What Is America Like?

Gina writes:

Indians ask us about the U.S. pretty regularly. What is the climate like? Is there rice in America? America doesn't have poor people, right? Does everyone in America own a gun? What do American houses look like? Does everyone have a driver's license? Do you know Michael Jackson? (I didn't tell that kid that MJ was dead...) The stereotypes are usually based on what they've seen on TV.

A few months ago, though, I was faced with a really interesting situation. I was on a multi-day field visit with some SPREAD staff visiting a village to hear about their land rights work over the past few years. I had the rare chance to ask the 20 or so men a lot of questions about their work and their results, since I was in the de facto "reporter" position for SPREAD, gathering data for a document about land rights work. Due to that role and to me saying a few simple phrases in Oriya, I had built some rapport with them by the end of the hour long conversation (which of course was done by interpreter). The leader of the group then shyly asked the interpreter, "What is it like in her country?"

I realized the importance of my answer immediately. Not to tout my importance or anything, but this village knew NOTHING about the U.S. (no electricity means no TVs) except for the most general of stereotypes (Americans are rude, there is no poverty, they don't wear enough clothing), so my answer would probably be all they ever learned about my country. I wanted to tell them things that were interesting, but true, painted an accurate picture and maybe broke down some stereotypes. Since coming to India, I've realized more than ever how unfair it is to make generalizations about an entire large country. (I've also realized that I totally overthink EVERYTHING...oh well!)

What would you have said? How would you describe the U.S. in a few simple sentences?

Here's what I said:

  • parents and married children don't live in the same house (showing a contrast to the joint families commonplace in India)
  • all marriages are love marriages (as opposed to the majority of marriages in India, which are arranged)
  • women often work outside of the home, even after they have babies
  • we eat many many different types of food--rice, curries, sandwiches, Chinese, pasta (trying to say that we eat rice but also a vast variety of foods, also knowing they would not understand the concepts of Italian, Mexican, or European food)
  • there is no caste, all are equal (maybe a bit idealistic, but a good statement to make to people constantly harrassed because of their caste/tribe)
  • not all are rich, there are people without homes and without enough food to eat
  • in the North, it is SO cold, even -15 or -20 [Celsius] (I've said this one to many Indians, it's guaranteed to get a shocked reaction and make them think that maybe America is less than perfect in just that one way)
That's what I came up with on the spot. What's missing?