Seeing the "real America"

While I was in line in lunch today, the two women in front of me had the following conversation (paraphrased):

I’ve done the same thing on vacation, gone off the beaten path just for the sake of going off the beaten path and seeing “the real _______” and so I can say that I didn’t just go to the touristy places when I got back home.

Do people from other countries do that when visiting the US? Is there someone out there saying “New York City is so overdone. I’m going to Buffalo to see the real America”? And if so, where do they go?

No. Unless they are visiting family or friends, foreigners tend to stick to vacation destination cities like New York,NY, Orlando,FL, Las Vegas, NV, Washington,DC, and maybe some others.

The big difference between the “Real America” and “Real France” or whatever is that Real America consists of long stretches of suburban housing, office parks, shopping malls and rural farmland typically created within the past few decades. We don’t have a lot of quaint thousand year old villages, castles, ruins and other things people typically associate with the “real” culture of foreign countries.

When I was in high school in central Illinois, I apologized to several European exchange students because they’d wound up in “real” America. Though I did plug Chicago. The four hour drive is worth it. I also recommended going way out west and taking in our national parks.

You are correct. Just as much of the rest of the planet does not have vast stretches of unspoiled land in national parks and monuments, historical areas, grasslands, forests, etc. The concept that the land itself and those native creatures that dwell within should and do have standing on par with humans is a uniquely American concept. We’ve exported the concept and although our ideas are duplicated around the world, the duplication is seldom, if ever, duplicated on virgin land.

American “culture” is directly tied to the land and our roots are closer and deeper than practically all of Europe that subdued their natural areas long, long ago.

You left out small towns, which I would put with major city centers and wilderness as the three categories of place necessary to visit to see the best of America.

Maybe in the romantisized world you live in but I’ll call BS. The real America? Go to any shitty fast food restaurant and there you are.

But if I’m on vacation I’m going to actually want something to DO. I know plenty of people from small towns, they love it, everyone knows each other, everyone’s close, and life moves at a more relaxed speed but they also all admit that’s mostly because there’s so little to do there.

Silly reply. Duckster made a claim about what America has that other countries don’t, and he’s right in certain respects. But even if he wasn’t, your statement is nothing more than the negative, anti-American sentiment that shitty fast food restaurants are what America is really about.

I’m not sure I quite get what you’re saying. Certainly it seems to me that in the USA, national parks are areas where no humans live or are allowed to live, whereas here in the UK and in much of Europe, national parks include wide areas where people work and live. But to me that shows an acceptance of the history and culture of the land, and the fact that the people are part of, and dependent on, the landscape.

In the USA, it seems more like the feeling is that land is either “wilderness” and left untouched by law, or it’s totally transformed by humans into industrial farmland, or suburbia or whatever, and therefore fair game for whatever development is considered necessary for progress. Not much middle ground.

…But as for the OP: I’m from the UK and to me the classic way to see the “real America” would be taking a road trip. I know the interstates don’t tend to go through small towns much any more, but they (and the idea they represent) seem a pretty good representation of the nation.

But if/when you plan on going on vacation in the US, do you plan road trips or do you plan on going to the large, well known, “touristy” cities?

As a place to visit small towns pretty much suck. We took all our vacations as far from town as we could afford to get.

Some of us have been to Southern Illinois, taking a bus up from Orlando, and suffered several meltdowns passing by a casino set on a boat in the river (with paddle wheels), later passing hills with thick forests and the occasional farm (with those HUGE red barns!) and little villages with four-stores-two-churches-and-a-bar High Streets.

My SI friends didn’t believe me when I said I loved it… Americans can have a meltdown of “oh so typical” when visiting a Spanish village with half a store, a church, a bar and four houses but apparently Spaniards can’t have a meltdown of “it looks like a postcard” with the American equivalent :confused:

When my mother and brother came to visit me I was living in Philly; we of course visited downtown, there are places there we didn’t have time to go; we spent a weekend in NYC; we also went to visit some mansion with English-style gardens in Delaware (sorry, I don’t remember the name now). My brother got as much of a kick from crossing over the Brandywine River as Mom got from the gardens, and they enjoyed the drive in general (it was not through a continuous landscape of little boxes, unlike say the way north from Miami).

Thing is, in general getting from the touristy places to the not-so-touristy but still enjoyable ones takes a lot longer in the US than in Europe, it’s that whole scale thing. I agree with Colophon that if I could, what I’d like to do is take a coast-to-coast road trip, stopping along some touristy spots but enjoying the “real America” in between in ways you just can’t when you’re in a plane. Years ago I was planning on spending some vacation driving from Houston back to Philly, stopping in New Orleans for a couple of days, but in the end I wasn’t able to do it.

Some national parks had people living in them in the recent past, an example is Great Smokies in NC/TN. I don’t think that is true for many of the famous parks out west.

We’ve got all these things in Canada too, eh.

I grew up in Sonoma County, California. It’s semi-rural (where I specifically grew up, it’s suburban, but it doesn’t take too long to get to rural areas), and there are loads of tourists. So yeah, sure, there are clearly tourists who get out of big cities. As long as they can drink a lot of wine, apparently.

Wal Mart.

To get to a lot of national parks you have to drive through small towns and rural areas so that’s one way people see those areas.

Also some people don’t mind going on vacation in an area with very little to do, they just want to relax.

Go on a road trip on some of the older state routes (as opposed to the interstate system). Do this in a convertible with a V-8. Stop by the giant roadside donuts, pineapples, balls of sting and huge Paul Bunion. Go to Graceland. Visit a Ripley’s Believe it or not museum. Then go to the Smithsonian.

Find a drive-in and catch a movie, go camping in Yellowstone, visit an old fallout shelter. Go to the Sleeping Bear sand dune, see a Broadway musical. Visit the New York Stock Exchange. Take a ferry out to Ellis Island. Visit the Alamo. Go to a pumpkin patch. Take a hayride at a state fair.

To start with.

A lot of us may have lost our way a bit, but we are so much more than this.

It’s my understanding that one of the goals of the Interstate Highway System was to hit every town of at least, IIRC, 10,000 people. I’m not sure what your standard of “small town” is, though.

And touristy or not, if you’ve never been to Yellowstone, you can’t really say you’ve seen America.