Plinky.com asked me to describe the country I live in to a foreigner who has never heard of it.
Hi. My name is Vince and I live in the United States of America – I was born and raised in England and, thanks to moving here in 2003, I feel like a tourist/observer in both countries.
From my point-of-view, here's what you need to know about the United States.
First of all, it's huge – about 3500 miles wide by 1500 miles tall – enormous! And within that geography, you've everything from deep forests to sun-blasted deserts. The United States was settled upon some truly awe-inspiring natural spectacles – I need only tell you of a canyon formed by wind and water action over millennia which is at least a mile deep and 4 miles wide, to give you some sense of the spectacle. And not further north from this canyon a natural amphitheater where crennelated ridges run like a brain. Stunning.
And in the centre of the country? Endless plains where the sky stretches from horizon to horizon, where the land is fertile and the roads run straight for miles. This used to be an ocean floor and all that remains of that ocean is a salt flat – which, unbelievably they use for speed tests – and an incredibly long and wide river called the Mississippi (and yes, that is how you spell it!)
Most of the population of this country is based on the coasts, both due to immigration patterns and the major urban centers that are based around commerce and ports.
Sadly, the first settlers to arrive here – largely from Europe – wiped out many of the indigenous tribes. From their handed down stories and artefacts, it seems these aboriginal people lived a balanced existence with reverence for the forces of nature and humanity. It's a pity our ancestors didn't choose to learn from these peoples.
The predominant language of the US is English, though in pockets you'll find other lingua franca: French in the deep south, German/Nordic (my shorthand for Swedish, Norwegian, etc.) in the upper mid-west. And, increasingly, Spanish across the whole country. In fact, due to the immigration of folk from Central and South America, the US is forecast to become a majority 'minority state' by about 2045. Until then, whites (or caucasians) have, and will, form the majority.
This change, from a white to non-white majority, is underpinning much current political and social machinations; there is some background here.
The US was founded by folk from Europe, many of them fleeing religious (and economic) persecution. As a result, many of them connected their new country with the religion they sought to practice. Many of them imported slaves from the African countries. In the melange that arose from the mixture of religious freedom, state-making and economic development, slaves (more recently called african-americans, blacks, and numerous other terms) became labelled, unfairly, as second-class citizens. Thankfully, the slaves were freed.
Unfortunately, the whites became fearful and scornful of the minorities within their societies. Over time, this fear and scorn – that of 'us' and 'them' – came to dominate many aspects of life in the US – political, economic, social. Muslims – people of Islam – are the latest group to become the focus of such segregative thinking.
This thinking is unfortunate – the country was built on the ideals of liberty, justice and the freedom to pursue happiness – over time, that seems to have warped, so that now it's become the idea of 'freedom to pursue the liberty, justice and happiness that someone else dictates is appropriate' – which is a pity. The vested interests – governments, corporations, corporatised religions – are locked in a struggle for power, and keen to perpetuate a world that has already passed.
This is a country that is growing up, emerging from its teenage years into a more fully formed adult stage; it doesn't like to talk about it very much, but it's a very young country and it has yet to 'live the blues', though it can play them pretty damned well!
Overall, it's my experience that the US is filled with many, many good people of all creeds and colors, who are generous, loving and giving. This is a country that says 'yes' far more than it says 'no'. This is a country that fills me with hope, because it's fundamental energy is to move forward. And, though the media and power interests seem intent on taking us backwards, to some imagined past, I believe it will keep moving forward.
Finally, there are some other things you need to know about this country. Let me list them out (though I know I'll miss some):
– Stephen King
– Stevie Ray Vaughan
– Ella Fitzgerald
– Ernest Hemingway
– Red Hot Chili Peppers
– Lyle Lovett
– Ray Charles
– John Steinbeck
– Jackson Pollack
– Lou Reed
– Pearl Jam
– Quentin Tarantino
– Brad Pitt
– Gillian Welch
And yes, the list goes on, and on, and on, and on… there is far more to enjoy in this country than there is source for fear and scorn.