is considered the most sacred inalienable right of all citizens of the Lone Star State.
Though Texans are always a relatively considerate bunch, things do seem to get a little wiggy when a certain type of woman meets another woman from the same substratum whom she hasn’t seen since Kennedy was croaked in Dallas (which we don’t really consider to be part of Texas). The announcement of JFK’s death, by the way, was rumored to have been greeted with cheering in certain boardrooms and country clubs in the state, which, of course, was a mild lapse in Texas etiquette. So, no doubt, was killing President Kennedy.
As I was saying before I heard voices in my head, there is a traditional greeting used by women in Texas who haven’t seen each other in a while. In a sort of latent lesbian mating ritual, the first one’s face lights up insanely, and she shrieks, “Look at yeeew!” The other one, her countenance locked in an equally demonic rictus, responds, “Look at yeeew!!!” There is little doubt that this increasingly frenetic, insectile exchange would continue indefinitely if not for the intercession of a third party. Suddenly a big cowboy walks up, strikes a match on his wranglers—he has two Mexican wranglers who work for him—and proceeds to set the women on fire.
Now the women are dancing around like vapid versions of Joan of Arc, sparks flying from their big hair, still screaming “Look at yeeew!!!” and they would have no doubt fallen through the trap door in tandem if not for the appearance of another party. Fortunately a man nearby just happens to be urinating out of doors and saves the day by taking the thing into his own hands and extinguishing the fire with Hose Number One.
Sometimes Texas etiquette manifests itself far beyond the boundaries of the Lone Star State. When I was working in Borneo with the Peace Corps, I decided to take a little trip to Thailand with a few other volunteers. This was the height of the Haight-Ashbury era and, of course, the Vietnam War. In a seedy little bar in Chiang Mai, these two forces came together. By forces, I mean special forces, as in Green Berets. A group of them, on R&R from Vietnam, had been drinking rather heavily at the bar. There were four of us Peace Corps kids, all skinny as Jesus, with long hair and native beads, and one of our party, Dylan Ferrero, happened, rather unfortunately, to be sporting a flower in his hair. In the air, the sense of impending doom was almost palpable. The Green Berets, like ourselves, had been culturally out where the buses don’t run for possibly a little too long. They thought we were real hippies. And they were in no mood to let Saigons be bygones.
A wiry, dangerous-looking little Hawaiian guy from this gang wandered over with a glaze of hatred in his eyes that almost wilted Dylan’s flower. I remember his words quite well because he chanted them with a soft, evil cadence: “Ain’t you cool.” A bar in Chiang Mai could be a godless, lawless place in 1967, almost as lawless and godless as a lonely road outside Jasper in 1998. But it was just at that moment that I thought I heard a familiar accent—a Texas accent. The deep, drawling tones were emanating from the largest man I’d ever seen. He was sitting with the Green Berets, watching the ongoing tension convention at the bar. With a sudden confidence that must have come from deep in the heart of Texas, I walked over to a table of cranked-up Special Forces. With my beads and Angela Davis Afro, it would have been the stupidest thing I’d ever done in my life if I hadn’t been so sure that Goliath was from Texas. Texas saved me.
In a matter of moments, I had learned that the guy was from Dublin, Texas, and he knew my old college friend Lou Siegel, who was also from Dublin. The next thing anybody knew, the invisible bond of latent homosexual Texas manhood had transcended all the other human chemistry in the bar and the world. Years later I thanked Lou for being spiritually in the right place at the right time. I never saw Goliath the Green Beret again. Maybe he just got Starbucked into the twenty-first century like everybody else and is sipping a decaf latte somewhere and reading the Wall Street Gerbil.
I wish I could say that Texas etiquette really exists. Maybe it’s like God or Santa Claus or brotherly love—something no one’s ever seen but just might be there after all. Years ago my mother had a little sign on her desk at Echo Hill Ranch, a summer camp for boys and girls. It read: “Courtesy is owed. Respect is earned. Love is given.” That may be as close to Texas etiquette as any of us will ever get.
From the book Kinky Friedman’s Guide to Texas Etiquette, by Kinky Friedman, which will be published in October by Cliff Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Kinky Friedman, all rights reserved.