When someone says, “I’m American”, what do they mean?
According to CIA Factbook statistics, it means there’s an 80 % chance they’re white, 75 % chance they’re Christian, 33 % chance they’re obese, and they’re probably around age 37. These numbers totally make sense for where I used to live in Texas, but they don’t really describe New York.
Growing up in Europe, I learned that America is the land of the free-flowing gold and honey. Dallas and Dynasty; Hawaii 5.0 and Beverly Hills 90210. Cowboys wearing white hats, upholding the law with a cigarette in the corner of their mouths. But then Marlborough Man got lung cancer and in the 80s, people like Donald Trump took his place. Everyone’s a millionaire, or at least they should try to be, because by God, isn’t that the American Dream? Anyone can make it there – if they just work hard enough.
Culture research has shown that Americans value individual freedom, capitalism, and productivity. They express these values by focusing on self-reliance, competition, and self-improvement. Time is usually money. America is a big place though, and time in Texas moves a bit slower than time in New York. For example, people at the grocery store will chat with you, especially at the check-out. They’ll always ask if you found everything, and how your day is going. In New York, you’re hard-pressed getting a “hi”. In restaurants, Texan waiters introduce themselves and say they’ll be taking care of you today. They stop by a couple of times during the meal asking if everything’s to your liking, most often with a friendly smile on their face. New York waiters might also smile occasionally, but you can tell they’re more concerned with turning their tables over as much as possible.
Texans have more space to show off the fruits of their labors than New Yorkers, if you go by square footage of housing at least. Showing off the fruits of your labor is a side-effect of the protestant work ethic. In ye olden days, if you worked hard, it is believed that God bestowed riches on you as a reward. Doing well, in other words, wasn’t just a direct result of working hard, no – it was also a sign that God favored you. Not showing it off would be ungrateful. But then it’s all about location location location, as this recent Bloomberg survey showed.
Texas also boasts with its mega-churches: Joel Osteen attracts over 43,000 people in Houston, and T. D. Jakes over 17,000 in Dallas into one single building. New York, on the other hand, is home to exquisite architectural gems like St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity Church.
I would also compare walking styles between the two States, and note how fast New Yorkers are on their feet, but I’ve rarely seen Texans out of their cars, so it’s hard to tell. Yes, that was cheeky, but it’s true – urban Texas is so vast and it gets so hot that you wouldn’t want to walk anywhere. New York has a public transportation system and it’s easy enough to hop on and off subways and walk the rest. That's not even to mention the amount of jogging, skating, skipping, and bike-riding that goes on in Central Park. Which might be why I have seen many more fit individuals in New York than in Texas.
Everything’s bigger in Texas, especially portion sizes in restaurants. When I first arrived I was amazed by the free soda refills, and by how everything can be done drive-through style. Laundry, bank, food, coffee – you don’t have to get out of your car if you don’t want to. Convenience above all. And yet, only in New York have I been able to give my laundry away in the morning and get it back ready and folded at the end of the day.
So, in your opinion – with 50 States in the Union, can one be more American than another?
Image by RCB, flickr, Creative Commons license.