A few years ago I was flying back from Austin, Texas with Ben Metcalfe, the co-founder of the company I was working for at the time. Ben is from Hackney in London, which means when he wants to, he pulls out a bit of a street / cockney London accent, but he’s basically lost the UK street accent.
He doesn’t sound like UK Grime hip-hop anymore, but Ben never really lost his British accent, even after ~10 years living in San Francisco. I’m not sure with Ben if keeping the British accent was calculated to maintain status at the marquee tech companies he’s worked at, or if it’s something that came naturally to him. Some accents are impossible to un-learn. But there are a lot of things with Ben where I’m not exactly sure if it’s calculated or if it comes naturally to him. Or both.
I grew up in Texas, and most of my family lives somewhere between Austin, Texas and Oklahoma City. I never thought of myself has being particularly Southern, but I apparently used to have a Texas accent before moving to SF four years ago.
I didn’t realize that until a few years ago, when Ben pointed it out to me on a flight back from Austin to the San Francisco Bay Area. We had been back in Austin for a week, and I had apparently affected that slight Texan drawl and tendency to eat the last consonant of my words. That slight drawl is quite out of place in the Bay Area, one of the most un-Texan places I can think of.
There’s a few stereotypes of Texas that are very overblown, but the accent is one of those things people expect, but never get, from Texans. Everyone seems to think that if you come from Texas you’re going to sound like Dolly Parton. It’s not true. You’ll get much thicker accents Between Louisiana and Georgia than you will in 90% of Texas.
Since I never talked like I grew up in rural Baton Rouge, I never thought of myself as having much of an accent, and nobody really ever called me on it until Ben did.
Apparently when Ben and I hopped on our flight from Austin to San Francisco, I had an accent, but once I landed in California it was gone.
When we land in California, I exit the plane and say something about sharing an Uber home without any trace of a Texas accent. Ben starts laughing at me, pointing out that my accent was gone and that during the flight I had undergone a massive transformation from Texan to Californian. He said it was as if I had changed clothes, swapping boots and a Stetson for a plaid flannel t-shirt and some hipster jeans.
“Hey fella, you really don’t want the Cal-i-forn-i-ans knowing you’re really from Texas do you?
The answer is obviously, “no, not really.” Californians are mean to Texans, and look down on us based completely on a stereotype about what they think Texans are actually like.
When I meet new people, they ask me where I’m from. As soon as I say “Texas” there is almost always an uncomfortable moment until I clarify that I grew up in Austin. As soon as I say that I’m from Austin, and not Waco or Fort Worth or whatever, the invariably exhale and reply with something really openminded and well-traveled like “Oh, I haven’t ever been to Texas, but I hear that Austin is the only sane place there.”
If I had been from somewhere else in Texas, that wouldn’t be ok. But since I’m from Austin, that somehow exempts me from some horrible fate.
Texas is a really big state, and it’s a bit weird to pigeonhole the whole thing. It takes over 12 hours to drive from El Paso and Houston, and even more to drive from Amarillo and Brownsville. That’s a lot of land and a lot of people, and there’s a lot of room for diversity.
So yes, there are a lot of conservative voters In Texas. And plenty of people came from farms. My mom’s family are beekeepers, and own a fair bit of land in Central Texas. But they also all have college degrees or PhDs and have voted Democrat for decades.
The way Californians think about Texans is about as accurate as the rest of the world thinks about Texas. And contrary to popular opinion, we don’t all ride horses and wear cowboy hats through the desert.
I did a Texas road trip from Dallas to Houston to Austin with a good friend of mine from New Zealand two years ago. Most of that drive is actually very green, and he kept asking me when we’d get to the “real Texas” with the desert.
I think he had Clint Eastwood movies in mind. That’s not what most of Texas, other than around El Paso, looks like. That’s actually what Italy looks like. Those movies were called Spaghetti Westerns because, well, they were filmed in Italy.
A lot of the desert that people think of when they think of Texas is really closer to what Arizona looks like.
There is a bit of truth to the idea that Austin is a dot of Democratic Blue in a sea of Red. Except the cities in Texas are urban areas and are pretty blue, just like all major cities and urban areas across the US are pretty blue.
Just like all the cities in California are all blue…except for Sacramento and Fresno, and Bakersfield…and, well, you get the idea.
The truth is that once you get outside of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego (actually, San Diego can be pretty Red), California turns into rural farmland, just like Texas. Ask people driving from SF to LA if they like the 101 or the 5, and they say the 101 is more beautiful, and while the 5 is faster, it’s ugly and boring. That’s because the 5 cuts through some of the best farmland in the country. Central California is God’s country with tons of farms, fast food, country music stations, and plenty of pickups trucks bearing Trump stickers.
I think it’s lame that that Texans are a group that it’s OK to marginalize, but people do it. Never mind that its narrow-minded for people to hate on Texas when they haven’t spent any time there, save for a weekend in Austin for a bachelor party or SXSW or the F1.
I’m disappointed that people don’t realize that Texas is massive, and while the Gulf of Mexico isn’t nearly as gorgeous as the Pacific cliffs at Big Sur, Texas is an incredibly beautiful state, full of really hospitable people. Southern hospitality is a thing, y’all, and until you’ve had a big Sunday supper of roast or ham with all the fixin’s, you’re lacking some serious life experience.
So the natural response to this is “so if Texas is so great, why do you ditch your accent once you land back at SFO?”
The answer is that it wasn’t ever an intentional thing. I didn’t realize I was losing the accent until Ben pointed it out. But if I walk around sounding like I’m from Texas, people will take me just a bit less serious, and some part of me recognized that and adapted.
So while I’m in California, which I love, it’s more pragmatic to drop the accent to fit in with the Californians, and pick it back up when I come home for the holidays.
And as long as I’m California, I’ll do what I can to evangelize the reality that Texas is a really wonderful place to live, full of wonderful people, and until you’ve visited for more than a weekend, I don’t want to hear you saying Austin is the only sane place in the whole state.
Hope this helps, y’all.
Austin W. Gunter