NICOLA: Since we went on a road trip around America in a van called Vera for the last two years we get asked this question a lot: "So what do you really think of America and Americans?" It's a tricky one to answer. Not unlike that awkward poser, "Does my bum look big in this?" You have to wonder is a truthful answer really required? Do those asking it really want to know, or are they just desiring confirmation of what they think you should think.
But in the spirit of truth, justice and the American way, here's a few observations we made on our travels for you to ponder on.
1. The USA is a very big country.
Well that's a no brainer I hear you say, I already knew that. Well yes, but the vastness and the variety of the geography is something you don't really get to grips with until you pilot your small tin can home on wheels (a.k.a Vera) around it. There were times driving across Texas for instance, that would have meant we'd have gone through five countries if we'd chalked up the equivalent distance in Europe.
Being a big fan of traveling I was always rather hypercritical of those Americans without a passport who have never left the country, but in some small way I now get it. Here in the land of the free and the home of the brave you get mountains, beaches, deserts, forests, rivers etc. etc. Frankly pretty much every type and variety of landscape to fill multiple editions of National Geographic. So why would you need to leave home? Hmm.... However the fact is travel is much more than looking at the natural surroundings, it involves culture, history and a comprehension that not everybody does things the way you do. You can learn much about others and yourself when you travel. So Americans you may have a point but you should still get out and see some other places. It'll do you good.
2. It should be called the Not-so-United States of America.
There are 50 states and while we didn't go to every one of them, those we did go to made us realise how different they all are. From the rules that govern them to the accents that greet you the states defintely have more of an individual identity than we thought. Crossing state lines can have an impact on your intention to buy a gun, drive a car (then how fast you can go), buy booze in the supermarket, have an abortion, grow your own weed, get married if you're gay and even whether or not you'll be injected with fatal drugs should you find yourself on death row. That's quite a range of subjects for a country not to agree on.
Not only that but personal pride in one's state often means the inhabitants don't like the other 49, something regularly vociferously vocalised to us when we explained where we'd been so far on our journey. In many ways I'd say the states are more like countries themselves rather than parts of a country. But with closer inspection, some of this makes sense. Yet again history and cultural context help explain. Some of the states were republics in their own right before being part of the USA, other were outright owned by other countries. There are those that banded together quite early as the colonies started to organise themselves against the British and others so remote that maps were only completed in some of their areas in the 1940's. Added to that is the system of government which limits the federal power the president and the congress can wield and you have this 'jigsaw puzzle' which is the United (?) States of America.
3. Americans are the friendliest people on the planet.
Yep it's official, in our experience they really are. Pretty much everybody regardless of what state we were in was incredibly friendly. From checkout girls in a supermarket to hikers on a trail and fellow RV-ers. Everybody wanted to chat and were always willing to help out in any way if ever we asked. Maybe the funny foreign accents helped ("OMG I luuurve your accent"). That characteristic we possess certainly meant nobody could pigeon-hole us as being from a particular state or having a particular political point of view which in this fractious country turns out is a good thing. And we liked to listen alot. Americans do like to talk.
So if Americans were dogs...they would be golden labradors. You know, the happy smiley ones with the big waggy tails that rush straight up to you via a trail of muddy footprints, slightly slobbering, sticking their nose straight into your crotch and demanding to be patted or their ears rubbed. All the while with the plume-like tail swinging back and forth like a feathery pendulum knocking over everything on the coffee table as they gaze up at you lovingly and blissfully unaware of the carnage they are causing behind them. You want to scold them but ah...they're so adorable!
(So, was that what you wanted to hear?)