You’ve not set us an easy task, now have you?
Just the facts
total: 9,629,091 sq km
Area - comparative: about one-half the size of Russia; about three-tenths the size of Africa; about one-half the size of South America (or slightly larger than Brazil); slightly larger than China; about two and one-half times the size of Western Europe.
Population: 275,562,673 (July 2000 est.)
OK, now for the rest (Or at least my poor stab at it):
This is a nation of contrasts. <-(understatement of the century!)
From third-world poor to the richest people on the planet; From ultra-modern to no electricity or indoor plumbing; From Stacked-on-top-of-each-other crowded to where-the-hell-is-everybody deserted; we’ve got it all.
In general: Our cities tend to sprawl, where they can. Americans in general don’t like crowding, but tollerate it to the degree that it’s necessary. In some areas (NYC comes to mind), geography or land values limit the ability to sprawl, and the cities go up and up. Most smaller cities sprawl like no one’s business, and you get results like the Boston-Washington corridor, where it’s more urban than not for hundreds of miles. Mind you, this is clustered along the main drag, Interstate-95 (The Interstate System is a Federally funded highway system, even-numbers going east-west, odd-numbers going north-south, lowest numbers starting in the southwest). Outside of the cities and the heavily occupied urban areas, the sub-urban areas sprawl like cities never dreamed of sprawling. The Los Angeles basin is the biggest example of this. One old joke was that the LA basin was “19 cities seeking metropolis”. The entire basin is covered in city or suburb. No joke.
Away from the cities, America is mostly agricultural, with all that entails: Low population density, small towns, miles and miles of corn, wheat, soy, cattle, and whatever else. Cities tend to be liberal, politically (although this is by no means an iron-clad rule!), and the countryside tends to be more conservative (again, this is not always the case). Complicating this, large industries like to set up plants in the middle of nowhere, where the local town is greatful for the hedge against a bad harvest, and the locals are greatful for something other than farming for work, and the company are greatful for low labor costs, taxbreaks, cheap land, and inexpensive utilities. Of course, if the industy happens to be blue collar, this means unions, which, while conservative as all hell, tend to vote Democrat in the overwhelming majority.
Some areas have so little going for them that they have become back-waters. West Virginia and Arkansas come to mind: Fine places to live, but they’re perenially looked-down on as being places where nothing ever happens, and the economic choices are limited. Other places, like Alaska, are so divorced from the “lower 48” as to almost be another country. There are parts of the lower 48 that are so isolated as to be in another century, much less another country.
General education is quite decent, but is often lacking in any kind of focus. The suburbs tend to be the best educated on the whole, combining the best combination of resource and cultural concern for education, but don’t count out either the city or the country. Cities collect very well-educated people, while modern farming requires a vast and speciallized body of knowledge.
Now, lay across all that a vast patchwork of ethnicity, religion, and culture. Immigrants arrived in waves, and initially, they created enclaves where they felt at home. From those enclacves, they’ve spread-out, creating a wide diasporra, and also smaller enclaves. Immigration is also a constant flow, blurring the edges of the various enclaves, adding a savor to the mix that one never quite expects.
Americans are, by-and-large, proud, argumentative, self-confident, self-reliant, friendly, generous, self-centered, and arrogant. They don’t much care for the government, except as a necessary evil, and they don’t really care much about the rest of the world, one way or another. That said, show a worthy cause, and there’ll be a whole slew of Americans lining up to support it. We give out of our own pockets readily and generously. But mostly, Americans are proud.
What you get is really beyond description, though many have tried. You’ve got to come here, and spend a year or two moving about to really get the totallity of it. Hell, even most Americans don’t really know that much about the country. It’s too huge and diverse to grasp from education, you’ve got to live it.
I think we need hedra in here. She’s a geographer, and probably one of the better qualified to answer the question.