When I turned 18 I ran for the hills with the tunnel vision of looking for adventure much like Bilbo when he chased after Thorin’s company. I craved to see new cultures and it never occurred to me that I could experience many cultures without a passport. I didn’t understand the full capacity of culture at 18, but I enjoyed being a tourist with my camera and sidewalk-blocking habits abroad–just kidding I’m not that tourist.
Still, my excitement to get away and experience cultural shock outside of the United States was a misconception derived from my eager blindness to see the places I’d always read about. In all the time I was visiting other continents, I was forced to look at my country from an outsider’s perspective. While growing up I didn’t realize the beauty of my home. I listened to the news, looked at life through a heavier outlook, and even judged the age of my country. It wasn’t that I disliked my home but I never felt pride in my origin because I didn’t want to believe adventures existed in my backyard. I thought the grass was greener on the other side.
It wasn’t until I watched the news in Australia that I finally digested what it was like to have a foreigner’s view of the USA. As I watched the news it was all the same content as I would see back home but a question still bothered me: why is it that the cultural image of the US is based on a government perspective? This question not only came from me observing daily life in another country but also stems from the many people I asked abroad if they had an interest in visiting the United States.
Majority of people responded with a blatant disinterest. Upon my travels, I encountered countless people that seem to consider the USA a last resort holiday destination. It just doesn’t appeal to them. As a person intrigued by many cultures, naturally I would have a hard time grasping this. So what makes my culture so unappealing to them when I am desiring to experience their cultures?
In search to answer this question, I recalled memories of foreigner reactions discovering I’m an American. Upon hearing this, people were almost too interested in knowing my thoughts on politics. I understand it’s a hot topic, but why is that the impulse topic up for discussion; the government of the United States and not its people or everyday life there?
When I think of France, I think wine, cheese, art galleries, architecture, and good company. When I think of Ireland I think of my Claddagh ring, wool sweaters, good beer, and a home-like culture. When I think of Australia I think of the nightlife, the beaches, the down-to-earth lifestyle, eco-friendly laws, and fashion. I think about the culture when I think about other countries and perhaps I am not the majority of people in this mindset but I don’t think it’s the case. So why is it that the United States culture isn’t thought about and only the government seems to be a concern?
Still trying to find a reason as to why the culture seems to be missing in the perception of the United States, I made an analysis:
My boyfriend and I discussed this topic and he suggested a beautifully put statement that the United States is a country of microcultures. Which can be hard to grasp as a holistic culture. Due to its massive size, origin, and age, I understand there isn’t a long history of consistency for the nation to give off one solid culture for the entire country.
Think about it in terms of numbers. The USA is a giant country and although you think “yeah okay” think about that in terms of people. See the below chart…
Around 326 million people live in fifty states or 3.797 million square miles (9.834 million square km). For the sake of culture comparison, I’m going to use Europe. Europe has a much higher population over a slightly larger area of 3.931 million square miles (10.18 million square km).
|Population||Area mi²||Area km²|
|Europe||>740 million||3.931 million||10.18 million|
|USA||<326 million||3.797 million||9.834 million|
The reason I am using Europe for comparison is because of its vast cultures and the close proximity of countries. I’ve heard it said that in Europe it’s a day train ride to country hop. Well, that’s extremely similar to the United States. If you start in one state and visit the next you witness a completely different culture, much like Europe. The US is a melting pot to its core and it isn’t comparable to other countries for this reason.
It’s true I received culture shock when visiting other countries, however, I received it just the same when witnessing the diversity and resilience of the American culture. The people are what make up a culture. In my country, I see people of all ethnicities living together. Some areas are extremely diverse while other places might be more densely populated with similar demographics. The drastic expanse of mini-cultures in the United States is what makes the US unique and beautiful. It’s incredible to think of the people that made the foundations of this country and had to learn to adapt to live together despite their different backgrounds, communication barriers, values, and traditions. Because of this integration of living together and forming a unity, I find the American people to be unique, diverse, flexible, and very passionate.
The US can’t be pinned for one culture but rather an ocean of microcultures that forms its presence. History, traditions, lifestyles, cuisines, languages, and other many hidden gems change state by state. The climate, people interactions, slangs, accents, and communication all differ depending on where you go.
I don’t regret blindly looking at other cultures. It taught me that the United States of America, my home country, is unique and although young and finding its way in the world, the people are what make the culture. Not the government or the news. It’s always been about the people and the lessons you can learn from the way you interact with them. That’s true anywhere you travel or visit in the world.
One thing cannot identify a culture which means one thing should not obscure the beauty of a culture. Culture by definition is the way people live their lives, their beliefs, and their values; it is what they use, eat, see, engage, purchase, watch, enjoy, and live daily life. Everything in a country is what makes up its culture.
As a finishing thought, when I think of the USA I think of national parks, giant coffee cups, entrepreneurship, beaches, growing wellness trends, health trends, monuments, beer wine, and spirits, concerts, many different religions, sports, Hollywood, and so much more. I could go on with my list but that’s what I see as a vague holistic view of the USA without diving into each subculture.
It’s important to me to get across the beauty of my home country and that the politics are only a tiny portion of what the United States has to offer tourists and its people either who may be looking to experience the differing cultures. I’d love to hear your thoughts and tell me what you think about the United States culture.
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