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My Not-So-Profound Observations on America



Much like the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville did in the early 1800s, I've traveled around America for several months and have developed some opinions about Americans, though mine probably aren't quite as eloquent.  Here goes:


  • Most people in America are pretty friendly.  However, the fewer the people living in an area, the friendlier they are.  Of course, that's probably true everywhere in the world.

  • Overall, the friendliest people -- along with the biggest jerks -- live in the South.

  • Except for folks in Los Angeles, most people like where they are and don't want to live anywhere else.

  • When I tell people that I'm going to Australia and New Zealand, Californians think I'm cool, New Englanders are suspicious, while Southerners think I'm nuts.

  • People in the Midwest and New England don't like to visit the south, people in the south don't like to go north, and nobody (except perhaps me) likes to visit Utah. 

  • There are mourning doves everywhere in America, in every state and in every campground.

  • Every farmer operating a harvester will wave as you drive by. 

  • Speaking of waving, many drivers in the rural Midwest will wave as you drive by on the highway.  Those most likely to wave are men driving older pickup trucks.  The newer and more expensive the vehicle, the less likely the driver is to wave.  Women never wave first.  Regarding "waving mechanics," older guys will lift their entire hand off the steering wheel and wave, while younger guys will usually lift only one or two fingers off the steering wheel (the "cool" wave).

The Geography of Language

  • Every person east of the Rocky Mountains pronounces Oregon “Oreee-gone” instead of “Ora-gun," like it's supposed to be pronounced.

  • Midwesterners call dinner "supper."  Also, they pronounce "aunt" as "awnt," not "ant."

  • Southerners call a license plate a "tag."

  • Westerners call a low area between mountain peaks a "pass," New Englanders call it a "notch" and Southerners call it a "gap" (as in Cumberland Gap).  Midwesterners don't call it anything because there aren't any mountains there.

The Geography of Food 

  • Easterners call a carbonated beverage a "soda" while Westerners call it a "pop."

  • People in northern New England like vinegar-flavored potato chips.

  • People in the South like pork rinds and boiled peanuts (why the heck would you boil a peanut?), and their definition of "barbecue" is sliced pork with barbecue sauce served in a small bowl on the side.

  • "Take-and-bake" pizzas have finally hit the Midwest.  Three years ago, my friends in Minneapolis didn't know what I was talking about when I suggested we get a "take-and-bake."  Now they do.

  • There are dozens of roadside stands in Virginia that, for some reason, sell both hams and fireworks.  Related to this, fireworks are really big in the South, even well past the 4th of July.  Southerners, apparently, really like to blow things up.

  • New Englanders refer to a soft ice cream cone as a "creamy."

The Geography of Ice 

  • Block ice is popular in the West and the Midwest, less popular in the Northeast and, for some reason, non-existent in the South. 

  • Bags of cube ice, however, are really popular in the South.  In fact, every person walking out of a convenience store in the South during the summer carries two bags of cube ice. 

The Geography of Flying Bugs

I love to camp but I hate dealing with bugs.  I'm not squeamish; I just don't like to get bit.  Having camped my way around the country, I can say that there are annoying flying bugs just about everywhere in the U.S. waiting to attack you.  The species of bug varies with location, though:

  • The Northeast has biting black flies. 

  • The South has tiny flies called “no-see-ums” that bite and leave large, red marks.  There are also lots of huge, weird bugs in the South that will suddenly land on your head and scare the crap out of you.

  • In the Rocky Mountain states, there are lots of deerflies (which are larger than houseflies and bite) and horseflies (which are larger than deerflies and really bite). 

  • The Midwest has lots of small, neurotic houseflies that inhabit every campground.

  • The desert Southwest is plagued by no-see-ums and cedar gnats.  Cedar gnats look like small houseflies but swarm around your eyes, ears, and ankles.  They bite and leave nasty, red marks that itch for days.

  • Of course, mosquitoes live wherever there’s standing water, especially in the South.  They also live wherever I happen to camp.

  • Compared to the rest of the country, the West Coast is blessed by a relative lack of annoying flying bugs.  Maybe that's why it costs so much to live there.

North of the Border  ... eh?

And while I'm at it, I'll make a few observations about Canadians based on this and previous trips:

  • Canadians call their dollar coins "looneys."  That's because there's a loon on one side.

  • Most people in Quebec aren't very friendly unless you speak French.

  • Most Canadians add three "o's" to the word "no" (as in "noooo.")  Also, they say "a-boot" instead of "about" (as do folks in Virginia and Maryland).

  • Canadians are proud to be from Canada and not from the U.S.  Most Canadians consider themselves superior to and more civilized than Americans.  And judging from the way things are going in the U.S., maybe they're right.