Sandwiched between Mexico and Canada on the continent of North America sits 48/50ths of the United States of America, a fascinating splat of land where the deer and the antelope play - before getting hit by cars, starved by the ill effects of deforestation or shot by hunters, that is.
Famed for doing everything large and doing everything loud (mostly because of Western media exports), Americans (just go with it) are often misjudged by foreigners based on tacky images such as the whipped cream bikini, polyester suits and aerosol cheese-in-a-can. While institutions and objects such as Disney, the National Rifle Association, SPAM, professional wrestling, personal trainers, baseball caps being worn backwards, television evangelists, casual-dress Friday, ear-shattering car stereos, monster truck rallies, the Christian Coalition and Cheez Whiz can give the impression of Americans being loud, ungrateful and/or brash, they remain just a drop in a very eclectic bucket of culture.
In reality, the US is a vast collage of diverse regions bound together by a national identity conjured from a collective imagination. Americans are not the stereotypical New York urbanite cockroach or the LA nouveau-riche boor. The USA is still the proverbial melting pot it was at the turn of the 20th Century. Brimming with colourful cultures and people, the USA is a proud assortment of ambitious workers each busy pursuing his or her own interpretation of the American Dream. They just might be the most fascinating collection of disparate characters a person is likely to find anywhere - on Earth, at least.
The American work ethic is derived from a post-Depression pleasure in a fulfilling day's labour in addition to wanting to provide a better life for one's family. No one is quite sure if Americans just love to work towards a more prosperous future or if it is part of a misguided materialistic manner. The American pursuit of wealth has been fuelled by the recent burst of growth on Wall Street (thanks to the USA taking charge in Internet production) - prompting many Americans to take a chance on the stock market to make a quick buck.
In some cultures, people accept their position on the social ladder at birth. Americans, on the other hand, usually strive for a more prosperous future. That is why so many immigrants flocked to the US in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It is because of the mindset of not accepting impoverishment that so many Americans consider themselves 'middle class'. The social structure of most cultures can be described as a pyramid with the lower class comprising a vast majority of the population, the middle class business owners/managers making up an appropriate middle-sized portion, and the aristocracy making up the tiny apex of the pyramid. The most suitable geometric shape to describe the American social structure is the diamond - a minute amount considering themselves truly rich or truly poor, with a massive bulk between the polar ends of the diamond considering themselves middle class. Many Americans have a ridiculous description of their position in the vague 'middle class' category. Upper-middle class, lower-middle class, middle-middle class, upper-middle-middle class are not uncommon self-descriptions of one's wealth.
Small-town Americans - generally pleasant, humorous, hard-working and considerate - usually make it a point to be courteous and welcoming to travellers. At first, Americans can be found a little overwhelming. They are often forthright to a degree that is intimidating to a foreigner. But their candour stems from an honest pride in who they are; and their frankness comes from a genuine love of sharing American culture with strangers. Unfortunately, the charm of many small towns is being lost by the influx of corporate influence. Megastores like Wal-Mart establish themselves in small towns, attracting customers with the siren song of low prices and free balloons for the kids. Being unable to match prices, selection and 24-hour availability, Mom and Pop stores that may have been in the town for generations are often forced out of business. Money spent at the megastore leaves town for corporate headquarters instead of circulating among the townspeople.
Despite its economic and military might, the USA, like every other country on the planet, does have deep-rooted problems. The dawn of the new millennium finds the USA up to its neck in pivotal matters like wretched race relations, school shootings, ignorance of foreign matters/cultures and the pitiful state of politics and the justice system. While Rome burns, in a sense, many Americans would rather concern themselves with the trivial matters like the weather, the week's (American) football games, soap operas and NASCAR automobile races.
National politicians often feel it is in the world's best interests to assert US ideals on other nations to resolve world conflicts. Foreigners, on the other hand, see the US as the overbearing mother to the rest of the countries in the world. While the countries want to go play in the yard by themselves, mum is keeping a strict eye on them from the living room waiting to assert her authority at the sign of the slightest trouble. This arrogant foreign policy only leads to the US and its people being treated with derision.