What is America?

It is a linguistic mess. America is rightfully two contiinents, North America and South America, but nobody would normally call Brazilians or Mexicans for "Americans". Most often Americans describe the people of the small part of the Americas referred to as The United States, USA.

USA is somewhat similar to the EU in being a collection of states who have decided that they are stronger united than when acting alone. But they have practiced for a much longer time at acting together. That said, even if foreighners think of USA as one country, the Americans themselves very much acknowledge the autonomy of the individual states. The original 13 states are symbolized by the 13 red and white stripes in the national banner, Stars and Stripes. The nation now includes 50 states, each marked by a star. 48 of them are contigous. Alaska og Hawaii, that joined the union as late as 1956, are separated from the rest by Canada and a rather large body of water. These were two states; grab a piece of paper and list the other 48.


Well, it is not all that easy, is it? So perhaps we should all cut each other some slack if we are not experts in the geography of foreign continents.

The contigous 48 states cover four time zones. As the Earth has 24 time zones this means that USA covers 1/6 of the circumference of the planet. North-south the nation stretches from 48th til 25th northern latitude – that would east of the Atlantic be equivalent to from Paris to Sudan.

Unlike in Europe, where the Gulf Current carries warm water up along the west side of the continent, the California Current brings cold water down from Alaska. So there are actually polar bears in Canada at latitudes much further south than what we experience in Europe. It is surprisingly cold along the California coast. Baywatch takes place in southern California – by San Francisco the Pacific Ocean is around 5 - 10 centigrades year round.

On the east coast of USA the experience is almost opposite. As the air has travelled across a sunheated continent and over the great lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior) before reaching New York, humidity can be quite high and at latitudes between Paris and Sudan it can be very, very hot on the east coast in the summer. Outside. Inside the air condition often makes it ridiculously chilly.

Most Europeans talk about the s-p-a-c-e. Naturally, people are stacked on top of each other in New York and other big cities, but once you are out of the cities you can in many places literally drive for hours without meeting anybody. You see a town on a map, but in reality the spot is two houses, a barn, and a wind mill. If the next town is 50 km away even two houses and a wind mill can get their name on the map. So check out the internet and pay attention when the sign says "Last Gas for 100 miles".

The message is that USA is half a continent. You can't think about it as you would an European country. Americans in California can be just as different from those in Lousiana as Brits may be from Italians. Even if the Americans - almost - speak the same language across the continent they don't necessarily have the same values and priorities. 1