America is Big, with a definite capital ‘B’. Although this observation will serve perfectly for this year’s entry to the “stating the bleeding obvious” awards, it does have a broader purpose, so stick with me.
The UK, by comparison, is vanishingly small (there’s my backup award entry). What this means in practice is that when someone generalises about “the British” or “in Britain”, they’re rarely far wide of the mark, even if their specific experience is confined to, say, London. Sure, the Scottish and the Welsh might complain a bit, but like all Brits, they just love complaining.
The States provides many more obstacles to generalisation. First is the sheer size. You certainly can’t make sweeping statements about geography or climate. When I arrived here and the temperature was in the low 60s with occasional showers, Chicago was under 4 feet of snow and it was baking hot in the South. The same applies to habits, customs and people. Although a lot of folks are intensely patriotic, it’s hard to define an “average American”, since an average Texan will be very, very different to an average Californian.
And therein lies the second obstable – the autonomy of different states. For a European, the model of the EU helps somewhat in understanding – in some ways, the individual states are rather like the constituent nations of the union. They make their own rules and laws, manage their own licensing, levy their own income tax and so on.
And, of course, that’s very much how it was designed from the start – a federation of semi-autonomous states, held together by a Federal Government. Somehow, it’s hard to fully grasp this until you’re actually *here*, though.
From afar, the US seems like a big homogenous lump of, well, Levi’s, Starbucks, McDonalds, Coca Cola, SUVs and fundamentalist Christians (he says, generalising). And, in a way, the nation tends to foster this image abroad. They are, after all, the United states (a stronger word, you’ll note, than the mere “union” of Europe).
All of this slightly bothers me, because I’m aware that when I write “Americans do X” or “America is Y”, I’m writing from a so-far quite brief experience of a very particular part of the country (well, that plus a few memories of childhood holidays out East).
So, for today, I’m going to somehow make myself feel better by throwing out some generalisations which I’m pretty confident apply across the whole nation:
- You can get Oreo cookies everywhere (and they’re supposedly good with milk).
- You’ll take away an American’s car when you pry the steering wheel out of his cold, dead hands.
- Everyone thinks the UK is constantly foggy.
- No matter where you are, McDonald’s breakfasts are really, truly, unspeakably vile.
- People don’t actually say “have a nice day” half as much as the cliche suggests, and when they do they really do mean it.
I’m sure there are many more, and that I’ll discover them in time. In the meantime, I’ll probably continue to ignorantly generalise based on what I observe here in my own tiny corner of this vast nation. Sorry.