I’ve been on the road a lot lately – putting a lot of miles on the Batmobile. Driven through cities, back country, suburbs, thousands of miles. And I wasn’t seeking this conclusion, but I came to it anyway: America is pretty much the same, everywhere.
Before you get up in arms about the uniqueness of your little hamlet (do we even have hamlets in the US? I don’t think so – chalk another one up to homogeneity), let me expound and clarify and thus placate your offended soul.
I’m from the South, but I’ve lived and visited other places. So I can first list for you the cultural differences between South and non-South, and then I can list for you the differences between my Corner of the South and my Former Corner of the South and your Corner of the South and even go into dialectical differences from city to city.
Don’t worry: you are special and unique. Except…you’re not.
America (and I mean the United States, having never been to Canada or any South American countries) is characterized by one underlying factor: space.
Space as in room, not as in NASA (although we have that, too).
In my international travels, I’ve always noticed this one thing: other places are a lot more crowded. Higher populations + less land. That’s why you have tiny bathrooms (shoilets, affectionately) in Europe and magnificent high-rises in Asia and decent public transportation pretty much everywhere except here and Iceland.
America is farmland and sprawling cities. America is single-family homes on at least 3/4 an acre. America is enough room in the yard to park your RV and your 5th car and a have a pool. America is empty roads for miles, dotted with the occasional ramshackle mom & pop, interrupted by sudden frenzies of chain stores and restaurants – all next to each other, never stacked on top, separated by parking lots.
We are really inefficient at using space. And why should we be efficient? We have TONS of space. Our houses are huge. Our closets are huge. We build everything so far apart that we have to drive to get places. There are too few of us, spread too far apart, to make any kind of public transportation worthwhile (outside of places like NYC, DC, Chicago, etc).
You might be thinking…Well, that’s just normal, isn’t it?
It’s not! The rest of the world is, generally, not like that. At least, not the parts that I’ve seen or heard about.
So it turns out you are unique, then, you special snowflake.
When you’re roadtripping the US, you’ll notice topographical changes (Louisiana is wetter than Texas and Texas is flatter than Georgia!) but it’s all just variations on the same theme. The theme of space: we live on the frontier. Our towns and our cities are roomy frontier towns, evidence of a sparse, young population cautiously rooting itself with plenty of room to swing cats. Even our cultural nuances point to our identity as a country of frontiers, like the ubiquity of boudin along the I-10 in south Louisiana (boudin is a type of sausage originating in France).
It’s not better or worse that we’re a spacious frontier, it’s just different. It does mean that we can get a wealth of experience within the US without culture shock – but it might mean that we can’t wrap our heads around problems that other countries have.
I suck at writing meaningful conclusions, so – the end.