When I moved to Texas I didn't expect to be surprised.
I expected an adjustment, sure. Thirteen years of living in New York City before moving to Austin meant that things were going to be different. But I had spent my other years living in Louisiana and visiting Texas fairly regularly. I knew Christmas could be 80 degrees. I had seen an armadillo AND a grackle. I knew all about Southern hospitality. I knew how much Texans loved Texas. I had eaten many kolaches, tamales, and plates of BBQ. I knew there were real-life cowboys, but that not everyone was a real-life cowboy. In that same vein, I had cowboy boots, and I knew not to wear them everywhere. This was going to be a Texas Sheet Cake-walk.
Reader: I was wrong.
Life in Texas is filled with unexpected surprises. Some are physical—the way torrential downpours start and end within an instant, the prevalence of extremely large swaths of migrating birds in parking lots, the consistent deliciousness of every single tortilla—but many of the surprises are less tangible—the kindness, the state pride, the feeling of relaxation that has seeped into my very bones.
Here's what I didn't expect most of all: to fall in love with a grocery store and for that love to alter my whole ethos.
Most New Yorkers will admit: grocery shopping is not one of the reasons to love New York. The aisles are minuscule and always crowded. The floors are often lined with flattened cardboard boxes, to keep them clean(?). Stores can consistently be out of the one, random item you came for in the first place ("No spinach today! Absolutely devoid of paper towels! Cereal? Fuggedaboutit!"). Unfathomable lines. Walking home with all of your purchases and immediately regretting buying that jarred tomato sauce.
So when my Austin friends dazzled me with both a Central Market and an H-E-B shopping trip on a visit, I was tempted. Here were grocery stores with tasty samples, plenty of space to shop, and waits that didn’t start at the front door.
Ok, ok, we didn't move entirely because of H-E-B.
My husband got a job, and we were ready to live in a place that was both warm and would provide a warm embrace for our family. I’d been visiting Austin regularly since college. How different could it be?
And then I started shopping at H-E-B regularly.
It was win-win. I liked shopping at H-E-B, and suddenly my life had time for something like "grocery shopping." I had time to make dinner again, to cook for my friends and family, and to leisurely shop for the supplies to do such. I could casually peruse the aisles without bumping into grizzled New Yorkers who also wanted the last gallon of unexpired milk. I could choose recipes that required more ingredients than I could physically carry home. And while I was doing all that pleasure shopping—people started talking to me.
It felt weird.
Like I said, I knew Southern hospitality, but this was different. This wasn't "bless your heart," be on your way. This was let's have an actual conversation, not just exchange pleasantries. This wasn't "allow me to rant at you about the world as a means to catharsis" (a common NYC conversation technique). This was "tell me about you." What are you up to? Strangers in the store, the cashier, the meat cutter in the deli—everyone wanted to talk.
It felt odd to open myself up to spending time talking to other people. That sounds crass, but if you have become practiced in the art of efficiency, which most New Yorkers are, conversation goes by the wayside. Connection is avoided in the interest of time. New Yorkers aren't rude—they're in a hurry. Time is the one thing not available 24/7 in the city, and so they don't waste it. Moving to Texas required a shift in my brain synapses. I could tone down the urge to hustle and turn up the ability to be present and converse.
Then I got a job at H-E-B.
There’s not a meeting that doesn't start with several minutes of people chatting. Chatting is encouraged. And I don't mean rehearsed small talk—we're talking genuine interests in other people's interests. At first, I wondered if I'd get in trouble for procrastinating. Maybe some of the people here are just more loquacious than others? Maybe they are just being nice because I'm new?
I learned more about H-E-B and the charitable heart of the company. I say heart because it's more than just donations. H-E-B cares deeply about the lives of fellow Texans. That means the full spectrum—from sponsoring 5Ks and beating FEMA to the job to offering a Partner stock plan and encouraging people to take time for family obligations, no questions asked. It's talking to people, all the time, not when you've scheduled it or when you are in the mood.
People who work here always have a story—a story about a time H-E-B solved a problem or did something charitable beyond what you'd expect a company to do. But what I've learned more and more working here is that the most interesting story is their own. It's the story of their life, their weekend, what they're up to.
Texas, and H-E-B, have readjusted my balance. Texans, myself included, are thoughtful investors. They invest that most precious asset, time, in their passions—slaving for hours on brisket, relentlessly attacking their work, and talking to the people they care about the most, which is everyone.
Kim Moreau Jacobs is a Senior Writer and Editor at H-E-B Digital. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.
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