As an American, it annoys me that we as a nation get such a bad rap around the world. Most people have seriously misguided notions about who we are as a people and what the country is all about. Almost to a person, when I ask someone overseas where in the US they want to visit they all say the same places: New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and to a lesser extent Florida. I understand why they want to visit these places, especially if it’s their first time in the country but there’s so much more to the U.S. that makes it great. Not only that, but by visiting other places they’ll get to see the real America and instead of believing false stereotypes, they may get to really know us as a people. So, here are eight qualities and places that I think do a lot to make this country a better place.
1. Our Kindness – The more I travel, the more I realize just how kind we as Americans can be. We always ask how you’re doing, whether or not you’ve had a good day and how you feel. We open doors, pay it forward and thank people for service well done. This doesn’t happen everywhere in the world, believe me. But our friendly, outgoing nature makes kindness a common occurrence instead of an all too rare one.
2. New Orleans – New Orleans is one of the great cities of the country, but one that doesn’t get the full credit it deserves. I don’t mean it’s not popular among tourists, it is, but I wonder if it is popular for the right reasons. Sure it’s beautiful and there’s always a party to be had, but what makes New Orleans great is something different. The city has always been a city of outcasts, of people not accepted anywhere else and that willingness to accept people for who they are has shaped New Orleans into the dynamic and multifaceted place it is today. It’s from this attitude that everything else we love followed, from muffalettas to beignets; so go, but just recognize the reasons why you love this city so much.
3. Drive – Just Drive – America is big, very big. So big that I don’t think even we as citizens fully appreciate the audaciousness of its massive size. That’s why taking a good, long drive is one of the best things to do here. Pick a direction, any direction and just take off and see what happens. Small towns, weird people, beautiful scenery and a multitude of delicious things to eat will all be your reward.
4. Maine – My grandparents were from Maine and my family traces its roots in the state a few centuries back. So it may be with a little bias that I acknowledge Vacationland, but I think it’s well deserved. Mainers are a different lot; they’re independent, proud and just a little bit off at times (in the best way possible). In spite of their natural inclination to distrust strangers, they open their arms wide every summer season to welcome those looking for a little R&R. A beautiful coastline and an often forgotten interior, along with small towns and villages that look like they came out of a Charles Wysocki calendar make Maine a great place to relax and get away from it all.
5. Pacific Northwest – If I didn’t live in the Washington, DC metroplex, I would absolutely choose to live in the Pacific Northwest. Portland and Seattle in particular appeal to be at a very base level, and I’m not quite sure why. I think it’s the combination of stunning natural beauty (STUNNING), smart and interesting people, laid back but productive attitudes and a belief that all people deserve our respect – it’s these qualities that make me love this region the most.
6. Southern Towns – While my mom was from Maine, I’ve spent many years living in the South and have truly come to appreciate the beauty of a great Southern town. The South absolutely gets a bad rap both from other Americans and definitely people overseas, but that reputation is for the most part undeserved. The people of the South are proud and kind, generous and welcoming. Their cities are old but well maintained, interesting without being audacious. So go, check out towns like Lexington, Virginia, Savannah, Georgia and Oxford, Mississippi and tell me I’m wrong.
7. Our Real Food – The first thing I hear about Americans is how fat we are, and how badly we eat, and blah blah blah. I’m tired of hearing it frankly as it’s mostly not true. Yes we have free refills on sodas and our serving sizes can be a bit large, but our cuisine is so much more than hamburgers and fries. We pioneered salad as a meal, we make the best breakfast in the world and our soul food can stand on its own against any other national cuisine. But to enjoy it you need to leave the big cities, get out of Las Vegas and New York and travel through the real America. Have a piece of pie from an Amish market and get the lunch special at Pierce’s Pit BBQ as you drive through Virginia. Then you’ll see that we’re much more than a nation of Super Sized meals.
8. The Other Florida – Florida typically makes it to the must-visit list for foreign visitors, but not the areas that should. Sure, Miami is nice in short doses and if you have kids then yes, go to Orlando. But Florida is a large state, so large that its personality changes dramatically as you drive from end to end. In the north the feeling is decidedly Southern, especially in places like Amelia Island and Jacksonville. But down in Tampa, Clearwater, Fort Myers and Sarasota the attitude changes, as does the scenery. If all you want is a nice beach, there are plenty of those, but make sure to look in places not covered with millions of tourists. Instead, go and find the quiet, hidden Florida that those in the know have been trying to keep secret for years.
These are just a few of the reasons I love the US and the places that make it great. What would you add?