America: Intriguing


During the first twenty years of my life I’ve lived in the Netherlands. Then I travelled to Australia, Central America, South America and Canada. Now, I have to give it to the United States- it is much more interesting than I had anticipated.

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No different than the rest of the world, I have developed a self-perceived true understanding of the most influential country in the world through television programs and news reports. The United States of America has the largest economy, is militarily the most powerful nation and it’s consumer market has first pickings of anything.

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We watch American programming from a very early age on and a majority of what we see on
TV in the Netherlands was made in America. But MTV, FOX News and the Discovery Channel can only tell you so much. The stuff that makes it into our living rooms in Europe is mostly the sensational stuff because, well to be honest, it is what we respond to. Who wants to see the dullness of a mountain village or a gathering of people that live precisely the same way as we do? There is so much more to everything we are exposed to abroad, yet we think we have it all figured out. In a way I feel bad for the American people who have to listen to the rest of the planet’s ranting judgement from across the oceans.

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Mount St. Helens Which we Passed this Week

We Passed by Mount St. Helens this Week

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Freedom

One thing I am beginning to understand is that the American people are by far the most diverse lot I’ve ever encountered. All other countries have a certain character that can be distinguished after spending some time there and which is applicable to most of its people. However I fail to pinpoint such a thing here; everyone is rather unique and there is a boundless freedom to explore who you are and to do what feels good to you.

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I believe the conformity of our culture in the Netherlands has taken shape through habits that have been passed on from generation to generation and seem to come mostly from Christian moral and an agricultural working-class society. Here, the history of the country is relatively short compared to that of any European country and so its habits and ethics have developed more freely. People of similar mind have chosen to settle together in a certain area. This way the Mormons migrated to Utah and Wyoming, Dutch traditional Christians stayed in the East, Conservative plantation owners migrated to the South while the adventuresome and fortune-seekers settled in California and Oregon (think Lewis and Clark). I can go on and on in dividing different regions by different religious-, cultural- and moral ideas but I’ll save you all the tedious details.

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State pride is much like that of many countries in Europe. Southern Californians complain about northern Californians (They’re so liberal with their cash hand-outs to the homeless and live sex shows!) and the other way around (Did you notice how crazy fast they drive in L.A.? And they’re all so plastic with their fancy clothes and flashy cars.)

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So depending on where you go, you can be sure to find a place that suits your own needs. It takes a little bit of searching, which is what we have been doing, but there are towns all over that live in a way that appeals to us. This is one of the main reasons we are taking time to do this road trip and we feel confident we will find what we are looking for. Many towns turn us off the minute we get out of the car while others -sometimes only an hour’s drive away- pull us in and make us feel ‘right at home’.

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Dichotomies

This liberty to do what suits you, creates such a diverse populous that dichotomies soon show themselves. Where a certain characteristic is trademark for a particular region, the complete opposite can also be true. We have found many examples of this over the last two months of travel and would like to share some with you:

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  • Where-ever strict practitioners of Christianity live in great numbers, gun stores and gun-toting culture seems much higher that usual. Guns and Jesus were born together.

  • Americans tend to be a little cautious and apprehensive around foreigners, but they are some of the most interactive people with strangers (in line at the supermarket etc.).

  • In Southern California the people are overly kind and flattering to newcomers, yet also known to remain seclusive, hard to befriend and not wanting to share their personal space and things with each other.

  • Obesity is widespread and common but health-food stores are rampant and calorie counts are noted everywhere (even at the hamburger-place), indicating awareness of food-related health hazards. The obsession with fat-free! and weight-loss commercials are another example.

  • Americans apologize constantly to avoid confrontation, but will suddenly turn catty and defiant to strangers.

  • Like I mentioned above, you can find countless diversity in characters, but every-one uses the same tacky, Hollywood one-liners in all their conversation. A simplified version of the English as it is taught to us in school.

  • Men are presented in media -and present themselves- in a very masculine, almost macho-like, chest-beating sort of way, yet they are the most gentle and caring guys in private- and family situations.

  • I have never seen so many fanatic evangelists and latter-day-saints as in this country (and we haven’t even been to Utah!), yet Americans are an incredibly nonconforming crowd and will always just do what pleases them best.

  • America boasts of being the country that created the first National Park in the world and still has a massive amount of its surface set aside for national- and state parks. Americans love to visit their natural monuments and practicing outdoor-sports, but they are the most consuming and polluting of all countries what with their crazy amount of SUV’s and all. Making up 4,43% of the world’s people, they consume 22% of its fossil fuels and thus seem very uncaring about nature preservation.

  • Every Friday or Saturday we find signs for ‘Yard Sales’ and ‘garage sales’ along the side of the road, stapled to an old, wooden light post. But at the same time people are so aware of their personal space and protective of their privacy. ‘No Trespassing signs can similarly be found, but more -like- every day, at every curve in the road…

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Hey, Why Don't You  Come Rummage Through My Stuff? But Keep Off My Property!!

Hey, Why Don’t You
Come Rummage Through My Stuff? But Keep Off My Property!!

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If I would have to describe the American psyche, I could not do it. I always felt that I had it all figured out before I even got here, but there is a lot still to explore and it makes me excited to be staying here. One thing to consider is the sheer vastness of this country and how different regions develop different ways simply because of the physical distance. Perhaps in several years I could write to you again and offer a better explanation, but for now I remain open to learning more.

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Other Benefits

Another thing I really like about the U.S. (which has become a large drive to want to move here as well) is the expansive wilderness still in existence here. On top of all the National Parks (Yellowstone etc.), National Monuments (Mount St. Helens), State Parks and State Forests there are rugged areas just referred to as ‘wilderness‘ one such we camped nearby was called the ‘Great Bear Wilderness’ in Montana. U.S. wilderness areas make up 4,5% of the total United States’ land surface.

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DSC05172

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Also the cost of living is generally a lot lower here than in the Netherlands. Hotels and restaurants stand out at being 31% cheaper, clothes 15% and transportation as much as 45% cheaper in America compared to my home country. Only health care is more expensive here.

According to the Huffington Post the average American home price is $188 900.- while CBS (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistieken) reports a median home price of 244 000.- ($322 000.-) in the Netherlands.

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Oh, and there are spotless public bathrooms everywhere in the States (seriously, what’s up with that in the Netherlands?).

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So, the freedom to explore ourselves and develop our personalities according to what we like, rather than what’s considered correct or acceptable by the people around you, holds tremendous appeal to me. If next to that we can own a small home close to a rugged forested area, I think I can see myself living a very satisfying life here.

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In the end it’s a little sad to learn how misunderstood America is by us Europeans. What we think we know is definitely here, but the United States are simply too big for its culture to be generalized and to ignore all distinctions a large country is inevitable to have. We see so much of it all over the world through commercials, politics, economy, reality TV, brands and more, yet still we have not a clue of what’s really going on.

All friends and family are invited to come visit! 😉

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DSC05399

Some Places, I Feel Right at Home…

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Categories: Being Dutch in the USA, Most Popular, North AmericaTags: , , , ,

1 comment

  1. Hi Marjolein,

    I found your description of the US very objective (people from outside the US tend to see the country from a distance and less subjective) and interesting. You write very well. I think your point about over generalizing the country hits home for me.

    I see it from this point of view. I lived in Great Britain, Sweden, Peru and now Argentina. In all these countries I have learned and developed myself in diverse ways. Yet, unless born and raised in any of these countries, I could never consider my deep “soul” part of any of these folk souls. The purity of the culture rules this out. Yet, when a foreign person establishes themselves in the US, they can keep their identity and they can call themselves “American.” The country is founded on this possible landscape of diverse peoples.

    Take care and happy trails.

    Tom

    Like

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