A Brit's Guide to Texas: They Eat Moles Here?!
Food oddities galore!
One of my favourite places to meander around is a supermarket, so one of my first sightseeing tours of San Antonio was conducted within a store native to Texas, called 'HEB', (according to the TV commercial, the acronym stands for 'Here Everything's Better!', when in fact it is the initials of the man who's mother founded the company; Howard Edward Butt.)
So, grabbing a trolley (or 'cart' as they're called here!) I headed down the first aisle, my eyes having a field day as I took in all of the unfamiliar brands and food types, occasionally commenting with a loud, 'Ooo!' or 'Ahhhh', to my fiancé who followed me with a bemused look on his face. That bemused look quickly turned to gales of laughter, however, when I abruptly stopped in the Latino food section, and expressed my shock and disgust at the fact that poor little moles were being turned into sauces. Yes, 'Mole' sauce. And yes, I truly did believe it was made from moles! (Pronounced 'moe-lay', it's the brown chili-type sauce that you find poured over enchiladas!)
Pickled pigs feet in jars, chili peppers and jalapeños, and more flavours of fizzy pop (soda!) than I'd ever laid eyes on before - that's your typical Texan supermarket. And nestled in-between all of this, you'll find flip-flops, BBQs and grills, charcoal, and many, many different ice chests - 'cus they sell an awful lot of ice here too! Every now and then, I'd spot an item I was familiar with; Coleman's English mustard, Baxter's, and Campbell's soups, Jacobs cream crackers, and, if you go to one of the 'super' HEBs, a small selection of European Cadburys chocolates, biscuits, Ribena, and cooking sauces - all available for the price equivalent of a small car! A great invention in supermarkets here in Texas are the child-friendly carts (trolleys) - designed to look like little cars complete with steering wheels, making a trip to the grocery store with your younger kids far less stressful! It's also difficult getting used to the fact that your bags are packed for you at the checkout, especially when you end up with your cans of baked beans sitting on top of your tomatoes! You might also be surprised to see that all of the cashiers are standing - no sign of a stool or chair in supermarkets here - but that's a whole other story!
Holidays in Texas are an experience in themselves, particularly Christmas, and if you ever have the opportunity to spend a Christmas here, I really do recommend it. OK, so you won't have snow, but that is more than made up for in the spirit of the season, with peoples' homes and yards, stores and streets, adorned with every decoration you can think of. Back home in the UK, an abundance of Christmas decorations in/on someone's home, is usually considered tacky, but here in Texas, the more wealthy you are, the more spectacular your decorations!One of the most famous areas in San Antonio is a suburb named Windcrest; each year the streets around the neighbourhood are lined with slow-moving cars as families drive by to take in the brilliant lights and lawn arrangements, and the neighbourhood has an annual contest as to who has the best decorations. ***There is no political correctness here in America when it comes to Christmas, so if the word offends you, it's probably best you stay away, because it's in integral part of many Americans' lives, and it is celebrated with pride.
*** Note from author: Since publishing this article, it has been brought to my attention that I am in fact incorrect about the use of the word, "Christmas" here in the States. Back home in the UK, 'Christmas' is rapidly being phased out of cards and town decorations for fear of offending non-Christians, while here in America, "Happy Holidays!" seems to be the standard greeting you are given at the festive time of year. I personally find this insulting and will refuse to say anything but, "Merry Christmas!" - but again, that's an entirely different article! ***
Toys for Tots, and Elf Louise
Christmas dinner is a little different to the traditional type in Britiain. While turkey is usually the main course, it is often set out buffet-style, with everyone helping themselves before being seating. Side dishes vary from, stuffing, candied yam casserole (sweet potato/yam chunks, covered with marshmallows, and then baked in the oven), green bean casserole, ham, mashed potatoes, pea salad, macaroni cheese, raw veggies with dip, and different breads and/or biscuits. Dessert is the traditional pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie, served with cool whip (sort of like fresh cream but much sweeter).
You cannot visit a store in December without hearing the familiar (but rather annoying!) jingle of the bells held by people from the Salvation Army, who withstand all weathers to collect for their cause. It can be a little intimidating walking past them, as you do tend to feel obliged to donate, especially when they're all but blocking the entrance/exit of the shop you're in! Toy donations are another big thing each Christmas, with the US Marines running the 'Toys for Tots' collections, and San Antonio's own local, 'Elf Louise' - all accepting donations of new, unwrapped toys, which can be dropped off at various locations, such as bank foyers, and other establishments.
A sense of community...
One huge difference between America and the UK is the sense of community. It is somewhat easy to understand the stereotype that befalls us Brits (the 'stiff upper lip') because we do tend to keep to ourselves, where as here across the pond, neighbours are far more involved with one another, and look out for their fellow neighbour's well-being. Yards and front gardens are rarely undecorated throughout the year with cute little bird baths, plant pots, and other garden ornaments, and it is very rare for someone to come along and steal or vandalize someone's yard - unlike they would in the UK. People over here certainly take pride in their front gardens, and it's a common sight to see homeowners sitting out front on swings or garden chairs, watching the world go by. In fact, many Texans will have BBQs and parties out on their front yard - something completely unheard of back home in Britain. It's just one more thing that adds to the sense of community and belonging here.
Next time, in Part 3: Downtown San Antonio, and the Alamo!
PART 1 of Brit's Guide to Texas
- A Brit's Guide to Visiting, or Living in, Texas: Part 1
An insight into Texan life from the viewpoint of a British expat.
Americanisms for Dummies!
- Americanisms for Dummies!
A fun, useful list of American words and their meanings