Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Into The Melting Pot

What does your typical American look like? This is a question my international friends often ask me. A few tell me that I am what they think of when they think of an American. (Hmmmm.....I'm not exactly sure how to take this). Ask an international group to describe a typical American (as I have done) and the responses I heard included being loud, driving big vehicles and living in large houses, and generally having too many things. These characteristics may be true for many Americans, including a lot that I know, but it certainly doesn't describe everyone or even close to everyone. So what exactly is a typical American anyway?

If you don't live in America, have never visited, and don't know a lot of Americans (or even if you do), your vision of America probably comes from television and the movies. So that may mean the sleek red carpet images of Hollywood, the sun kissed indulgence of Miami and the designer hustle and bustle of New York City. But are these locations representative of what it means to be American? Surely American lives aren't all glamour, high speed car chases, and high flouting careless living. Believe it or not, there are people who do think what they see on the big screen is real and therefore American movies really do represent American lives. (These are probably the same people who think that being an attorney is just like being on Law & Order). And then you have the other end of the spectrum. How about the so called reality shows featuring the likes of Honey Boo Boo, the mega-sized family in Nineteen and Counting or the miniature beauty queens of Toddlers & Tiaras; are these representative of America? So are American lives really reflected in our pop culture?

Compared to many countries, America is geographically huge. With an area of just over 9 million square kilometers, it is just slightly smaller than the entire European continent. And just as the countries of Europe are diverse, so are the states and regions of the United States, and therefore her people. There is the so called "Bible Belt" of the country where religion reigns supreme and conservative values come before all others. On both coasts the politics tend to be more liberal and religion plays a lesser role in daily lives. And then you have Texas; a state where everything is simply bigger.  From a culinary perspective everything in the south is battered and fried while in Chicago they love their deep dish pizza. With long Rs and fast speech accents in Boston and New York (two very distinct dialects by the way) leave you wondering whether the speakers have marbles in their mouths while southern drawls make you want to pull the words out of their mouths. The characteristics describing Americans just goes on. But wait....these are all stereotypes but do they describe typical Americans?

Maybe. In reality, all of the above and so much more is typical of America because simply put, there isn't a typical American. This country, founded on the principals of being a melting pot of of freedom, is simply diverse in the way we look, sound and act. Politics, religion, or cuisine may vary by region but even within those regions there are always people who don't fit the "typical" mold for the area. Put someone from each of the fifty states in a single room and you will have fifty different "typical" Americans.

And that is the beauty of being American. We are all different and can express these differences through varying political and religious ideals, different personal values, and even the foods we eat. So perhaps the typical American is actually atypical.

1 comment:

  1. I've often wondered about this question. Back when I was in college, I used to tutor writing, and most of my clientele were learning English as a second language. One young woman said to me, "Please don't take offense, but you don't look American." I wasn't offended, but that comment made me wonder what American looks like.

    I agree with you, here.