I have been developing a lot of theories and questions about American life (or subsets of it) on this trip:
- Americans — myself included — don’t really understand class or regional differences. And for an unknown reason we are inclined to see differences up the social scale as snobbery and down the scale as stupidity. Perhaps there is a “culture war” of resentment (if not values) that is class-based. (Do you hear me, Democrats? We’re never going to win again until we get another Bubba or good ole boy like Clinton, who really liked everybody.)
- Hotels charge a premium for exclusivity of guests. The difference between $60/night and $100/night rooms in Missouri is not in the room or services but in the expectation that people who can spend $40 extra for a place to stay are more “like you.”
But perhaps the most speculative is that Midwesterners generally believe that everyone knows (or should know) the same things. Everyone knows where Knute Peterson’s old barn was before it burned down in ’86 or where the train tracks go. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t been in Des Moines in almost ten years, you should know that 2nd Avenue now goes all the way through past Oralabor Road or how to get to the airport now that the road is rebuilt. Never driven through K.C. before? That’s okay, everyone knows the downtown interchanges by heart — one almost might say genetically. (At least in the Bay State we give you road signs on major thoroughfares when something really important is about to happen.) Everyone knows the major regional news stories of the last five years.
(This might help explain why I’ve heard several people talk about “Mexicans” in ways that really set me on edge. Hispanics are — based on what I’ve heard — another monolithic group, who the Midwesterners see like themselves but completely foreign. “If only they would assimilate” then they could be part of the collective consciousness.)